The promise argument can be summarized as follows: According to KJVO advocates, God has promised throughout the pages of Scripture that He will preserve His Word. This promise of preservation entails more than just the message of God’s entire revelation, but the actual words in the physical, autographic text. Put another way, God does more than promise the preservation of His overall revelation, but has promised the preservation of the very words as the prophets and apostles originally penned them.
One of the more scholarly KJV advocates, D. A. Waite, describes this promise argument in this manner,
You may be asking yourself, “Do we have the Words of God today?” or, “Are the Words of God intact today?” I believe every one of the Words of God has been preserved or kept right down to the present. There are two strong reasons for this. (1) The first reason why I believe in Bible preservation is that God has repeatedly promised in both the Old and New Testaments, that He would preserve and keep every one of His Words that originally gave in the Hebrew and Greek languages. (2) The second reason I believe in Bible preservation is that God has always kept His promises in the past, and we assume that He will keep up this perfect record in the present and on into the future.(Defending the King James Bible, 1995 edition, pg. 6)
Because God has promised such accurate, pristine preservation of His Word, that in turn means there must be an available copy of the original autographic text of the Hebrew and Greek containing His preserved Word. KJVO advocates obviously conclude that available copy was to be found in the original language texts utilized by the KJV translators: the Ben Chayyim edition of the Masoretic text for the Hebrew of the OT and the Erasmus Received Text for the Greek of the NT.
I will be covering the idea of biblical preservation in more depth when I come to the textual argument, but here I want to look at the KJVO claim that God has promised, as Waite stated, He would preserve and keep every one of His Words that He originally gave in the Hebrew and Greek languages.
Does God’s promise to preserve His word extend beyond the divinely revealed message of the whole of Scripture so as to encompass the physical copies of the original autographs?
Let me state here that I do affirm God’s preservation of His revelation as it is contained in the pages of the Bible. I believe God has preserved His Word with such care that any reputable, conservative English translation conveys accurately what the original authors wrote. I reject, however, the KJVO claim that God’s promise of preservation involves God providentially guiding the transmission of one group of manuscripts down through history and protecting it from any variation among the copies.
I further reject the KJVO idea that God supernaturally directs the copyists of the biblical text to copy the original biblical document with exact precision so as to keep it from containing variants, and that God guided the copyists to re-insert words and phrase that allegedly fell out from the text either accidentally or intentionally. Yes, I believe God preserves His Word, but I believe it is in the totality of all the available manuscript evidence, variants and copyist errors included.
There are a handful of problem areas with the promise argument:
First, I believe the KJVO advocates falsely equate the idea of “God’s Word” or “words” with the exactness of the physical text. Now, I need to be absolutely clear here. I am not saying that we can’t point to a physical Bible and affirm it is the Word of God. I certainly believe that. What I am saying is that the biblical idea of God’s Word has always been God’s divine revelation, and not the physical text.
Throughout the Bible, the writers of Scripture speak of God’s revelation as the Word of the Lord, or in the plural, the Words of the Lord. The Word of the Lord is either revealed by speech, the proclamation of a prophet or apostle, or by writing, the written sermons of a prophet or the epistles of an Apostle. The term, Word of the Lord or the Words of the Lord, is synonymous with the whole of God’s divine revelation. Eventually, that divine revelation was encapsulated in the biblical documents containing the 39 books of the OT and the 27 of the NT. The Bible is a written record of the divine mind revealed to man, particularly God’s redeemed people, and can properly be considered, The Word of God.
The Word of the Lord testifies to itself as being infallible, pure, true, trustworthy, holy and all the other theologically descriptive terms used to explain its source being from God. Once God’s revelation was written down, however, men had to maintain copies of that revelation in order to transmit it through history.
Those copies, unlike the divine revelation with its source in an infallible God, are man-made with their source in fallible men, and as a result, errors of transmission seep into the copies. In fact, variants are an unavoidable reality with handwritten documents like the manuscripts for the Bible. Regardless of how meticulous a person will be to guard against mistakes when copying, mistakes do happen. We have about 3,000 pieces of manuscript evidence for the OT documents and 5,500 pieces of manuscript evidence for the NT documents. Even the cleanest, most intact manuscripts from this collection contain variants and mistakes. (I recognize that KJVO apologists exaggerate the significance of these variants as to their impact upon scripture, but I will take that up in a later post).
Men make mistakes in copying and God in His wisdom was pleased to allow that to happen. However, the mistakes found in the physical texts of copied Scripture do not equate the loss of the divine revelation. The divine revelation is still infallible, pure and trustworthy. It is the copied, physical text that contains the errors. KJVO advocates insist that if any deviation takes place in the actual physical copy, then God’s revelation has been marred, or worse still, lost.
Yet, God has never promised that He will prevent the miscopying of His divine revelation that is written. What God has done is to entrust godly men to copy His Word and do the best they can under normal circumstances in maintaining the text’s integrity. And, in spite of all the many copying mistakes, godly men have done a remarkable job of keeping the text’s integrity despite KJVO apologists’ accusation of intentional corruption by heretics.
Furthermore, God allows His written divine revelation to be translated, and translation definitely alters the original, autographic text by removing it from the original biblical language and rendering it into another, entirely different language. The presence of foreign language versions of God’s written revelation that have been used of God to bring men to salvation, along with guiding His people, is alone enough to disprove the promise argument as put forth by KJVO advocates.
The most problematic area where the KJVO promise argument falls apart is with the abuse of Scripture KJVO advocates utilize in order to defend their claim of God’s promise. For example, D.A Waite examines 15 passages of Scripture in his attempt to demonstrate that God has promised to keep every word intact to this very day that was originally written by the original authors. Though many of the passages he cites speak of God’s promises never failing, none of them have any relevance to God promising to preserve His Word on a textual level exactly as the original authors wrote it. Waite ignores the context from where the passages are taken and infers his own conclusions by reading into them what he wants them to say in an eisegetical manner.
The one passage nearly all KJVO advocates appeal to in order to establish the promise argument, however, is Psalm 12:6,7. Probably the first KJVO advocate to use this passage in defense of God’s promise of preservation reaching into the King James translation, was 7th-Day Adventist, Benjamin Wilkinson, in his book Our Authorized Version Vindicated and re-published in D.O. Fuller’s book, Which Bible?
Psalm 12:6,7 reads:
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. (KJV)
Removed from its immediate context, and read with KJVO presuppositional glasses, the passage appears to vindicate what KJVO advocates argue. God’s words are pure words and He will keep and preserve those words through every generation forever. The immediate antecedent for the plural pronoun them is the plural noun, words.Thus, it would make sense to conclude that God has promised to preserve His words.
However, the Hebrew language is sharply different from English in that it has grammatical gender, something not common to English. In Hebrew, the pronouns will match the antecedent nouns in both number and gender. Here is Psalm 12:6,7, the two thems of verse 7 are masculine in gender and with the second them actually being singular (literally, him). The closest antecedents in our English translation, the two words in verse 6, words, are really feminine, so the two nouns do not match the masculine thems. The closest masculine nouns are found back in verse 5 with poor and needy. Hence, God is not promising to preserve the text of Scripture, but preserves the poor and the needy from being overwhelmed by the ungodly. When considered in its entire context, that interpretation appropriately fits.Doug Kutilek has an excellent article detailing this passage in light of the KJVO promise argument.
In summary, the KJVO claim of God promising to preserve every word written in the original autographs so that even this very day we can hold what amounts to a photo copy of Paul’s letter to Titus, fails in light of the historic evidence. Yes, God is faithful to keep His revelation from corruption and this I believe He has accomplished. However, it was not in the manner that KJVO defenders claim.