Continuing the series now, I hope in this post to continue letting the Bible speak for itself as to the doctrine of preservation.
We finished the last post by discussing the phrase “Word of God”. We saw that that term can refer to Scripture, but often in Scripture it does not. Instead it refers to the oral message of the Gospel or the body of revealed truths that make up orthodox Christian doctrine, or even God’s purposes and determinative will. Therefore as we move into a discussion of individual passages, we must remember to take pains to find from the context whether Scripture is in view or not.
We must begin our study with the most used passage concerning the preservation of Scripture: Psalm 12:6-7. Since this Scripture is so pivotal, it takes up a whole post’s length of discussion! So I will pick up with other passages in the next post.
Ps. 12:6-7 The words of the LORD are pure words: assilver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them [Heb. him. i. every one of them.] from this generation for ever. — KJV
Ps. 12:6-7 The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. You, O LORD, will keep them; you will guard us [or guard him] from this generation forever. — ESV
Just to clarify, the words in brackets are from footnotes or marginal notes in the KJV 1611 or ESV respectively.
Now to understand this passage we must see the context. The Psalm starts with a prayer for help. The problem in view is the oppression of the godly at the hands of the wicked. Of specific note is the flattering, lying, and deceitful speech of the wicked (see vs. 3-4). The Lord speaks in verse 5 and promises to act on behalf of the righteous and put him in safety. Then in vs. 6 we are reminded that the words of the Lord are pure, as pure as extremely refined silver.
If we stop here, we are prepared to see “words of the LORD” as referring specifically to God’s promises made in verse 5. Indeed all of God’s promises are sure because when he speaks, his words are pure. Yet I would say the “words of the LORD” definitely includes Scripture here, too.
Now in verse 7, we are faced with two “them”s in the KJV. What is meant by the first “them”? The context coupled with a strong grammatical argument from the Hebrew grammar would make us see the antecedent of them as the “needy” or the “poor” in verse 5 (more on that later). In fact, this is how the many, if not most, conservative Christian Bible commentators have understood this passage (see for instance, John Calvin; Matthew Henry; Adam Clarke; Albert Barnes; John Gill; Keil & Delitsch; John Darby; Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown; and Charles Spurgeon). In fact I only found one commentator which said “them” refers to “words”: John Wesley (interestingly, he did not give an argument for why), although a few of the commentators above mentioned that others viewed it as referring to “words”, especially a Jewish rabbi.
Now understanding the first “them” to refer to the godly people mentioned in verse 5, the second “them” (which in Hebrew is literally “him” as the marginal or foot-notes in both the KJV and ESV show) could refer to the psalmist himself, or “him” from verse 5. It can also refer as the KJV marginal note indicates, to every one of the “them”. In other words God preserves his people generally and each one specifically. It must be granted that this interpretation makes good sense of the grammar and context of the psalm. In fact it seems to have been a majority view among Christians with regard to the interpretation of this psalm.
Now “them” could also possibly refer to “words of the LORD” from verse 6. And almost all KJV Onlyists would take this position. And I must agree the context could be referring to God “keep”ing his promises in verse 5. So the words of the Lord are kept. And then you could say “every one of them” are preserved as well. Or if you translate the Hebrew literally here, as the Geneva Bible does, it could refer to God keeping His words or promises always, and so thus God will preserve “him” referring to the man mentioned in verse 5 or the psalmist. One other thing to bear in mind is that this psalm is Hebrew poetry. The ESV and other modern versions represent how the poetry would look by dividing the psalms in poetic verses or stanzas. In this case verses 5-6 go together and verses 7-8 go together. So the flow of the passage would not necessarily argue in favor of “words of the LORD” being seen as the antecedent of “them”, because “them” is at the beginning of a new stanza.
To save time, I am going to deal with the KJV Only response to the grammar argument in the footnotes to this article, see . But even if we grant the KJV Only position, that verse 7 is to be understood as a Scriptural teaching that God will preserve His words, we still encounter a problem. The passage merely says God will keep and preserve His words. It does not state whether those words will be made available to all believers or not. It does not state if those words would be generally accessible or if they will be all in one manuscript or group of manuscripts. It doesn’t even say specifically that they will be perfectly preserved, although we could assume that the statement “God will preserve ‘the words of the LORD'” would of necessity imply that such preservation would extend to all of those words. And again, “words of the LORD” seems to refer specifically to God’s promises and not necessarily scripture. So at most this passage declares generally that God will preserve His words. It is not an emphatic or clear declaration that God will perfectly preserve them in such a way that all of them will always be available and identifiable to God’s people.
Again, I am sorry that this post was so long, but Ps. 12 is a pivotal piece of the Scriptural passages which bear on preservation. Tomorrow, I will aim to have the next post ready for you all.
 Here is the KJVO counter argument to the Hebrew grammatical problem in this passage. The “them” is masculine plural in Hebrew, and “words” in verse 6 is feminine plural. The closest masculine plural words are “needy” and “poor” in verse 5. Now Dr. Thomas Strousse, leaning on some research done by Pastor Kent Brandenburg, points out three factors which unite to persuade him to conclude that “them” refers to “words”. First, he declares that the closest antecedent possible would naturally be “words”. Second, he quotes Gesenius to the efect that it is not infrequent for “masculine suffixes (especially in the plural)” to be “used to refer to feminine substantives.” Finally, he argues on the basis of a pattern they have found elsewhere in Psalms: feminine plural words referring to Scripture as antecedents of masculine plural pronouns (or verb suffixes). The following examples were cited: Ps. 119:111, 129, 152, and 167.
My response is that other commentators more versed in Hebrew than I have not seen this. Also all the examples are from Ps. 119. It is possible that this is a stylistic characteristic of Ps. 119. Also, does this peculiarity limit itself to only those four occurences in Ps. 119? And are there examples outside of Ps. 12? Also, consider my points under Ps. 12:6-7 above. At this time I am unconvinced of these counter arguments. Unfortunately I am not well versed in Hebrew but if I did some digging maybe I could come up with other grammars which would differ with Gesenius. Perhaps some of my readers could speak up on this point as well.
see: Strousse, “The Permanent Preservation of God’s Words Psalm 12:6-7”, Thou Shalt Keep Them: A Biblical Theology of the Perfect Preservation of Scripture, edited by Kent Brandenburg (El Sobrante, CA: Pillar and Ground Publishing, 2003), pg. 32.
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