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Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Between her WHAT?

What ought to be removed from between an adulterous woman's breasts?

Translators have struggled to answer this question (raised by Hosea 2:2), and most have decided to just leave it as it is. Those who have changed the wording, though, haven't done so well. They started with misdirected modesty and ended up with vulgarity. Along the way they totally lost the impact of the anthropomorphic language that is key to understanding the message of Hosea.

Most versions are pretty straightforward:

OKJV: let her therefore put away her whoredomes out of her sight, and her adulteries from betweene her breasts;

NASB: let her put away her harlotry from her face And her adultery from between her breasts,

YLT: she turneth her whoredoms from before her, And her adulteries from between her breasts,

DBY: let her put away her whoredoms from her face, and her adulteries from between her breasts;

WEB: let her put away her prostitution from her face, and her adulteries from between her breasts;

NKJV: Let her put away her harlotries from her sight, And her adulteries from between her breasts;

The obvious meaning, as expressed in Hebrew parallelism, is to stop seeking and participating in adultery.

It is possible to put this in entirely modern English and still get the point:

NCV: Tell her to stop acting like a prostitute, to stop behaving like an unfaithful wife.

But it hasn't been all that obvious to some who take the dynamic equivalent approach; they just can't seem to put that geographically vital area between the breasts out of their sight:

NIV: Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.

Adulterous "look?" This is heading us in the wrong direction--watch where it takes us!

NLT: Tell her to take off her garish makeup and suggestive clothing and to stop playing the prostitute.

Makeup?! Here we have a literal translation of the paraphrase "the 'adulterous' look."
And actually, I think taking off suggestive clothing is a big part of playing the prostitute!

MSG: Tell her to quit dressing like a whore, displaying her breasts for sale.

By the way, adulterous women don't sell their breasts; they buy them.

Alas, all this focus on breasts has completely missed the point of the passage. We would have been better off staying with the Living Bible, which avoids the word whenever possible:

LB: Beg her to stop her harlotry, to quit giving herself to others.


  1. Actually, I'd say that "make up" in the NLT is an accurate translation both contextually and historically. Their first line in 2.2 is just fine in my opinion in terms of a dynamic translation. They blow it in the second where the point of the line is for the woman to change her clothing rather than merely remove the little clothing she has.

    In general, your post doesn't say much in either direction of why we'd be better off avoiding the word "breast" in this passage. If anything all the Living Bible does is take a vivid (and I would say, clear) piece of Hebrew poetry and make it obnoxiously flat.

    Perhaps if we were talking about narrative, I'd be with you on this one, but we're not.

  2. The NLT was extensively revised in 2004, and this verse was no exception. I can't say it was any sort of improvement, however:

    "Tell her to remove the prostitute's makeup from her face and the clothing that exposes her brests."

    (I had to mispell that last word to keep this page from being flagged by a filter)

    Now the NLT has completely eliminated the actual intent of the verse, which was that Gomer stop adulterating with other men, and focused on external changes that weren't even in view in the original.

    The Hebrew expression "to play the harlot" has nothing to say about dressing up in revealing clothing. In fact, in the first mention of this term in Scripture, Tamar was fully veiled throughout the proceedings, so that even her father-in-law couldn't recognize her.

    Even the very idea that exposing brests is tantamount to harlotry is a holdover from the Victorian era. I would expect better even from a paraphrase!

  3. Mike has admitted on his own blog that he doesn't know Hebrew all that well, which pretty much disqualifies him from commending the NIV here as "an accurate translation."


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