The King James Bible, 1611, and Psalm 12:6-7

The Hebrew translation of “them” in 7a, is interpreted as people following Rabbi Kimshi in the Great, Geneva, and Bishops’ Bibles, not based on a change in the Hebrew grammar or diction but because of the choice of antecedent. For these three versions, the single reading assigned to the pronoun “them” refers to the larger theme of the passage, the oppressed people. The Great Bible because of its temporary paragraph format, lends itself to referring to people. For the Geneva Bible, the marginal note informs the reader of the translator’s selection. The Bishops’ takes an unwarranted course replacing the pronoun with a noun.

Jerome, Ayguan, Luther, Rogers, Medieval Rabbis Kimchi and Abraham Ibn Ezra, and Becke are all aware of the interpretation of “them” within the churchly exegetical tradition as either words or people, with Jerome, Ayguan, Luther, Rogers, and Ibn Ezra arguing that the pronoun in 7a refers to the words.

It appears that without some formatting, marginal note or editorial change to the version, the reader would not be compelled to accept people as the single interpretation of “them” in 12:7a. Indeed, as Muller noted, “the choice of the antecedent is what limits the exegesis, and in fact excludes the broader interpretation of the ‘them’ as a reference to Israel and God’s people.” Which brings us to the rendering of the King James Version. “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.” At preserve them, a marginal note in the King James Version explains, “Hebrew: him, i.e., every one of them.”[1]

While the Geneva Bible includes a marginal note at 7a referring to people, the King James Version does not designate the rendering of the Geneva and rather includes a marginal gloss at v. 7b. While the comment indicates the translators’ knowledge of the tradition, noting a regular practice in the Hebrew to change the number, the text nonetheless reads “them.” Considering the first stanza of 12:7 for the Geneva and King James Version is the same, that the King James translators allowed the immediate antecedent to take precedent without reorienting the reader’s interpretation to another antecedent by a marginal gloss. By so doing, the King James Version translators followed Abraham Ibn Ezra’s rendering of the passage referring to the words. Also, by duplicating the pronoun “them” in this passage, the King James Bible translators provide an unambiguous rendering of the verse limited by the immediate antecedent, words.

Five factors are in play:

  1. Dependency upon the Hebrew text
  2. Limitation of the v. 7 pronouns by the immediate antecedent, words.
  3. Knowledge of the practice in the Hebrew to change the number for the pronouns noted in v. 7b.
  4. Providing an unambiguous, single reading of the verse so that both pronouns have a single antecedent. Note that in word order the two verbs with pronominal suffixes are sequential תִּשְׁמְרֵ֑ם תִּצְּרֶ֓נּוּ contributing to the case for a common antecedent “pure words.”
  5. With v. 7’s reference to preserving the words, or promises, the case can still be made for God’s care for his people. In that these promises are kept forever; it is through the keeping of the promise that the people are preserved.

[1] Holy Bible: 1611 King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982). Also see John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms translated by James Anderson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 179. Calvin notes a common Hebrew practice of changing the number but referring to the same thing, commenting, “With respect to his changing the number, for, he first says, thou wilt keep them, and, next, Thou wilt preserve him,) it is a thing quite common in Hebrew, and the sense is not thereby rendered ambiguous…But as the Jews, when they speak generally, often change the number, I leave my readers freely to form their own judgment.” Henry Ainsworth, Annotations Upon the Five Books of Moses, the Book of the Psalms, and the Song of Songs, or, Canticles (London: Printed by John Haviland for John Bellamie, 1627) For verse 8 [v. 7 in the English Bible], Ainsworth interprets “preserve him” as, “every one of them: so before in the end of the sixth verse, and often in the scripture, like sudden change of number may be observed.”

Please note, that there is no exegetical or hermeneutical case for “people” being the singular antecedent to “keep them” concluding that Psalm 12:6-7 is a passage of Scripture teaching the providential preservation of “pure words.” To say otherwise is to express a prejudiced, non-exegetical interpretive presupposition. Please also note, that because there is a category called “Providential Preservation,” Matthew 5:18, et al, can now fall under that paradigm.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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