Hosea 11:12 word study

Had a question from church on Hosea 11:12. Different versions translate it the exact opposite in meaning. What's going on? So I looked into it, and here's what I found.

NKJV - Ephraim has encircled Me with lies,
And the house of Israel with deceit;
But Judah still walks with God,
Even with the Holy One who is faithful.

NIV - Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,
the house of Israel with deceit.
And Judah is unruly against God,
even against the faithful Holy One.

Yikes, that does look tricky. The different translations come from several ambiguous Hebrew words in a row. Here they are one at a time, starting with the "But Judah" second half of vs 12, and using the NKJV as a basis, comparing to the NIV.

"But" - this can be translated either "and", as in continuing the same thought before, or "but" as in contrasting the thought before. Which one depends on context. Not too much help so far!

"Judah" - no controversy there.

"still" - this is an adverb that can mean "yet", "still", "even", those kinds of words. It doesn't clear up the "but" or "and" question above, because either can make sense of this word. If it's "but", then the idea is that although Ephraim sins, STILL Judah remains faithful. If it's "and," then the idea is that Ephraim sins, and EVEN Judah sins against God.

"walks" - this word gives the clearest indication of any word here. My Hebrew dictionary gives the options as "wander restlessly," "roam." In another form it shows up as "lacks knowledge." All the options seem to be negative. I'm not sure where the NIV gets "unruly" from, but it's better than "walks," I guess, if the negative sense is really that strong...

"with" - same story here as with "still" above. This word can mean "against" if the context is negative or adversarial.

A quick glance at the book of Hosea doesn't give me much reason to contrast Judah and Israel - they are both condemned by God equally. So I'd go more with the NIV here.

The next line, just to mop up:
"Even" is the same word as "still" above - same dilemma.
"With" is the same as with in the line above - same dilemma.
"the Holy One" is plural, yet every translation refers it to God. It's not the plural name for God (Elohim), so that confuses me. It can also refer to angels or saints (holy ones), but no translation goes with that. Only the NKJV puts that in a footnote.
"Faithful" refers to God, either way you read the verse, so there's no controversy there.


  1. I preached through Hosea a few years back, though I can't remember what decision I made on this text, the over all message of the section still seems clear. RSV is even a stranger translation, "E'phraim has encompassed me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit; but Judah is still known by God, and is faithful to the Holy One."

  2. In my Sunday morning Bible study, half the class has the NKJV (including me!) and the other half the NIV. I will be reading merrily along and then a whole group of folks will say, "WHAT?" Which is why I usually carry my GNT to class to sort out NT issues. I have found over the past 15 years that 9 out of 10 times the Majority Text translations (AV, NKJV, NASB, etal) are (in my humble opinion) correct. The problem arises when we are studying the OT and my rusty old Hebrew needs to be employed. I think I need to take a course at a nearby seminary for refreshment!

  3. Heh, heh, good story Scott.

    And thanks for the endorsement of the Majority Text. I agree, and have even decided to stick with the NKJV instead of going to the ESV, because of it.

    My home church is the only church I know of that has NKJV in their pews, of which I am very proud!

    Give me the New Geneva Study Bible (aka the Reformation Study Bible) over any other, any day.

  4. Well, technically we don't have the NKJV in our pews, because we don't have pews. Actually, we're a young congregation and we rent a facility for our worship services, so we don't have pew Bibles, at all. But the NKJV is still our "official" translation. That's what we use for our responsive readings.