Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, is a town about 5 miles south of Jerusalem.
During pre-Christian times, it was the home of Ruth and Boaz and their great grandson, David. Samuel anointed David in Bethlehem to be the second King of Israel. For a time, the Philistines occupied Bethlehem, and it was there that David's three men broke through the Philistine ranks to bring him water. Not far outside of Bethlehem is the tomb of Rachel (Jacob's wife), which is still there today.
In AD 385, a church was built on the traditional site of the Nativity. The emperor Justinian erected the building as it stands today. Although most religious buildings were destroyed during the Persian invasion of the 7th century AD, the Church of the Nativity, was not destroyed.
It is written in Micah 5:2 that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of a future king of ancient origins. This prophecy was fulfilled with the birth of Jesus about 2000 years ago.
For Christians, the prophecy is very powerful in a very simple way. It eliminates all other cities and towns throughout the world as a place in which the Messiah could be born. It narrows the possibilities to one tiny village just south of Jerusalem.
And throughout the span of the past 27 centuries, from the days of the prophet Micah up through the present time, Bethlehem is credited as being the birthplace for only one person who is widely known throughout the world. And that person is Jesus Christ.
The New Testament books of Matthew and Luke list Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus. Matthew 2:1-6 describes the birth of Jesus as the fulfillment of Micah's prophecy.
In recent years, however, some non-believers have attempted to discredit Matthew's interpretation of Micah 5:2 by claiming that the prophecy refers to a person named Bethlehem, not a town name Bethlehem. This claim has been widely circulated on the Internet by a college professor who describes himself as a former Christian minister.
The first problem with this claim appears in Micah 5:1. In that verse, the prophet establishes that he is speaking of Bethlehem the town, not Bethlehem the person, by setting up a context in which he contrasts the city of Jerusalem with the town of Bethlehem.
A second problem with the claim is that there is also evidence outside of the Bible that shows that Micah 5:2 was regarded as a Messianic prophecy involving the town of Bethlehem. Here is an excerpt from the Jerusalem Talmud, which is a collection of Jewish scholarly writings completed about 1600 years ago:
"The King Messiah... from where does he come forth? From the royal city of Bethlehem in Judah." - Jerusalem Talmud, Berakoth 5a.
Ephrathah, or Ephrath, is the ancient name for the town of Bethlehem. When the prophet Micah prophesizes in Micah 5:2 that the town of Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the Messiah, he refers to the town as "Bethlehem Ephrathah," to distinguish it from another town named Bethlehem in the northern part of Israel.
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