Bible Versions

Q. Which interpretation is most accurate? They all convey different meanings:
• NIV Has not the one God made you? You belong to Him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring.
• ESV Did He not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.
• KJV And did not He make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That He might seek a godly seed.

A. I studied only very little Hebrew, not enough to do proper translation. Using an interlinear does not help much as the word-for-word translation does not give you the word order in English sentences. Having said that, I would first take a look at the Amplified or Expanded Bible to see the range of possible meanings allowed by the text:

• Amplified Bible, Classic Ed. And did not God make [you and your wife] one [flesh]? Did not One make you and preserve your spirit alive? And why [did God make you two] one? Because He sought a godly offspring [from your union]. Therefore take heed to yourselves, and let no one deal treacherously and be faithless to the wife of his youth.
• Expanded Bible. God made [ Did not God make…?] husbands and wives to become one body and one spirit for His purpose—so they would have children who are true to God [godly offspring]. So be careful [ guard yourself in your spirit], and do not break your promise [be unfaithful] to the wife you married when you were young [ of your youth].

Language is not like numbers, with only one meaning within our decimal system. In translating, which possible meaning to use is the choice of the translators, subject to the context. With that as background, I would look at the 3 translations again and offer the following comments:

• NIV. In English, “you” can be either singular or plural. Does it mean the man who has been unfaithful to his wife (singular), or the husband and wife collectively (plural)? Mal 2:14-15 read, “You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. 15 Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth. So the NIV context indicates singular, the man who hates and divorces his wife.

• ESV. The ESV, on the other hand, says, “But you say, “Why does He not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did He not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. The ESV chose the plural, the man and his wife.

Which is more accurate? I can offer you only my opinion – I prefer the ESV. Of course the man is the guilty party in divorcing his wife, but the nature of his sin is in breaking the marriage covenant, where God joined two together to become one. For the man to divorce his wife not only does violence to her, but is an affront to God who joined them; hence my preference.

• KJV. While some are “KJV Only” as they believe all contemporary versions are less accurate, I feel they are too narrowly focused. I hold a conservative position, but I believe textual criticism has value in getting closer to the original meaning. As a minimum, I suggest using the NKJV instead of the KJV to avoid the burden of old English. Mal 2:15 in the NKJV reads, “But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.” The word “them” is not in the original Hebrew, but interpolated by the translators as the best meaning. As such, it is essentially the same as the ESV.

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Conflicting Translations?

Q. Why is the NIV translation of Hosea 11:12 entirely the opposite of King James or Chinese translation?
• (NIV) Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, Israel with deceit. And Judah is unruly against God, even against the faithful Holy One.
• (KJV) Ephraim compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit: but Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the saints.

A. Heb 11:12 is a difficult verse to translate because of textual problems. My favorite NASB has:
(NASB) Ephraim surrounds Me with lies And the house of Israel with deceit; Judah is also unruly against God, Even against the Holy One who is faithful.
Yet the ESV which many people like has:
(ESV) Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit, but Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One.
Which is correct? I will try to explain this as simply as possible as most readers have not studied Hebrew grammar.

The problem hinges on one word in the Hebrew רוּד (ruwd), which precise meaning is lost according to lexicographers. They agree that the root is related to rule, but whether it is translated positively (rule with) or negatively (unruly against) is subject to debate.

Let me quote from Strong’s Definitions: ruwd – a primitive root;
• to tramp about, i.e. ramble (free or disconsolate)
• have the dominion, be lord, mourn, rule.
As you can see, Strong’s carry both opposite meanings.

There is a related issue. For translations who opt for the negative meaning, they assumed the adjective “faithful” qualifies God the Holy One. However, for those who opt for the positive meaning, they associate “faithful” with Judah to be consistent. There are reputable scholars on both sides, and I don’t think I can settle the debate, only offer my opinion.

I believe we have to look at the broad and immediate context of Judah during the time of Hosea. Hosea prophesied to Israel in her final days, about 753-722 BC. During this time 6 kings (Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, Pekah, and Hoshea) reigned in Israel, all bad. At the same time, the kings in Judah were Uzziah, Jotham, both did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and Ahaz, who did evil. The good kings tried to steer Judah back to God, while the bad king led Judah to idolatry. So Judah during Hosea’s time was a mix of good and bad. It is therefore understandable that those translators who assumed Judah to be reforming took the positive perspective for 11:12, while those whose presupposition was that Judah was turning away from God opted for the negative interpretation.

For me, the immediate context is instructive. The text immediately following 11:12 is 12:1-2
(NASB) Ephraim feeds on wind, And pursues the east wind continually; He multiplies lies and violence. Moreover, he makes a covenant with Assyria, And oil is carried to Egypt. The LORD also has a dispute with Judah, And will punish Jacob according to his ways; He will repay him according to his deeds.
• (KJV) Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east wind: he daily increaseth lies and desolation; and they do make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried into Egypt. The LORD hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will he recompense him.

Notice that whether you use NASB or KJV, whether you prefer the negative or positive for 11:12, the meaning for 12:2 is clear – the LORD has a dispute or controversy with Judah. My thinking is that if the LORD has a dispute with Judah in 12:2, it is unlikely that He calls Judah faithful just 2 verses earlier. So logically the negative meaning makes more sense in 11:12. I therefore take the position that the NIV and NASB are correct, not the KJV or ESV this time.