Faithful Promises: Psalm 12

Faithful Promises: Psalm 12

One of the long term projects I have for this blog is to take a brief look at the major passages of scripture that relate to inspiration or that are used in discussions about it. I’m taking these passages from various sources, including comments made on this blog, but also from personal conversations, books, letters, e-mails, and so forth.

In theological debates, the actual intent of Biblical passages often gets subordinated to a theological agenda. I recall one debate, or perhaps it would better be called an argument, in which both my opponent and I were citing Hebrews 4:12, yet our positions were polar opposites. That’s why an assertion with a parenthetical scripture reference, such as “the Bible is inerrant (2 Tim. 3:16)” have a tendency to fail in discussion.

One favorite of the KJV-Only group is Psalm 12, of which they regularly cite verses 6 and 7. There are several things to look at about this Psalm. First we must ask just what type of literature it is. We know it is a Psalm (I wonder what our first clue was!) but just what type of Psalm?

We can make some generalizations about Psalms. They are poetry and will tend to use figurative and picturesque language as is common in poetry. They are written from various perspectives and intended for various occasions. Thus it is very dangerous to pick a few lines from a Psalm and apply it theologically. There is the great example of quoting “there is no god” from Psalm 14:1. Of course, the Psalmist is quoting some unspecified group of fools, or perhaps some particular fool.

Psalm 12, in particular is a prayer that is divided into some quite precise divisions. Verses 1 & 2 lament the lack of good people and describe the depravity of those who surround the Psalmist. This is followed in verses 3 & 4 by the actual petition, which is to cut off those who are flattering and arrogant. Verse 5 is YHWH’s response to the situation, in which he declares his intention to respond to the petition presented. Finally, verses 6-8, we have the expression of faith that despite the way in which the petitioner(s) is surrounded by the wicked, God will be faithful to his word–his promise–of protection given in verse 5.

The two elements that the KJV-Only advocates have grabbed out of this Psalm are the statement that the Lord’s words are pure, and in verse 7 that the promise is forever. They take this to mean that the KJV is God’s pure word and that it will remain forever. Of course, the Psalm says nothing of the sort.

Note that many modern versions (NRSV and NIV among them) translate “words” in verse 6 as “promises.” That is a correct reading of the Hebrew in which the specific words are the ones just spoken, and are thus promises in context. This meaning is similar to our use of “give your word” in English.

Thus this passage says nothing directly about the Bible or its inspiration. It does, however, say some things indirectly, by talking about God and the nature of his promises. God’s promises are amongst God’s words, and he will be faithful to what he has declared. We can expect God’s word as reflected elsewhere, such as in scripture, to share characteristics with his word expressed to worshiper(s) here.

Psalm 12 is a good example of a prayer of petition in the Bible, and it declares God faithful in what he says.

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