Muller On The History Of The Exegesis Of Hosea 6:7

Adam in Hosea 6:7: generic or specific? An example of a different order is the exegesis of Hosea 6:7, where the medieval tradition had rested unquestioningly on the Vulgate rendering, “ipsi autem sicut Adam transgressi sunt pactum.” The text indicated, as virtually all of the patristic and medieval commentators concluded, a prelapsarian covenant made by God with Adam and broken in the fall. The tradition of interpretation was rather neatly summed up for the post-Reformation exegetes in the massive commentary of the early seventeenth-century Jesuit scholar, Cornelius à Lapide. Lapide first glosses the text, “ipsi autem sicut Adam (primus parens in paradisio violans pactum cum Deo, eiusque conditionem et legem de non comedendo pomo vetito) transgressi sunt pactum,” and then cites by way of confirmation Jerome, Cyril, Rupert of Deutz, Hugh of St. Victor, and Nicolas of Lyra. The Septuagint, he adds, understood adam as a universal rather than as a proper name and was followed in this by Vatable and Clarius, as indicating a general covenant with humanity. Lapide renders the Septuagint as “Ipsi vero sunt sicut homo praevaricans testamentum, vel foedus” and notes Theodoret’s variant, “Ipsi autem transgressi sunt foedus meum sicut hominis.”

Many Protestant exegetes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries followed the exegetical tradition while others increasingly understood the alternative rendering of the Hebrew as “sicut homo” as the preferable reading. It is an incredible oversimplification of a complex hermeneutical problem to assume, as has one recent study, that the failure of Vulgate rendering to carry over into the King James Bible of 1611 indicates that “the Protestant tradition did not regard this verse as a reference to a prelapsarian covenant with Adam at all.” As if the King James Bible were the arbiter of Protestant theology before as well as after 1611!

Had Zacharias Ursinus, for example, used a vernacular Bible either during his studies in Wittenberg or during his time in the Rhenish Palatinate, he would most surely have examined Luther’s version (1522–1534; revised, 1539–1541), in which Hosea 6:7 was rendered, “Aber sie übertreten den Bund, wie Adam; darin verachten sie mich.” Protestant vernacular Bibles of the first half of the sixteenth century echoed the Vulgate and Luther, retaining the reference to Adam and rendering berith not as a “pact” or “testament,” but as a “covenant” or foedus, a shift of significance for the federal theology. Thus, Coverdale (1535)—evidencing, as in many other places, his reliance on Luther: “But even like as Adam dyd, so have they broken my covenaunt, and set me at naught.” The Zürich Bible of 1524–1529 (in which the prophetic books were independent of Luther’s German) offers, “Sy aber habend minen pundt gebrochen wie der Adam und mich übersehen.”

Also of considerable significance to a clarification of the role of Hosea 6:7 in the development of covenant theology are the editions of Luther’s translation of the Bible prepared with Reformed prefaces and glosses by David Paraeus and Paulus Tossanus—the former a student of Ursinus and Olevianus, the latter the son of one of their colleagues. Tossanus’ commentary uses Luther’s translation (“Aber sie übertreten den Bund, wie Adam”) and notes both possible meanings—that Adam, who was first blessed in the presence of God fell away and ate the forbidden fruit; or, that Israel transgressed her covenant with God as people often transgress a human pact (eines menschen bund).

Similar results accompany examination of various other continental rendering of the text. The Dutch of the Statenvertaling, commissioned by the Synod of Dort reads, “Maar zij hebben het verbond overtreden als Adam.” Brakel went to considerable length to argue the validity of this reading on textual grounds, while other Reformed divines cited the text fairly consistently to show the abrogation of the covenant of works. Likewise, Grotius’ annotation on the passage accepts the primary reading of the text as a reference to Adam, notes the generic understanding indicated by the Chaldee Paraphrase, but finally paraphrases the verse as “Just as Adam, who violated my covenant, was expelled from Eden, so too shall you be expelled from your land.”300 Even so, later Latin readings of the text evidence a shift away from the Vulgate (“Sicut Adam transgressi sunt pactum, ibi praevaricati sunt in me”) toward a language more conformable to that of the Reformed federal tradition, specifically from a rendition of berith as pactum to its translation as foedus—as in the case of Cocceius, “Et illi, ut Adam, transgressi sunt foedus; ibi perfidè egerunt mecum.”

