CSB News & Information

Hebrew Word Study: Hesed

The Hebrew word used in Hosea 6:6 (hesed) is one of the most difficult words in the Bible to translate. At least 3 scholarly books have been written on its meaning. It conveys overtones of loyalty, love, and other concepts such as mercy and kindness. Some passages emphasize one sense, while other passages emphasize another. The HCSB/CSB translators decided to render it in most cases as “faithful love,” but this didn’t fit the sense in every passage. Sometimes the sense is affected by other words used with it, such as the Hebrew word usually meaning “faithful.” Then when we revised the HCSB and published it as the CSB, we changed some of our renderings. The CSB of Hosea 6:6 uses “faithful love” where the HCSB had used “loyalty.” The same word occurs in v. 4 where we rendered it “loyalty” in HCSB but “love” in CSB.

The Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible done in the two centuries before Christ—rendered it in Hosea 6:4 and 6 with Greek eleos, which means “mercy, compassion, pity.” The KJV was strongly influenced by the Septuagint as well as the Latin Vulgate and often rendered hesed as “mercy,” which influenced many later English translations. Although the Greek Orthodox regard the Septuagint as inspired and authoritative, we don’t believe any translation is perfect. Although the translation “mercy” is certainly not wrong, we don’t think it’s the best in Hosea 6:4 and 6.

Because of the popularity of the Septuagint among first century Jews and Bible-reading Gentiles, Jesus and the NT writers mostly used it when quoting the OT. They were not endorsing the Septuagint as the final word on the meaning of the OT. One writer I recently read explains hesed like this: The word implies a relationship between two people in which certain behavior was expected. When someone went beyond what was required or expected, showing special kindness, love, mercy, etc., that was hesed. The use of hesed in Hosea 6:6 suggests that God desires more from us than just loyalty, as a wife or husband wants more than loyalty from a spouse. We want affection, tenderness, love, etc. Similarly, God wants more from us than loyalty. He wants our devotion. Certainly he wants more from us than our tithes and offerings or our attendance at church.

 Ray Clendenen, Senior Editor of Bible and Reference Publishing, Lifeway