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.