The past several hours, I’ve been studying this question and working through the exegetical issues involved. Since this exegetical question is of significant interest to me given my areas of theological interest (i.e., redemptive history and systems of theology that attempt to provide theological organization to it), I’ve taken the time to compose a more detailed outline of my exegetical notes. For those of you with similar interests (and for those of you who requested these notes), I thought I’d share my notes. After reading through these notes, feel free to comment with your own thoughts and/or tentative conclusions.
Theological implications: This verse could refer merely to what is likely the Mosaic Covenant or additionally refer to a pre-fall covenant (e.g., Covenant of Works, Adamic Covenant, Covenant with Creation, etc.) If the latter is true, this verse would validate seeing the concept of covenant as a fundamental framework for God’s relationship with mankind and thus God’s work of redemption (as Covenant Theology argues).
Key exegetical issues:
- A כְּ (kaph, “like”) or בְּ (bet, “at”) preposition attached to אָדָם (Adam)?
- אָדָם (Adam).
- אָדָם (Adam, person, first man).
- אָדָם (generic man, mankind).
- אָדָם (Adam, location), cf. Josh 3:16.
- אָדָם (the residents of Adam, location), e.g., “as [the inhabitants of] Adam.”
- An emendation to אֲדָמָה (ground, soil, dirt).
- An emendation to אֲדָמָה (Admah).
- An emendation to אֲרָם (Aram).
- The LXX – Reads αὐτοὶ δέ εἰσιν ὡς ἄνθρωπος παραβαίνων διαθήκην (lit. “But they are like/as a man transgressing a covenant”).
- The geographical references (e.g., Gilead, Shechem; vv.7-9).
- שָׁם (adverb; “there”).
- Arguments for Israel as an Adamic (i.e., “New Adam”) figure.
It seems like one can make a good case for different interpretations. The evidence can legitimately be read in different ways (although only one way is correct, of course). Obviously, due to its obscurity, one probably should not base the concept of a pre-fall covenant on this verse. Whatever this verse may mean, its obscurity means it will not settle the issue for either side. Its interpretation is simply too difficult.
But, in light of this evidence, what do you think?
I address this question in the following short exegetical essay, written for Dr. Eric Tully’s Advanced Hebrew Exegesis of Hosea course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Please note: I use the Hebrew Bible’s chapter and verse references below, which can at times be different than what one will find in our English translations.
Covenant Theology argues that the concept of covenant provides the essential framework for understanding God’s relationship with mankind and the outworking of His redemptive program. Related to this position is a belief in a pre-fall covenant with Adam (also known as the “covenant of works”). One text often appealed to in order to demonstrate this covenant’s reality is Hos 6:7. On the one hand, many believe this verse could merely refer to what is likely the Mosaic Covenant.
Of primary concern are two details. Many complexities exist within and in addition to these two issues. But for brevity’s sake, comments will be selective and attention will be spent on these two issues. (1) whether כְּ (MT; cf. LXX) or בְּ (a proposed emendation lacking manuscript evidence) is the proper preposition to precede אָדָם. And (2), how one should render אָדָם—Adam (i.e., the first man), Adam (location), Adam (a man, humanity), Adamah (emendation, “ground”), Admah (emendation), Aram (emendation). (For the sake of time, only the first two of these proposals will be entertained.) These two issues are also interrelated. If the כְּ is preferred, Adam (person) seems to be in view. Therefore, the MT’s כְּ preposition and the LXX’s translation, ὡς, are seen as favoring this interpretation. However, as Williamson and Dearman argue, a geographical understanding of אָדָם may not necessitate an emendation. כְּ could create a comparison but refer to a comparison of action at a place, e.g., “as at Adam” (cf. Hos 2:5). On the other hand, if בְּ is preferred, Adam (location) is in view. Various evidences are levied in support of this second view; but none are without rebuttal. Many argue that a geographical understanding of אָדָם and a corresponding בְּ are required in light of שָׁם. Given its likely locative function (“there”), שָׁם strongly supports interpreting אָדָם as the geographical location; otherwise, שָׁם lacks an obvious antecedent. However, Gentry and McComiskey argue for a non-geographical use of שָׁם. For example, McComiskey (215-216) compares שָׁם’s use in Ps 14:5. Gentry notes that the anaphoric referent of שָׁם “may specify a location more indirectly by referring to circumstances (emphasis added)” (see Hos 9:9; 10:9). If such is the case here, שָׁם would refer back to the circumstances of Eden (sin), indicating sin in a location (Eden), but then not in the location of Adam. The second main support provided for a geographical understanding of אָדָם is that the geographical references that follow (vv.8-9) seem to indicate a similar geographical reference is made in v.7. Nonetheless, several scholars respond to this position by pointing out that no covenant breaking, let alone national sin, at Adam is known. However, it is said that Hosea could be referring to some incident not immediately obvious or not recorded in Biblical history, such as a contemporary event. At this point, Hendersen and Freedman propose a particularly interesting interpretation. They argue that Gilead is a district (not a city) and that Adam is a city within Gilead. Therefore, vv.7-9 refers to the same act of wickedness—murder committed in Adam of Gilead by a gang of priests against victim(s) on the way to Shechem. Adam is then identified as the “city of wickedness” in v.8. If true, אָדָם would definitely be a geographical reference.
Certainly one can make a good case for various interpretations; and the evidence can legitimately be read in more than one way (although only one way is correct, of course). This should caution one from being dogmatic here. It may even be best to conclude inconclusively. Certainly, given the obscurity of this passage, to base the concept of a pre-fall covenant on this text is unwise. But, nonetheless, if forced to choose, this author favors understanding Adam as the location. Andersen and Freedman’s understanding of three geographical references related to the same even is attractive. Further, although a בְּ may still be preferred, one need not necessarily emend the כְּ preposition if it refers to a comparison at a specific location, e.g., “as at Adam.”
 “If it were not for the apparent meaning of 6:8, the identification of Gilead as a city would not have appeared in the lexicons. Gilead refers to individual towns only in the double names Jabesh-Gilead and Ramoth-Gilead, where Gilead is ‘attributive’” (Henderson and Freedman, 436).
 The identity of the 3MP, “they” in v.7 is the priests.