Did God Promise To Preserve His Words?:

Interpreting Psalm 12:6–7

Quek Suan Yew

Psalm 12:6–7 states, “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 teaching from these two verses appears quite clear that God would preserve His Holy Word forever. Yet many have argued otherwise. They say that the preservation in verse 7 refers to people only.

Those who interpret Psalm 12:7 to mean people and not the words of God say that since the pronominal suffix in “keep them” (v7a) is in the masculine gender (plural) and “the words of the LORD” (v6) is in the feminine gender (plural), the pronoun “them” must refer to “people.” They argue that for “them” to refer to God’s words the pronominal suffix must also be in the feminine gender agreeing with its antecedent and related noun.

The above grammatical argument against the preservation of God’s words in Psalm 12:6–7 is false. Gesenius, a Hebrew Grammarian, wrote, “Through a weakening in the distinction of gender … masculine suffixes (especially in the plural) are not infrequently used to refer to feminine substantives (E Kautzsch, ed, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, 2nd ed by A E Cowley [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910], 440, sect O).” Besides Psalm 12:7, here are a few other examples from the OT where this occurs:

  1. Genesis 31:9, “Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your [masculine plural pronoun suffix—refering to Rachel and Leah] father, and given them to me.”
  2. Genesis 32:15, “Thirty milch camels with their [masculine plural pronoun suffix—referring to the thirty female camels] colts, forty kine, and ten bulls, twenty she asses, and ten foals.”
  3. Exodus 1:21, “And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them [masculine plural pronoun suffix—a reference to the midwives] houses.

Thus, according to the Hebrew language, it is most legitimate to take the masculine plural pronominal suffix “them” (v7a) to refer to the feminine plural “words of the LORD” in verse 6. It is eisegesis to insist that the pronoun “them” must mean “people” only, not “words.”

Anti-preservationists also argue that the pronominal suffix in “preserve them” (v7b) is in the singular, and so the KJV translators were wrong to render it as “them” (plural). It is true that the pronominal suffix for “preserve them” in verse 7b is a third person masculine singular suffix (him). Why did the KJV translators translate it as “them?” The answer is in the attaching of the energetic nun (the Hebrew letter n) to the pronominal suffix. When this occurs an additional rule applies in the Hebrew language. It is important to note that there is no masculine plural pronominal suffix in the third person when the energetic nun is applied to a verb (see Gesenius, 157–8, l sect 4, I). Hence the Scripture writer, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, used the singular masculine pronominal suffix, retaining the same gender as in “keep them” in verse 7a. It is again very legitimate and consistent with Hebrew grammar for the KJV translators to translate the masculine singular pronominal suffix with the energetic nun as a masculine plural pronoun—“them.”

When we speak of context, it is the immediate context that is considered first, and not the distant context. The immediate context speaks of the words of the Lord. Hence the preservation and keeping (guarding) would be the words of the Lord. We know that the grammar and syntax allow it. Verse 6 is what is known as an emblematic parallelism where the purity of God’s Word is likened to the sevenfold purification (as pure as you can ever get) process of purging silver of every bit of dross leaving behind the purest silver (see Tremper Longman III, How to Read the Psalms [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988], 100). This verse teaches that the words of the Lord are without error or fallibility and it is 100% perfect.

Verse 7 is known as a synonymous parallelism where the second line restates what is mentioned in the first, but using different words (Longman III, 99). As mentioned before, the use of the energetic nun emphasises the act of preservation. This preservation is forever. The relationship between verses 6 and 7 is what we call synthetic parallelism where the second verse adds or expands on the teaching mentioned in the first verse. These two verses combined teach that the words of God are forever perfect; like silver purified seven times, they will be preserved by God for eternity.

The contrast within the psalm would be the words of these evil men versus the words of the Lord. These evil men speak vanity and flattery (v2), and boast that their words will prevail and no one is lord over them (v4). The psalmist counters this by declaring that it is the words of the Lord that will prevail over the words of the evil ones. This is the assurance and comfort that the Lord gives to His people. Do not fear the words of these evil flatterers and boasters; trust in the words of the Lord that is purified seven times as opposed to the words of the evil men which are vain, proud and stem from a double heart (v2). God will keep (guard) His holy words and preserve (action is emphasised by the energetic nun) them from this generation forever. The Lord gave this verbal assurance to that generation and after because He knew they needed it. God’s people were distressed by the many wicked and confusing words that came from proud and evil men. But the thrice holy and perfect God encouraged His people by reminding them that His words and promises are ever true and will forever remain.

Do we have a perfect Bible today? The faith of the believers was put to the test. They had to choose whether to believe and trust in the inerrant, infallible and divinely inspired and preserved Word of God Almighty or the errant, fallible words of sinful men. Decision and decisiveness are needed today. Is your faith based on the pure words of God or the proud words of men? Choose you this day whom you will believe.

Rev Quek Suan Yew is pastor of Calvary Bible-Presbyterian Church (Pandan), and lecturer in Old Testament and Contemporary Theology at Far Eastern Bible College.

Published in The Burning Bush, Volume 10 Number 2 (July 2004)