Psalm 12 And The King James Controversy (Part 1)


Introduction

One of the passages that has been central to the discussion of the King James Only position has been Psalm 12:6.-7 This passage, in the KJV, reads,

"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."

The reason that this passage is central to the debate comes from the claim that stems from specific understandings of this passage. The KJV-Only advocate often sees in this passage a Doctrine of Preservation. There are different nuances taken by different individuals in the King James Only camp. There are some who see a Doctrine of Preservation whereby God divinely preserved the Greek and Hebrew texts in such a way that the King James Version that came from them was pure, like a piece of silver or gold that has been refined in fire. Others see in this passage an allusion to the King James Version itself. Some, such as Peter Ruckman, have applied this passage to the King James Version itself, seeing the King James Version itself as God's perfect word.

Others have argued for a different understanding of this passage. Utilizing the context of the passage, a couple of other interpretations have come forward. In this post, we will explore the line of reasoning behind both positions, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses.

The Affirmative Position

The question we are exploring in this blog post (and the part 2 that follows this post) is this: "Does Psalm 12:6-7 support the view that God has divinely preserved Scripture in such a way as to create a perfect and flawless English translation in the King James Version?" Since this is the question we are exploring, I have labeled a position that would affirm the truth of this statement as the "Affirmative Position." By contrast, I have labeled a position that would deny that this statement contains a true statement as the "Contrary Position."

There are some prominent individuals who hold to the Affirmative Position. One such individual is, of course, Peter Ruckman, whose work has been cited in previous posts in this series. Ruckman, along with Marianne Manly, Gary Miller, and David W. Daniels, read this passage in a way that leads to an affirmative interpretation of this passage. The line of reasoning essentially goes like this:

I. God's word (Scripture), according to this passage, is perfect and pure.
II. Any change in or deviation from the words of Scripture constitute impurity.
III. The seven-fold refinement mentioned here refers to different English translations.
IV. The King James Version is the seventh English translation.
V. Therefore, (From I, III, and IV), the King James Version is perfect.
VI. Therefore, (From II and V) any change or deviation from the text of the KJV constitutes impurity.

This would include any deviation from the KJV in modern translations. That is, even if the KJV and, say, the ESV, express the same point in a particular passage, the ESV will be seen as impure (or a "perversion") of the King James Version because it uses different words to express the same idea. If it uses the exact same words to express the same point, it will be seen as a confirmation of the King James Version's accuracy. While there may be other aspects of the syllogism above to be explored, this post will focus primarily on Premise 1. To be clear, neither side is denying the inspiration of Scripture (although my understanding, and the understanding of most others would be different than the understanding of, say, Peter Ruckman.) Rather, we are simply exploring whether this particular passage supports the affirmative position or the contrary position mentioned above.

In many cases at the popular level, the idea that this passage is referring to Scripture itself is simply assumed, without really looking at a reason to adopt this view. However, there are some who have actually put forward a stronger case for deriving a Doctrine of Preservation from this passage. One of the better cases that I have found has been put forward by Bryan Ross. Ross rejects the contrary position based on grammatical and contextual considerations. Ross follows the logic of Thomas Strouse by arguing based on the structure of the passage. Unlike Ruckman, Ross does not appear to simply assume that the King James Version is in view. Ross, by contrast, argued that "The entire psalm is about the words of the wicked versus the words of God."1 Utilizing this context, Ross makes his argument that the preservation of God's words are in mind. However, Ross also acknowledges that, "While I believe that Psalm 12:6-7 is teaching the preservation of the 'words,' I do not believe the psalmist penned these verses with an early 17th century English translation in mind. Rather David is referring to the 'words' he is in the process of writing in Hebrew.......This is not to say that translations cannot be part of the preservation process, it simply means that David is not referring to or speaking about the KJB in Psalm 12."2 In this sense, while Ross defends a preservationist perspective on this topic, he appears to have quite a bit in common with the contrary position, as well. His position appears to be similar to older KJV fundamentalists rather than the Ruckmanite wing of the movement.

Ross was not the only one to defend the idea that Scripture is in view in this passage. Joey Faust, who has written a lengthy work tracing the history of the King James Version from the perspective of a King James Only Advocate, appears to assume that this passage refers to the words of Scripture itself since, "What good is an inspired Bible that is not preserved in purity and perfection?"3 The reasoning here seems to be something along these lines: God must have perfectly preserved his word because an "impure" (by Faust's definition) Bible would be worthless. Therefore, we should understand this to be a promise to preserve God's words. There seems to be very little critical reflection on this line of reasoning in Faust's book.

