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Hosea 13:14 from the BSB translation:

I will ransom them from the power of Sheol; I will redeem them from Death.

Where, O Death, are your plagues? Where, O Sheol, is your sting? Compassion is hidden from My eyes.

1 Corinthians 15:55 from the BSB translation:

Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?

Paul clearly quotes Hosea 13:14 when describing the victory over death. However, Hosea 13:14 in modern translations render the passage differently then how Paul described it, replacing "is your victory" with "are your plagues", and "Sheol" (the Grave) is replaced with "Death" (thanatos).

This difference has created a controversy resulting in scholars being stumped and divided, thinking either that:

  1. Paul was intentionally twisting the original passage in Hosea 13:14 to suit his message of victory, or
  2. Paul was actually trying to quote the passage but made an unintentional mistranslation error, or that
  3. Paul had a purer rendering of Hosea 13:14 that became corrupted later over time by Jewish translators, a rendering which we inherited up to the present.

I propose option 3, that Paul actually quoted Hosea 13:14 correctly and that the translation of Hosea 13:14 has become corrupted by translators. The context surrounding the current rendering of Hosea 13:14 does not fit a negative action of God denying compassion and calling upon Death to unleash plagues, but instead a merciful action of resurrection, redemption and deliverance. This is why Paul quoted Hosea 13:14, because it foreshadows the victory of Christ over Death and the Grave.

Could then this be the correct translation of Hosea 13:14?

I will ransom them from the power of the Grave; I will redeem them from Death. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Grave, is your sting? For sorrow will be removed from my eyes.

Any thoughts?

https://krharriman.substack.com/p/resurrection-in-the-ot-part-7

https://bibliotekanauki.pl/articles/1178985.pdf

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  • 1
    +1. Your proposal offers a pretty thought-provoking perspective.
    – Jason_
    Feb 29 at 7:07

3 Answers 3

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A lot depends on variants, translations, and later Masoretic "recensions". Let's see which is closest.

Note that the Masoretes were traditionalist rabbis named after the Hebrew word masorah, which originated from the word “fetter,” and came to mean “tradition.” The Masoretic Text (MT) was the result of hundreds of “corrections” (their term) of the Tanakh in the 6th to the 10th centuries CE. These revisions, now called "recensions," corrected variant readings, and the variant Hebrew texts were destroyed. The oldest known Masoretic manuscript of the Tanakh is Aleppo Codex dated to 826 CE.

Septuagint (literal Greek)

From out of the hand of Hades I shall rescue them; from out of death I will ransom them. Where is your punishment, O death? Where is your sting, O Hades? Consolation is hidden from my eyes. -Hosea 13:14 LXX (ABP)

Dead Sea Scrolls

Unfortunately, Hosea is significantly fragmented and chapter 13, verse 14 is completely missing.

Syriac (Aramaic) Peshitta

From the hand of Sheol I shall redeem them, and from death I shall save them. Where is therefore your victory, death? Oh, where is your sting, Sheol? Comfort is hidden from my eyes. -Hosea 13:14

Masoretic text (literal Hebrew)

From the power of Sheol, I will ransom them, from death I will redeem them. I will be your plagues, Death. I will be your destruction, Grave. Pity is hidden from My eyes. -Hosea 13:14

Paul's letter to the Corinthians (in literal Greek, English word order)

Where is your sting, O death? Where is your victory, O Hades? -1 Corinthans 15:55 (ABP)

The key words of comparison to 1 Corinthians 15:55 would be sting, death, sheol or hades, punishment, grave, victory, and plagues. Thus, it seems that Paul's quotation is closest to the Syriac Aramaic version.

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  • Totally makes sense, and what an exciting revelation! Translators need to correct Hosea 13:14 to properly convey what is being said in the context, so that it reveals the mercy of God as the foreshadow of God's ultimate mercy in Christ – matching Paul's proper quote in 1 Corinthians 15:55.
    – Joshua B
    Feb 29 at 7:28
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This matter was dealt with by Hebrew scholar Michael Eaton in his book about the prophetic book of Hosea. He uses his own translation in his book but, of course, refers to other translations. The relevant section is 29. The Defeat of Sheol (13:12-16) It is necessary to know what Hosea meant if we are to grasp what the apostle Paul meant when he quotes verse 14 in 1 Corinthians 15:55. This commences with the sub-heading, 3. Hosea has a long-term vision of the day when death is abolished. Here are the relevant bits:

"Now [Hosea] turns to the day when the last enemy, death, will itself be destroyed. ... Eventually the creative event of Genesis 2:7 will be reversed and men and nations 'go back to the dust' (3:19). Death is removal from the presence of God, a change of location. Sheol is the place-name for death. It is death considered as being a place.