As a perusal of lengthier discussions of the covenant of works—notably those of Cocceius—makes clear, Hosea 6:7 was not viewed as crucial to the establishment of the basic doctrine of a prelapsarian covenant, but was nevertheless almost invariably cited as an indication that the fall into sin was the abrogation of a primal covenant. Since, moreover, Protestant exegetes understood that the text could be translated equally well as “like man” as “like Adam,” they refused to view it as an absolute or sole proof of the prelapsarian covenant: that they found in the Pauline Adam-Christ, first Adam-second Adam language and in the problem of law and gospel. Nonetheless, many of the Reformed did look to Hosea 6:7 as providing part of the biblical basis for a covenant with Adam. The history of the translation and exegesis of the text, moreover, reflects the development of the vocabulary of covenant theology; and the text, if not the exegetically sure foundation of the federal edifice, certainly functioned as a bearer of meaning and of vocabulary for the federal tradition.

By way of contrast, the tradition of the Geneva Bible (1560), as it moved toward the King James Version, agreed with Calvin that the text was not a reference to Adam—and probably served to diminish the importance of the text in the English Reformed federal tradition: the Geneva Bible offers, “But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they trespassed against me”; and the King James, “But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously with me.” This approach, which identified the Hebrew, adam as a generic reference to humanity in general, is also found in Tremellius’ Latin translation of the Old Testament. A similar interpretation appears in the London Polyglot Bible, where the Latin translations of the various ancient versions all point toward the generic understanding.305 Nonetheless, this weight of translation did not entirely abolish English Reformed interest in the text of Hosea 6:7 as an element in the formulation of the doctrine of the foedus operum or foedus naturae.

…The generally cautious approach of the exegetes to the text is mirrored in the works of the high and late orthodox dogmaticians, who recognize that the text of Hosea 6:7 is of interest in the formulation of a doctrine of the foedus naturae or foedus operum, but neither necessary to its formulation nor definitive as a proof-text. Thus, Pictet could state that the creation of man according to the image of God clearly indicated a covenantal relationship even though this was not expressly stated by Scripture, “unless we wish to refer to the locus Hosea 6:7, where it is said of the Israelites, ‘ipsos sicut Adam violasse foedus,’ but the phrase can be interpreted differently.” Van Til notes the text and simply states that it needs to be collated with Job 31:33, “If I covered my transgressions as Adam.” Wyttenbach, writing in 1747, continued to use the text as a basic testimony to the prelapsarian covenant, albeit with considerable caution: Hosea 6:7 “is to be understood of Adam, but not however in an apellative manner, nor should it be interpreted to read ‘they have transgressed my covenant as a human covenant (ut foedus hominis)’,” but rather in view of Job 31:33 and Isaiah 43:27. “Adam” does not indicate either the first human being in a restrictive sense or a pure generic—rather it indicates Adam as the federal head of humanity and speaks of a covenant made with him and, in him, with all his posterity. The parallel between God’s covenant and “a human covenant” denied by Wyttenbach may indicate an exegetical difference of opinion with Tossanus’ commentary—foedus hominis standing as a translation of menschen bund.

—Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 2: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 436–39, 441.

One comment

  1. It’s interesting that the KJB often gets lambasted for containing Vulgate readings
    that are considered not part of the greek text yet here it’s the opposite on the reading
    of Hosea 6:7, this is were, if you use a KJB, it’s good to have a standard reference
    edition, you’ll find or, Adam. as an alternative reading in the margin!

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