One of the key scriptural ‘proofs’ for the King James Version Only error is Psalms 12.6-7, but in the end, due to a translation error, it provides only a thinly veiled resistance to the truth.
A Great “Word Preservation” Passage – Or Is It?
By: Brian Tegart
Psalms 12:6-7 (KJV) “The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.”
In examining the KJV-only debate, I have come across mention of this passage many times. It is used in support of KJV-onlyism, to show that God will preserve his words.
At first read, the passage above certainly seems to make that clear. However, looking at this passage in some other versions indicates that it was in fact people that this promise of preservation is given to, not words. So, which is right?
In a way, they both are. The first thing to do is examine this passage in the context of the entire chapter, not just on it’s own. The context of the chapter is that David is asking for the Lord’s help, as there are evil men coming against him and other Godly men. In this light, it’s not hard to read verse 7 in the KJV as a referring to people instead of words – the “them” referring to the poor and the needy in verse 5 instead of the “words” in verse 6.
Psalms 12:5 (KJV) “For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the LORD; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.”
To this point some KJV-only supporters have responded with something like, “Yeah, but the pronoun “them” should refer back to the last noun that makes sense (its antecedent), which would be the “words” in verse 6. To come to the conclusion that it refers to the people in verse 5 requires the bending the rules English grammar.”
I think that’s a good observation, and should be addressed. Let’s look a little closer:
The underlying Hebrew holds the key. In Hebrew, nouns and pronouns have a gender form – masculine or feminine. Not that the objects themselves have to be physically male or female, but rather words are classified into these two categories, much like the French words “le” and “la” are the masculine and feminine forms respectively of the English word “the”.
In verse 7 of the KJV, the words “preserve them” was translated from the Hebrew word natsar (naw-tsar’, Strong’s #5341), and is in masculine form. The Hebrew word is a verb and can have either a feminine or a masculine form suffix, depending on whether the object(s) (noun or pronoun) it is acting upon is in feminine or masculine form. In this case it’s in the masculine form. So we then know that whatever it’s referring to (it’s antecedent) must also be in masculine form.
Examining the word “words” in verse 6, we see that the underlying Hebrew word is ’emrah (em-raw’, Strong’s #565). This word is in feminine form. If the author (David) wanted to use the masculine form, so that the “them” in verse 7 would match, he would have used the Hebrew word ’emer (ay’-mer, Strong’s #561), which is the exact same word but in the masculine form.
Examining the words “poor”, “needy” in verse 5, we see that their Hebrew words are `aniy (aw-nee’, Strong’s #6041) and ‘ebyown (eb-yone’, Strong’s #34) respectively. These words are both in masculine form.
So, it appears that in order to read this passage as a “word preservation” passage would require the breaking of Hebrew grammar rules. In the Hebrew, this passage is clearly a “people preservation” passage. The meaning that is clear in the Hebrew is blurred and is easily missed in the KJV.
It is also clear that it probably isn’t an “exception to the rule” of gender matching, since David could have used the feminine suffix on the Hebrew word translated as “preserved them”, thus avoiding the “exception”. Another way he could have done it would be to have used the masculine form Hebrew word ’emer (ay’-mer, Strong’s #561) for the “words” in verse 6, instead of the feminine form Hebrew word ’emrah (em-raw’, Strong’s #565), which both have the same meaning and are both translated as “words” throughout the KJV. Lastly, we don’t need to see an “exception to the rule” because this passage is not a case where there is no other explanation – understanding “preserve them” to mean the people in verse 5 fits both Hebrew grammar rules and context of the chapter. An “exception” needs not exist for the passage to make perfect sense, as is the case with other “exceptions”. To believe this passage is a “word preservation” passage is to create an “exception to the rule” where none is needed.
I have heard some KJV-only supporters respond with, “We don’t need to go digging into the Hebrew and Greek. God gave us his word in English and that’s good enough. I’ll stick with what the English says.”
Well I can’t force you to agree. All I can do is present some facts and ask you to rethink your idea. True, we have God’s word in English, but it was in Hebrew and Greek a long time before it was translated into English. The Hebrew makes it clear that verse 7 is referring to people – those who read Hebrew would not come to the conclusion that it is referring to the “words” in verse 6. Do you think that when the Scriptures were translated into English, God wanted to change the meaning that was clear all the way back to the time that David wrote it (approx. 950 BC)?
Also, you may be interested in how the KJV translators themselves saw this passage:
Psalms 12:5-7 (1611 KJV) “For the oppreffion of the poore, for the fighing of the needy, now will I arife (faith the LORD,) I will fet him in faftie from him that puffeth at him. The wordes of the LORD are pure words : as filuer tried in a fornace of earth purified feuen times. Thou fhalt keepe them, (O LORD,) thou fhalt preferue them, from this generation for euer.”
That’s how the passage looked in the first edition of the KJV, first published in 1611. In this first edition, the translators placed a marginal on the word “them” in verse 7. The margin note reads:
Heb. him, i. euery one of them.
So, it appears that even the KJV translators saw that the Hebrew word that they translated “preserve them” refers to the “him” – the “poor” and the “needy” in verse 5, instead of the “words” in verse 6. It seems they saw the misleading way a word-for-word English translation would sound, and thus wanted to clarify the actual meaning. Otherwise, why would they include the footnote?
The note indicates something else of interest to the KJV-only issue: this is an example of “dynamic equivalence” and “gender inclusiveness” in the KJV, which in this instance has caused many people to misread the passage!
Also of note, talking about the KJV-onlyism in general, is that parts of the passage are in parentheses in the 1611 edition, but not in parentheses in the commonly used later editions of the KJV. Also, italics, spelling, and punctuation have also changed. Why have these changes been made? By what authority?
Am I saying God won’t preserve his words? No, I’m simply showing that Psalm 12:6-7 is not talking about word preservation, but people preservation. Also, there’s certainly no mention in Scripture about how the Lord will preserve his words (i.e. there’s no mention that it will be only in a 17th century English translation).