Thou Shalt Preserve Them!
King James Only advocates have Psalm 12:6-7 memorized. For many, it’s one of the most dear passages to their hearts, for it “assures us that God will preserve His Word!” Of course, that does appear to be what is said when we read those verses:
Psalm 12:6-7 King James Version:
” 6 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. 7 Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.”
Clearly “them” is a reference to “The words of the LORD.” And sure enough, we are told that God “shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” To most, it appears there is no disputing this straight forward reading of the King James Bible, but the truth is that this understanding is incorrect.
Preserve “them,” what is “them”?
The King James Bible is primarily translated from the Masoretic Text (MT), and the third revision of the Textus Receptus (TR). The MT containing the Old Testament, and the TR containing the New Testament. The Geneva Bible preceded the King James Bible, yet came from the same sources. The Bishop’s Bible preceded the Geneva Bible, and also came from the same sources. Let’s take a look at both of these to see what they say for verse 7:
Psalm 12:7 Geneva Bible of 1587:
“Thou wilt keepe them, O Lord: thou wilt preserue him from this generation for euer.”
Psalm 12:7 Bishop’s Bible of 1568:
“[Wherfore] thou wylt kepe the godly, O God: thou wylt preserue euery one of them from this generation for euer.”
Note the Geneva’s use of “him” instead of “them,” and the Bishop’s statement that “thou wylt kepe the godly,” and “thou wylt preserue every one of them.” From the Bishop’s we can see that “them” is a reference to “the godly.” The Geneva also seems to be referencing a person, rather than a thing when it says “him” as opposed to “them.”
So now we’re asking “Who will God keep? Who will he preserve?” This question, like most is answered by merely considering the context. Let’s look at a fuller context from the Geneva, showing verses 5-8:
Psalm 12:5-8 Geneva Bible of 1587:
“5 Now for the oppression of the needy, and for the sighes of the poore, I will vp, sayeth the Lord, and will set at libertie him, whom the wicked hath snared. 6 The wordes of the Lorde are pure wordes, as the siluer, tried in a fornace of earth, fined seuen folde. 7 Thou wilt keepe them, O Lord: thou wilt preserue him from this generation for euer. 8 The wicked walke on euery side: when they are exalted, it is a shame for the sonnes of men.”
And the same verses from the Bishop’s:
Psalm 12:5-8 Bishop’s Bible of 1568:
“5 For the calamities of the oppressed, for the deepe sighyng of the poore, I wyll nowe vp sayeth God: and I wyll put in safetie, [hym] whom the [wicked] hath snared. 6 The wordes of God be wordes pure, as the siluer tryed in a furnace of earth: and purified seuen times. 7 [Wherfore] thou wylt kepe the godly, O God: thou wylt preserue euery one of them from this generation for euer. 8 The vngodly walke on euery side: when the worst sort be exalted amongst the chyldren of men.”
The Bishop’s is even more explicit, as it includes “thou wylt kepe the godly, O God,” and “thou wylt preserue euery one of them.” Considering the expanded context, we have a few other things introduced into the reading. No longer is this text just discussing God’s Word, but it is also discussing God’s specific promise to “put in safetie” the “poore” and the “needy,” who are “snared” by “the wicked.”
So the Geneva and the Bishop’s, both preceding the King James Bible chronologically, are clearly speaking of keeping and preserving the poor and needy of verse 5. With that in mind, let’s look once again at the King James Version:
Psalm 12:5-8 King James Version:
“5 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. 6 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. 7 Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever. 8 The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted.”
If we understand “them” in verse 7 to be a reference to the “poor” and the “needy” of verse 5, then all three translations of the MT are in unity. If we understand “them” to refer to the Words of verse 6, then there is no unity and the reliability of the MT comes into question, thus bringing the reliability of the KJV (based on the MT/TR) into question.
Clearer KJV Promises
As demonstrated, the KJV isn’t wrong in its use of “them,” it’s just ambiguous. But that doesn’t mean you cannot shed some light on this promise without leaving the King James Bible. Consider a parallel promise from Psalm 37:28:
Psalm 37:28 King James Version:
“For the LORD loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.”
Note the object of preservation here, “his saints.” Those poor and needy whom He loves from Psalm 12:5, those whom he will keep and preserve from “the wicked” of Psalm 12:8. Another parallel that we can take our King James Only friends to is Psalm 97:10:
Psalm 97:10 King James Version:
“Ye that love the LORD, hate evil: he preserveth the souls of his saints; he delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked.”
This passage has a lot in common with the primary passages in dispute, since this testifies also that “he preserveth the souls of his saints,” and even address the the wicked that were spoken of in Psalm 12:8 when it says “he delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked.”
There are at least 32 other instances “preserve(th)” in the Wisdom Books of Job, Psalm and Proverbs. I believe these will also contribute to the knowledge of what the text is usually speaking of when it deals with preservation.
Consider Job 7:20, Job 10:12, Job 29:2, Job 36:6, Psalm 12:7, Psalm 16:1, Psalm 25:21, Psalm 31:23, Psalm 32:7, Psalm 36:6, Psalm 37:28, Psalm 40:11, Psalm 41:2, Psalm 61:7, Psalm 64:1, Psalm 79:11, Psalm 86:2, Psalm 97:10, Psalm 116:6, Psalm 121:7, Psalm 121:8, Psalm 140:1, Psalm 140:4, Psalm 145:20, Psalm 146:9, Proverbs 2:8, Proverbs 2:11, Proverbs 4:6, Proverbs 14:3, Proverbs 16:17, Proverbs 20:28, and Proverbs 22:12.
And for some quick copy/paste goodness, here’s a small sample from the greater context of Psalms:
Psalm 37:28 “…forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved”
Psalm 31:23 “…for the LORD preserveth the faithful…”
Psalm 86:2 “Preserve my soul; for I am holy…”
Psalm 140:1 “…preserve me from the violent man.”
Psalm 33:6 “…O LORD, thou preservest man…”
Psalm 41:2 “The LORD will preserve him, and keep him alive”
Psalm 64:1 “…preserve my life from fear of the enemy.”
Psalm 116:6 “The LORD preserveth the simple…”
Psalm 97:10 “…he preserveth the souls of his saints…”
Psalm 121:7 “…he shall preserve thy soul.”
Psalm 145:20 “The LORD preserveth all them that love him…”
So the truth is that while God promised to preserve His Word elsewhere in scripture, this passage is not teaching the preservation of God’s Word. Instead, it’s speaking of God’s promise to preserve “the poor,” and “the needy.” It speaks of the purity of His promise to “keep them,” and “preserve them” from the “wicked” who make up “this generation.”