Hosea looks for the nation of Israel to be spiritually 'resurrected' so as to come back to a happy relationship with God where it enjoys the life of God again.

The Bible envisages a restoration of Israel. It was left to the apostle Paul to explain more. He tells us that 'Israel' was primarily a spiritual term for God's true people (Romans 9:6), that God's believing people in the earthly nation of Israel became an ever smaller 'remnant' as time went on (Romans 11:6), that Christian gentiles were grafted into that remnant so that they too became 'Israel' (Romans 11:11-24), and that one day there will be a spiritual awakening in 'national' Israel, and worldwide revival (Romans 11:25-32). Israel gets to be redeemed from Sheol.

One further question demands thought. Was Hosea thinking of individual resurrection from the grave? That is how the pre-Christian Greek Old Testament took it.

It is hard to see how one put any kind of limit to Hosea's prediction. Any thinking person would surely have to ask the question, But is Sheol completely defeated or is Hosea only speaking of a restoration wholly within this life? Since the 'wages of sin' include physical death as well as damaged relationship to God, deliverance from Sheol must mean deliverance from physical death as well as deliverance from a damaged relationship wit God.

The triumphant note in Hosea 13:14 confirms the point. O death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting?

How could Hosea use such triumphant language if he still thought Sheol would retain dying Israelite believers. Surely his view of the defeat of death must have been of the highest order for him to be able to use such a note of triumph.

So Paul had clear vision when he applied Hosea's words to the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:55) And he could add a bit more and tell us what the thorns and sting actually are. 'The sting of death is sin' (1 Corinthians 15:56) Hosea, Michael Eaton, pp.190 & 192-193, Christian Focus, 1996.

There are various Hebrew words that sometimes make translation into English difficult, but when Hebrew- and Greek-speaking Christians in the first century quote parts of the O.T., there only may seem to be a bit of a disjoint to us, but when we grasp what was in Hosea's mind, and then what Paul understood (given the further revelation of Christ's resurrection), we can see this is not a matter of mistranslation, but of further revelation that harmonises beautifully with what went before.

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Of the OP's options, option 2 is least likely as Paul possibly had much of the Bible memorized. His great learning would also prevent such and "error".

Recall that the NT is divinely inspired and any such "errors" are very unlikely. It is just as possible that there is a fourth option:

  1. Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:16, 17, 2 Peter 1:19-21) to "adjust" the OT quote to better suit what he was teaching.

We see this kind of thing quite often in the the NT and Paul's writings. Further recall that Paul does not explicitly attribute this to the Prophet Hosea and thus is bound to quote him verbatim. That was part of the process of inspiration.

Lastly, Paul is more likely quoting the LXX which reads in Hos 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.

Now, the LXX is far from uniform and several texts exist. The form I quoted above is the most common in the 21st century AD. However, Paul may have been using a version of the LXX now lost that said something closer to what he wrote.

In any case, we do not have enough information to finally settle the matter. But it need not concern us if we believe that what Paul wrote was what he was inspired to write.

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  • Can you give me an example of Paul "adjusting" passages from the old testament by altering them? I think Paul only directly quoted passages that were pointing to Christ in fullfillment.
    – Joshua B
    Feb 29 at 7:25
  • @JoshuaB - Paul quotes the OT many dozens of times and only a very few of them are verbatim. You will need to ask another question.
    – Dottard
    Feb 29 at 7:51
  • Can you give me one example aside from Hosea 13:14 that Paul does not quote verbatim?
    – Joshua B
    Feb 29 at 7:55
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    +1 ... a much better approach than accusing Paul of intentionally twisting the meaning (option 1) or accusing the Jews of corrupting the original (option 3) . As @Dottard points out, several NT used OT scriptures in a new way, in light of Jesus' coming. I prefer simply accepting both Paul's and Hosea's version as authentic and inspired. But option 2 isn't incompatible with option 4 IMO... God could have inspired Paul's misremembering Hosea. Feb 29 at 12:50
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    @DanFefferman "God could have inspired Paul's misremembering Hosea"... I certainly don't think so!
    – Joshua B
    Feb 29 at 19:09

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