(1) The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.
There are three parts to this interpretation:
(a) The Messiah
(b) X will be born in Y
There are reasonable grounds, as we shall see, for doubt about each of the three parts of this interpretation of Micah 5:2. I have already pointed out that the passage does not explicitly specify that "The Messiah" would be born in Bethlehem, because the term "The Messiah" cannot be found anywhere in the book of Micah, nor does it occur anywhere in the Old Testament, with the possible exception of one passage in the book of Daniel.
I'm not saying that Peter Stoner's interpretation is wrong. It might be the best interpretation available, or one of the best interpretations. However, there are other possible interpretations which have some degree of plausibility. So, I suspect that in the end, a rational person will conclude that the interpretation proposed by Stoner has some significant degree of probability of being correct, but also some significant degree of probability of being incorrect, and that some alternative interpretations will have some significant degree of probability of being correct.
So, when all is said and done, we are likely to end up with a matrix of probabilities that consists of a set of various probabilities assigned to alternative interpretations, some being more likely to be the correct interpretation than others, plus a set of various probabilities of it being the case that Jesus actually fulfilled the alleged prediction, the probability of fulfillment varying with the interpretation of the prediction.
Suppose there are four different plausible interpretations of Micah 5:2, and suppose that Stoner's interpretation was the most likely of the four to be correct. We might end up with a set of probabilities like this:
- Interpretation A has a probability of .4 of being the correct interpretation of Micah 5:2.
- Interpretation B has a probability of .3 of being the correct interpretation of Micah 5:2.
- Interpretation C has a probability of .2 of being the correct interpretation of Micah 5:2.
- Interpretation D has a probability of .1 of being the correct interpretation of Micah 5:2.
(4) The correct interpretation of Micah 5:2 is that it predicts that 'The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem' AND Jesus was in fact born in Bethlehem.
Based on the above suppositions, the probability of this claim would be calculated using the simple multiplication rule:
P(4) = .4 x .2 = .08
I have not claimed or argued that the probability of Stoner's interpretation being correct is in fact .4, so this is only an illustration of how the reasoning will work, once we have determined what interpretations of Micah 5:2 a plausible, and which interpretations are most probably correct. But it seems to me that a matrix of these two kinds of probability judgments, one for the correctness of alternative interpretations, and one for the correctness of historical claims about Jesus, is how a rational person ought to approach Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament. Furthermore, it looks to me like such an approach will take a good deal of the wind out of Peter Stoner's sails.