God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

The Hidden Message of Redemption in Hosea

In English, Hosea 2:23 (also numbered 2:25) seems bland: “And I will have pity on Lo-ruhamah, and I will say to Lo-ammi, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God'” (NRSV).

But as I just pointed out, the names “Lo-ruhamah” and “Lo-ammi,” Hosea’s children, mean “unloved” and “not my people,” respectively. So what we really have here is this: “I will love [RiCHaM] Unloved [lo-RuCHaMa] and I will say to Not-My-People [lo-ammi], “You are My people” [ammi-atah], and he will say, “My God.” (I’ve put the consonants of the root R.Ch.M in upper case to highlight the close connection between the verb “loved” [RiCHaM] and the name “Unloved” [lo-RuCHaMa] in Hebrew, in which consonants are more important than vowels.)

In other words, Hosea 2:23 is a complete reversal. Whereas before we had “Unloved,” now we have “love.” Instead of “Not My People” we have “my people.” God has forgiven both of Hosea’s children (who represent all of God’s children — more on this soon, I hope), and it is then that God is called “my God.”

It’s an uplifting hope for redemption, an interesting theological position, and beautiful poetry. Unfortunately, it seems to me that in not translating the names, most translations hide the biblical message.

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May 17, 2012 - Posted by | translation practice | , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. Very interesting point, Joel. Thank you for pointing this out.

    Comment by Colleen Harper | May 17, 2012 | Reply

  2. Love it! Thanks for the translation and the wonderful insight. Keep up the good work.
    Leshalom, Y

    Comment by Irving (Road Runner) Zlotnik | May 17, 2012 | Reply

  3. Good message – thanks!

    Our practice of transliterating names and ignoring their meaning seems to come from our cultural practice of not using meaningful words as names. We assume that names are pleasant, but meaningless sounds that reflect family tradition. Other cultures don’t think this way, though. I have English-speaking Ugandan friends who named their children “Reward,” “Praise,” “Liberty,” “Night” and even “Burden.”

    Since the Bible often comments on the meaning of names, you’d think that translators would be aware of this cultural difference and consider whether a name’s meaning might be relevant to the wider story.

    Comment by Lois Tverberg | May 17, 2012 | Reply

  4. This passage, I think, and really all of Hosea is the perfect refutation of “Triumphalism” and “Replacement Theology”.

    Comment by WoundedEgo | May 17, 2012 | Reply

  5. […] a recent blog post translator, teacher and author Dr. Joel Hoffman writes about the topic of translating and how […]

    Pingback by The hidden messages of the Bible | Northwest RoadRAT | May 22, 2012 | Reply


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