The following article is reprinted with permission from “As I See It”, Volume 13, Number 9, September 2010, a free monthly newsletter published by Doug Kutilek. Subscription information is available here at the author’s website: KJVOnly.Org. Note: our posting of this article does not imply our complete endorsement of all particulars contained therein.
“Purified Seven Times”: A Case of Defective Exegesis and Improper Application
One of the near-universal but untested assumptions of “King James Only”-ites is that Psalm 12:6, 7 has specific reference to God’s perfect preservation of Scripture in the copying and translating process, and that more specifically this refers to the King James Version, and in truth only to the KJV and no other Bible version in English or any other language on earth. This interpretation is both grossly arbitrary and wholly unsound.
That passage reads (KJV, all spelling, punctuation and italics as in original 1611 edition):
The wordes of the LORD are pure wordes: as siluer tried in a fornace of earth purified seuen times.
Thou shalt keepe them, (O LORD,) thou shalt preserue them, from this generation for euer.
We will here mention only in passing one particular misinterpretation by KJVO zealots of this text, to wit, that the promise of preservation in v. 7 refers back to the “words” of v. 6, when in fact it refers (as the Hebrew and the context show) to the persecuted believers of v. 5 (“For the oppression of the poore, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise (saith the LORD,) I will set him in safetie from him that puffeth at him”; for proof of my analysis, see the commentaries of John Gill or Franz Delitzsch on this Psalm; or, more fully, my article “A Careful Investigation of Psalm 12:6, 7,” The Biblical Evangelist, October 14, 1983. That article does need some modification, expansion and revision–which I hope to undertake shortly–but is essentially correct as written).
By remarkable extrapolation, the faulty foundational interpretation imposed on this text by KJVO partisans is alleged to first refer to the written word of God, then to its perfect transmission to posterity, which culminates most particularly and in fact uniquely in the English translation of the Scriptures known as the King James Version. An arbitrary explanation? Completely so. Nothing in the text nor context speaks of the copying or translating process at all, and certainly nothing about any English Bible version, nor indeed a particular one among them. Even so, it is somehow “found” in the text, resulting in an interpretation as exegetically forced as the Mormons finding the combining of the Book of Mormon with the Bible in the two sticks of Ezekiel 37:16-19.
Our attention here will be directed to the “use” made by KJVOers of the simile in v. 6 “as silver tried in a furnace of earth purified seven times” as though it were a reference to seven stages in God’s providing a “pure Bible” to the English-speaking people (and only to the English-speaking people) in the form of the KJV.
(One must ask–if the Word of God was verbally and plenary inspired, as indeed the Bible teaches, and then verbally and plenarily preserved in the copying and transmission process, as the novel doctrine created by KJVOers in the 1990s claims [see “The Error of ‘Verbal Plenary Preservation’,” As I See It, 12:11], why would there be any need to purify the Bible even once, much less “seven times”?)
As far as I can discover, the first writer to abuse Psalm 12:6–“purified seven times”–as though it were actually a promise / prophecy regarding the process of transmission of the Bible from antiquity to the modern era, was Peter S. Ruckman, Sr. A correspondent (whom we leave anonymous at his request, but who has made a systematic study of Ruckman’s published books) wrote to us:
Peter Ruckman seemed to use a form of the “purified seven times” claim in his commentary on the book of Psalms. Commenting on that phrase from Psalm 12:6, Ruckman indicated that the word “went out in seven installments” that included the Hebrew O. T., the Aramaic, the Greek N. T., the old Syriac translation, the Old Latin translation, the German translation of Martin Luther, and the AV of 1611 (I, pp. 70-71; see also his The Christian’s Handbook of Biblical Scholarship).
We don’t own Ruckman’s commentary on Psalms or otherwise have direct access to it, but do have his The Christian’s Handbook of Biblical Scholarship. Those “seven installments” in which God’s word went out are indeed alleged to be (The Christian’s Handbook of Biblical Scholarship, p. 125 in 1987 edition; p. 129 in 1988 edition):
1. the Hebrew part of the OT
2. the Aramaic part of the OT
3. the Greek NT
4. an “old Syriac” translation of 1.-3.
5. an “old Latin” translation of 1.-3.
6. a German translation of 1.-3. made during the Reformation
7. the KJV, allegedly “from the end of the Reformation”
Several of these are “problematic,” since number 4., the Peshitta Syriac version (no doubt what Ruckman has reference to) differs in literally thousands of places, all told, from the Masoretic Hebrew text, the textus receptus Greek NT, and the KJV. For example, the Peshitta Syriac does not contain I John 5:7, John 7:53-8:11; Acts 8:37; and other passages, and in fact did not include Revelation and several other NT books at all!