D.A. Waite also defends this thesis, as well, that this passage refers to Scripture. He argues, "The word 'them' in verse seven refers back to 'the words of the LORD.' That is a promise of Bible preservation. God has promised to 'PRESERVE' His 'PURE WORDS.' This promise extends 'from this generation [that is, that of the Psalmist] FOR EVER.'"4 Waite appears to be arguing from the grammatical usage of the English words. Waite argues that the referent of the word "them" in these two verses is the "words of the LORD," which he identifies as Scripture as opposed to the promise that God made earlier in the psalm. As we trace this interpretation back, it appears that Waite is in line with the innovations that were essentially invented by Ruckman and his followers.

Each of these three authors have used different lines of reasoning to arrive at the same conclusion, although their lines of reasoning may occasionally converge at some points. But the question remains: Are these lines of reasoning valid? This is the question we will now explore.

Exploring The Arguments

When we examine the arguments listed above, we see some weaknesses. Faust's argument is, I think, clearly the weakest of the arguments listed here. Faust's argument is ultimately circular, since he starts with the very conclusion that he is trying to prove. Specifically, Faust starts with the idea that there must be a perfectly preserved version of the Bible that has endured throughout all the ages. He then moves from there to find a prooftext for his assertion in Psalm 12:6-7. There is a second issue, though, that may be even more devastating than this. If Faust's interpretation is correct, then the author of this Psalm cannot be referring to the King James Version of the Bible, since the King James Version wouldn't come along for at least two millennia after this psalm was written. Therefore, it seems that if Faust is correct about this interpretation, it actually undermines his KJV-Only position rather than bolster it. At best, it could refer to the underlying Hebrew manuscripts that the author of this psalm may have been familiar with, possibly including the very words the author was penning. This would, at any rate, exclude a Bible translation that came around only millennia after this psalm.

Let's make Faust's argument as strong as possible. Some KJV-Only advocates understand this passage to be referring to a type of preservation that would preclude variation from the text as originally written. That is, let's look at the KJV-Only advocate who isn't advocating for the King James Version per se, but rather for the textual basis that underlies it, perhaps one who claims that the manuscripts that were the basis of the Textus Receptus were divinely preserved without error.. The simple fact is that this is not born out in the circumstances surrounding the Textus Receptus. 5  Beyond this, as we will see below, the psalm itself appears to be referring to something more specific than Scripture. There are two primary understandings concerning this passage. The idea that this is referring to a preservation of Scripture as a whole is not one of them, and in fact appears to be an interpretation that, today, is unique to advocates of the King James Only position.

What about Waite's argument above? While this argument is at the least stronger than Faust's, it does have its own weaknesses. Waite uses the English grammatical construction to make his case that what is being spoken of here are the "words" of God, by which Waite means Scripture as contained in the King James Version. However, this ignores the overall context of Psalm 12. While there is a dichotomy between the speech and promises of God and the speech of humankind, this provides only part of the overall context. Psalm 12 is a lament, and contains the typical elements of a lament. As such, the psalmist expresses a problem, cries out to God, and closes the psalm with a hopeful expectation of God's intervention in the problem. Psalm 12:6-7 opens the "hopeful expectation" aspect of this psalm, and as such, should be understood to be responding to the "flattering lips" that the psalmist is complaining about starting in verse 2. This suggests a more immediate application than a translation of the Bible that arose millennia after this psalm was penned.

In addition, and along the same lines, Waite's argument misses the point of the psalm as a whole. Written Scripture was not in view at any point in the psalm. Based on the overall context of the psalm, the most logical referent for "them" in verse 7 is the promise that God made in verse 5. The author of this psalm is affirming his faith and trust in God's promise to protect and help the needy, not in God's supposed promise to protect a manuscript of the Bible from any textual variation.

Ross appears to make some of the same mistakes of Waite while avoiding others. Just like Waite, Ross takes part of the context of this passage into consideration, while missing another part of the context of this passage. Unlike Waite, however, Ross appears to recognize the limitations of such an argument. Ross makes a far more modest claim than Waite, applying the idea of his Doctrine of Preservation primarily to the words being penned by the author in that moment. While this comes with its own set of problems, I still have to commend Ross for his humility as he actually engages with the text.

Conclusion

In this post, we have seen that several individuals have attempted to defend the position that Psalm 12:6-7 promises God's perfect preservation of Scripture in such a way that the result of said preservation led to a perfect Bible in the King James Version. We have also seen how several arguments for this position come up short. In part 2, we will walk through an exegesis of Psalm 12 and explore the passage in its literary context.

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1 Bryan C. Ross, "The Preservation of God's Word: A Close Look At Psalm 12:6-7". Kindle Edition. Location 402.

2 Ibid, Location 449-456 


4 D.A. Waite. "Defending The King James Bible: A Fourfold Superiority". p. 37. 

The Textus Receptus was not a single document that was miraculously preserved. The term "Textus Receptus" refers to a printed text (not a hand copied manuscript) first printed in 1516, and completed by a man named Erasmus. Erasmus used three different manuscripts, each from the Byzantine family of manuscripts,  to create a rushed copy of the Greek New Testament. Contrary to popular belief, it was not universally accepted at the time the King James Version was translated.  

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