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Hosea 13:14 reads in the ESV:

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?
Shall I redeem them from Death?
O Death, where are your plagues?
O Sheol, where is your sting?
Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

To my ears, this is a bewildering switching back and forth between judgment and deliverance all in a few phrases, because I am used to the middle phrases being used of Christ's triumph by Paul:

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” —1 Corinthians 15:54-55 (ESV)

  • The implied answer to the first two ("shall") questions is "no," according to the phrasing of the ESV. Is this a good rendering?
  • If so, what does this mean about the original sense of the next two questions? Are they a summoning of Death and Sheol rather than a triumphing over them?
  • What hermeneutic is Paul applying to arrive at his use of these rhetorical questions? How is his use to be reconciled with the original context?
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up vote 2 down vote accepted

I see what you are getting at. In the ESV it does seem to speak just the way you say (my expanded paraphrase):

Shall I save these wicked people from Sheol? (Of course not!)
Shall I redeem them from Death (Of course not!)

...But speaking of ‘redeem’ I will insert this confusing prophecy. For although I said ‘Of course not!' I will reject my people outwardly, but not those circumcised inwardly. My true people I will redeem by Messiah! Of course I will! Therefore, Messiah is a plague upon plagues and the death of death!

Interestingly, the Jewish historian Alfred Edersheim, says in his appendix on Messianic texts that this verse was taken in reference to the Messiah:

“Hos. xiii. 14 is applied to the deliverance by the Messiah of those of Israel who are in Gehinnom, whom He sets free; - the term Zion being understood of Paradise. See Yalk. on Is. Par. 269, comp. Maas. de R. Joshua in Jellinek’s Beth ha-Midr. ii. p. 50.” (Ancient Rabbinic Source)

I think you found a gloss in some Bible translations as the ESV seems to capture the thought process better.

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From the clutches of the grave I would ransom them, from death I would redeem them; I will be your words of death; I will decree the grave upon you. Remorse shall be hidden from My eyes.

-From the Complete Jewish Bible

I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes. - AV

These variations do not agree with the ESV that there is a question. As for Paul, he is reading them as being completed in Christ. His is a commentary rather than a quote.

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The Hebrew OT is relevant to Jewish studies but is not terribly useful for NT studies because for the NT writers, "The Bible" was the various Greek scrolls loosely identified as "the LXX". Let's compare the text at hand:

1 Corinthians 15:55 O death, where [is] thy sting? O grave, where [is] thy victory?

Brenton: Hosea 13:14 I will deliver them out of the power of Hades, and will redeem them from death: where is thy penalty, O death? O Hades, where is thy sting? comfort is hidden from mine eyes.

Masoretic (in translation): Hosea 13:14 I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.

Clearly Paul is referring to the LXX and not any extant Hebrew source. There's no point bumbling about in the Hebrew scriptures trying to determine how he got from there to what he wrote. He didn't get there from there. You can't get there from there. He got from the LXX to there.

Some of Paul's most foundational teachings rest on the corruption from the Hebrew to the Greek and cannot be supported by the Hebrew scriptures! For example, compare the Hosea citations here:

And compare "Abraham believed God" and "The just shall live by faith". LXX. There is no question about it. We should not waste any time on the Masoretic.

So the relevant text is this:

Hosea 13:14 (Brenton) I will deliver them out of the power of Hades, and will redeem them from death: where is thy penalty, O death? O Hades, where is thy sting? comfort is hidden from mine eyes.

Hosea 13:14 (LXX) ἐκ χειρὸς ᾅδου ῥύσομαι αὐτοὺς καὶ ἐκ θανάτου λυτρώσομαι αὐτούς· ποῦ ἡ δίκη σου, θάνατε; ποῦ τὸ κέντρον σου, ᾅδη; παράκλησις κέκρυπται ἀπὸ ὀφθαλμῶν μου.

However here in this case they are pretty close. The NET Bible has this excellent rendering:

NET © Will I deliver them from the power of Sheol? No, I will not! 1 Will I redeem them from death? No, I will not! O Death, bring on your plagues! 2 O Sheol, bring on your destruction! 3 My eyes will not show any compassion! 4

The interpolation of the answer to the rhetorical question probably should have been in brackets but it brings out the sense better than the ESV which omits the answers.

The sense is completely opposite from Paul's celebratory interpretation.

And speaking of Paul's celebratory interpretation I should point out that Paul is NOT speaking of "resurrection" here. Instead he is saying that when those who "are alive and remain" get caught up without ever dying then will come to pass the thwarting of death.

So Paul's hermeneutic is reckless proof-texting. Do as he says, not as he does.

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The first paragraph offers nonspecific grumbling about the LXX with unclear connection to the text at hand. The rest complains about ‘corruption’ in the train from Hebrew to the LXX to 1 Cor., but you haven’t actually explained the specific textual differences, elaborated on how they might have arisen, or examined the hermeneutic being employed by Paul in his appropriation of Hosea. (The NET, excellent as it may be, has interpolated answers to the rhetorical questions here and may not be the best translation for this sort of study.) – Susan Oct 3 '15 at 6:45
@Susan I filled in the blanks. – WoundedEgo Oct 3 '15 at 8:05
Thank you. A couple things: (1) The Masoretic text was not an option in the first century. So obviously, “Paul is [not] referring to...the Masoretic.” (2) The Masoretic text is not in English. (Sorry for being smart, but please identify the translation.) (3) I suggest reading a book about the textual relationships between the Hebrew Vorlage of the LXX, the Greek translation(s) at various stages, and the Masoretic text. Saying we “should not waste any time on the Masoretic” is flippant to the point of ridiculous. Yes, even in the field of NT studies. Certainly in the field of LXX studies! – Susan Oct 3 '15 at 8:26
@Susan I'll admit to preferring a sledge hammer to a screw! (Well, not to a screw but to a smaller hammer). – WoundedEgo Oct 3 '15 at 8:41
Thiselton: "Important as they are, however, these more technical questions about the Old Testament texts used by Paul should not distract us from engaging with the profound theological content which his citations serve to explicate. Paul projects an eschatological vision of a stingless death precisely because Jesus Christ has himself absorbed the sting on the basis of how his death and resurrection addresses the problem of human sin and the law (vv. 55–57).” And now I really will bow out.... – Susan Oct 3 '15 at 9:15

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