Psalm 12:7 and Bible Preservation
Dec 30, 2020 (first published April 21, 1996)
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
866-295-4143,
fbns@wayoflife.org
The Bbile
The doctrine of Bible preservation rests upon two unfailing authorities: (1) The promise of God (Ps. 12:6,7; 33:11; 100:5; 111:7-8; 117:2; 119:89,152,160; Is. 40:8; 59:21; Mt. 5:18; 24:35; 1 Pet. 1:23,25; Rev. 22:18,19). (2) The character of God. The God who has revealed Himself in an inspired Book, who has magnified that Word above His very name, would jealously superintend its transmission.

Some do not agree that Psalm 12 should be included in a list of verses on Bible preservation. Consider, though, what verses 6 and 7 say in the King James Bible: “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.” There can be no doubt that the Authorized Bible allows for the interpretation that verse 7 speaks of the preservation of the Bible. There can be no doubt, also, that this was an interpretation held by many down through the centuries.

The modern versions, though, translate verse 7 in such a way that it cannot possibly apply to Bible preservation. The NIV is representative: “And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times. O Lord, you will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever.” The NIV translation of Psalm 12:7 can only refer to the preservation of people.

In a report on the history of the translation and interpretation of Psalm 12:6,7 Peter Van Kleeck, Senior Pastor of the Wealthy Street Baptist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, shows that the testimony is divided. Some interpreters have viewed Psalm 12:7 as applying to Bible preservation; others have viewed it as applying to the preservation of God’s people; others have viewed it as having a double application. Thus Van Kleeck speaks of “the genius of ambiguity.” His report was completed in the process of pursuing an M.A.R. at Calvin Theological Seminary.

Consider some excerpts from this excellent study:

THE GENIUS OF AMBIGUITY--The Translational and Exegetical Rendering of Psalm 12:7 Primarily Considered in the Churchly Tradition of the 16th And 17th Centuries and Its Expression in the Reformation English Bibles, By Peter Van Kleeck

“The appropriate interpretation of Psalm 12:7 is not without question in the churchly tradition. Problems arise from the textual base chosen for the translation, Greek-Latin or Hebrew ... Contemporary Bible versions and the reciprocating confirmation of each other’s validity give the dogmatic impression that as a result of new and better methodologies, the modern rendering is best and that past problems have been resolved. A casual perusal of the popular literature on the subject of Bible texts and versions will show, however, that the Reformational Churches’ expression of their common faith in Scripture’s providential preservation of the texts in their possession is evaluated in an unsympathetic and pejorative manner. Scholars such as Bruce M. Metzger and Kurt Aland discredit the value of the Reformation Greek texts and subsequently the English Bibles on textual grounds. Metzger, giving a standard reply, writes,

“Partly because of this catchword [Textus Receptus] the form of the Greek text incorporated in the editions that Stephanus, Beza, and the Elzevirs had published succeeded in establishing itself as ‘the only true text’ of the New Testament, and was slavishly reprinted in hundreds of subsequent editions. It lies at the basis of the King James Version and of all the principal Protestant translations in the languages of Europe prior to 1881. So superstitious has been the reverence accorded the Textus Receptus that in some cases attempts to criticize or emend it have been regarded as akin to sacrilege” (Metzger,
The Text of the New Testament, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 106).

“What these writers fail to say is that the Authorized Version is not an ad hoc English translation, but stands at the end of the 16th century English Bible tradition. ... To deny the Authorized Version on textual grounds is to do the same for the Bishops, Geneva, Great, Coverdale, Matthews and Tyndale Bibles going back to 1524. It also questions the scholarship of the Protestant exiles of Mary’s romanish persecution who had escaped to the safe haven of Geneva as well as the value of every 16th and 17th century commentator who based his work on Erasmus’ Greek New Testament.

“The bifurcation of the Reformation Bible tradition and the post-19th century English Bibles is seen in the New Revised Standard Version render[ing of] Psalm 12:7, “You O Lord, will protect us; you will guard us from this generation forever.” In a similar manner, the New International Version translates verse 7, “O Lord, you will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever.” In spite of
Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia reading “keep them” and “preserve him,” both the NRSV and NIV have elected not to translate the Hebrew and have, in its place, substituted a translation from the Greek and Latin rendering of these two pronouns. By so doing, the editors of these translations have endorsed one exegetical tradition, the Greek- Latin, to the exclusion of the other, the Hebraic, and by doing so have censured any further debate within the Hebrew exegetical tradition itself. ...