And number 5. the Old Latin version, in the OT was not made from the Hebrew text but was made from the Greek Septuagint translation, which version is to Ruckman and the whole of the KJVO herd “anathema.” And in the NT, the Old Latin manuscripts differ in many hundreds of details from the textus receptus Greek edition. Examples: all Old Latin manuscripts read “Isaiah the prophet” rather than “the prophets” at Mark 1:2; all read “men of goodwill” like Greek manuscript Vaticanus and the Vulgate, rather than “goodwill toward men” in Luke 2:14; all lack “after the spirit” in Romans 8:1 and lack “and in your spirit which are God’s” at I Corinthians 6:20; etc. (see my article “The Truth About the Waldensian Bible and the Old Latin Version,” Baptist Biblical Heritage 2:2, Summer, 1991)
Number 6. Luther’s German version, does NOT precisely conform to the Masoretic OT, the textus receptus NT, or the KJV. Among other things, it does not have I John 5:7 (see “Ruckman on Luther and I John 5:7: Dolt or Deceiver?” As I See It, 4:8, August 2001).
And there is no definitive edition of the KJV, with even the two editions issued in 1611 differing between themselves in over 2,000 places. Differences between these two and later KJV editions are many times greater.
One is hard-pressed to see a perfect and pristinely pure text in steps 4.-7. since these do not agree precisely or in all details with each other or with 1.-3. (whatever printed editions one may claim as the “true original” of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek)
Somewhat surprisingly, the KJVO acolytes of Ruckman seem not to have followed their chosen “Pied Piper” in his abuse of this text (though they have gone in lock-step with him on many others), but have struck out in a different path of text abuse. It is common place among KJVO authors to find the “purified seven times” phrase limited to seven steps in the purification and perfection of the Bible in English, always culminating in the KJV as the crown of perfection. One problem: there is continual disagreement among authors as to the identity of these supposedly Divinely-foretold steps.
I enquired of Rick Norris of Statesville, North Carolina (who knows KJVO literature far better than anybody else of my acquaintance) if he could shed some light on KJVO misuse of “purified seven times” and he promptly and graciously sent me the following:
William Byers claimed that the KJV is the seventh translation in the English language from the pure text and is thus “purified seven times” (The History of the KJB, pp. 9, 23, 97-98). Byers wrote that the Geneva Bible was the “sixth translation” (p. 9), but later he wrote that “Geneva is five” (p. 97). Byers wrote: “Let’s just count those English translations that came of the pure text of Erasmus: Tyndale’s is one; Coverdale’s is two; Matthew’s is three, the Great Bible is four; Geneva is five; the Bishop’s is six; and the King James is seven” (p. 97).
Although beginning his list with Wycliffe’s Bible, Timothy Morton made a similar inaccurate claim to that of Byers when he wrote: “Each of these Bibles was (and still is) a valuable translation, but the King James of 1611 is the purest–the seventh and final purification” (Which Translation Should You Trust, p. 9). Morton listed “Wyclif’s Bible (1382), Coverdale’s Bible (1535, using Tyndale’s New Testament from 1525), Matthew’s Bible (1537), The Great Bible (1539), The Geneva Bible (1560), and The Bishops’ Bible (1568)” (p. 9).
Douglas Stauffer maintained that “the King James Bible became the seventh purification of the English translation in fulfillment of this prophecy” [Ps. 12:6] (One Book, p. 282). Stauffer listed: 1. Tyndale (1525), 2. Coverdale (1535), 3. Matthew (1537), 4. Great (1538), 5. Geneva (1560), 6. Bishops (1568), and 7. King James (1611) (pp. 282-284).
William Bradley stated: “The King James Bible was the seventh major English translation of the Scriptures” (To All Generations, p. 29). Bradley also began his list with Wycliffe’s Bible and included Tyndale’s, Coverdale’s, Matthew’s, Great, and Geneva Bibles, but he omitted the important Bishops’ Bible of which the KJV was officially a revision. In his later book, Bradley actually listed a total of eight English translations in two consecutive paragraphs [Wycliffe’s, Tyndale’s, Coverdale’s, Matthew’s, Great, Geneva, Bishops’, KJV], which actually made the KJV the eighth translation (Purified, p. 116). Nevertheless, Bradley claimed: “When the seventh major English translation of the Bible was published, the Word of God in English was complete; it was perfect” (Ibid., p. 131).