“This essay will show the diversity of the textual and exegetical tradition of Psalm 12:6-7 ... By so doing, the inadequacy of modern renditions of Psalm 12:7 will be exposed...

“Michael Ayguan (1340-1416) ... On Psalm 12:7 Ayguan comments, Keep them: that is, not as the passage is generally taken, Keep or guard Thy people, but Thou shalt keep, or make good, Thy words: and by doing so, shalt preserve him--him, the needy, him, the poor--from this generation...

“Martin Luther’s German Bible ... Following the arrangement of this Psalm, Luther penned a hymn, two stanzas of which reflect his understanding of verse 6 and 7: ... “Thy truth thou wilt preserve, O Lord, from this vile generation...” In poetic form, Luther grasps the significance of this verse both for the preservation of those who are oppressed and for the Word of God. The two-pronged significance of this interpretation to both people and God’s words in Luther’s Psalter was to have wide-ranging significance in the English Bible tradition.

“Calvin’s Commentary on the Psalms ... in the body of the commentary he writes, ‘Some give this exposition of the passage, Thou wilt keep them, namely, thy words; but this does not seem to me to be suitable.” [Thus while Calvin did not believe Psalm 12:7 referred to the Word of God, he admits that others did hold this view in his day.]

“Coverdale Bible, 1535 ... reads for [verse 7] of Psalm 12: “Keep them therefore (O Lord) and preserve us from this generation for ever.” With the absence of “Thou shalt” to begin verse 7, there is a direct connection between ‘words’ and ‘keep them.’ In the first clause, Coverdale intended the words to be kept; in the second clause people are in view...”

“The Matthew Bible 1537. ... In Psalm 12:6-7 Rogers translated, “The words of the Lord are pure words as the silver, which from the earth is tried and purified vii times in the fire. Keep them therefore (O Lord) and preserve us from this generation for ever.” Following Coverdale, Rogers makes a clear connection in his translation between the words being the antecedent to “them.” ... The significance of Roger’s marginal note is that two of the greatest Hebrew scholars referred to by the Reformation writers differed on the interpretation of “them” in Psalms 12:7. [Thus we see that the interpretation of this verse was also divided among Jewish scholars.]

“The Third Part of the Bible, 1550. Taken from Becke’s text of 1549 this edition of the scriptures contains the Psalter, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs. ... In verse 7 there is a note at ‘them’ which states, ‘some understand here certain men, some others word.” Again, the translators and exegetes allowed breadth of interpretation of “them” to include people and words.

“The Geneva Bible, 1560. ... The preface reads, “Then comforting himself and others with the assurance of God’s help, he commendeth the constant vigil that God observeth in keeping his promises.” The text reads, “The words of the Lord are pure words, as the silver, tried in a furnace of earth, fined seven fold. Thou wilt keep them, O Lord: Thou wilt preserve him from this generation forever.” [The margin reads, “Because the Lords word and promise is true and unchangeable, he will perform it and preserve the poor from this wicked generation.” Thus the Geneva took a position that verse 7 applies both to the preservation of the Bible and of God’s people.]

“Annotations by Henry Ainsworth, 1626. Briggs commends Ainsworth as the “prince of Puritan commentators” and that his commentary on the Psalms is a “monument of learning.” ... Ainsworth states that “the sayings” [of Psalm 12:7] are “words” or “promises” that are “tried” or “examined” “as in a fire.” He cross references the reader to Psalm 18:31; 119:140; and Proverbs 30:5, each reference having to do with the purity of the word.

“Matthew Poole’s 1685 Commentary of the Psalms ... writes at verse seven, “Thou shalt keep them; either, 1. The poor and needy, ver. 5 ... Or, 2. Thy words or promises last mentioned, ver. 6. ...

“In summary ... [t]he only sure conclusion is that there is no consensus within the English Bible tradition for the interpretation of “them” in Psalm 12:7 and it was precisely this lack of agreement within the tradition which was the genius of the ambiguity of the King James Version’s rendering. ... by choosing a Greek-Latin basis the modern versions elect to overlook the Reformation’s Hebrew basis for translation in Psalm 12:6-7; and the churchly tradition in the new versions is censored by not including a translation that is broad enough to include both interpretations--oppressed people and God’s words” (Peter Van Kleeck,
The Translational and Exegetical Rendering of Psalm 12:7 Primarily Considered in the Churchly Tradition of the 16th and 17th Centuries and Its Expression in the Reformation English Bibles: The Genius of Ambiguity, March 1993).



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