Ed DeVries also asserted that the KJV is “the seventh major translation of the Bible in the English language” (Divinely Inspired, Inerrantly Preserved, p. 28). In his list, DeVries listed Wycliffe’s, Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, Great, Geneva, Bishops’, and KJV, but he omitted the important 1535 Coverdale’s Bible.
Phil Stringer also proposed: “It took several decades and seven major translations (Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthew’s, Great Bible, Bishops, Geneva, King James) in order to get the pure Word of God in English” (Carter, Elephant in the Living Room, p. 47).
Gail Riplinger also adopted a variation of this same KJV-only claim. She contended that “the English Bible was ’purified seven times’ and that “the KJV is its seventh and final purification” (In Awe of Thy Word, p. 131). In her book, she maintained that “the English Bible’s seven purifications are covered, including, the Gothic, the Anglo-Saxon, the pre-Wycliffe, the Wycliffe, the Tyndale/Coverdale/Great/Geneva, the Bishops, and the King James Bible (p. 33) [see also pp. 131, 843, 852]. She proposed that “the KJV was the seventh polishing of the English Bible” (p. 137).
As a survey of this sampling of typical KJVO literature shows, there is nothing like a consensus among these writers on details except that Psalm 12:6 is a promise, a prophecy of the purification of the English Bible in seven steps which somehow amazingly, no matter how variant, always culminates in the KJV as the seventh and final “purification.” It is immediately obvious that this claiming of seven steps in the “purification” of the English Bible is a “just so story” designed to shoe-horn the history of the English Bible back into the previously utterly forced twisting of Psalm 12:6. And of course, we must ask again: why did or would a “perfectly preserved Bible” (so they claim Psalm 12:7 teaches) need purification?
All the lists are defective. First, what is the Gothic version doing in Riplinger’s line of English Bibles? Gothic was a Germanic language spoken in the region north of the Black Sea in the 4th century A. D. and later, and the Gothic version made zero contribution to later English Bibles. Besides, it is known NOT to have included John 7:53-8:11, and therefore would not be a “pure” Bible by KJVO standards.
All but Riplinger omit the Anglo-Saxon version, though the Anglo-Saxon language IS part of the parental heritage of English, and the Anglo-Saxon version of the late first millennium did impact, however remotely, later English versions. On the other hand, to include it is problematic: it only consisted of the Gospels, and was made from a Latin version (partly conforming to the Latin Vulgate, partly conforming to the Old Latin), not from Greek.
Riplinger mentions a “pre-Wycliffite” version. Since she already mentioned the Anglo-Saxon, she can’t mean that, and there is nothing like a complete NT or whole English Bible version between the Anglo-Saxon and Wycliffe, except some partial paraphrases, metrical Psalms, and fragmentary translations. Perhaps she just made it up, like so much else that she claims as fact.
One wonders why Wycliffe is included in most lists–his version was based on the Latin Vulgate of Jerome and not at all on the Hebrew or Greek. Wycliffe’s version is considered (relatively) pure by KJVOers, yet Jerome’s translation from which it came is deemed an abomination by them (by contrast, see my articles “The Latin Vulgate Bible Translation in Historical Perspective,” parts I & II, As I See It, 5:4; 5:5, April & May 2002). Furthermore, Wycliffe and his assistants produced two versions, one largely literal or “formally equivalent,” the other more literary or “functionally equivalent” (stylistically like the NASB and NIV, respectively). Which one is the “pure” version? Or should both be counted?
Tyndale is included by all (lumped together with 3 other versions by Riplinger, no doubt to preserve the total of “seven”), though he published a decidedly incomplete Bible (only NT and Pentateuch), and furthermore, he made two revisions of his NT, making three editions in all. Why count just one of them–were not the 2nd and 3rd editions’ “purifications”?
Coverdale is in most lists, but the major part of his OT was based on Latin and German versions, not on the Hebrew. How can such a Latin- or German-based Bible be considered “pure”? Matthew’s Bible and the Great Bible suffered the same problem in the OT as Coverdale–for large sections of the OT, the Hebrew text was NOT used as the basis for translation. Yet these are included in the “purification” line.
And as for the Geneva Bible, be it noted that there was a Geneva NT (1557) made before the whole Bible was issued (1560) and the two NTs involved are clearly distinct translations. Shouldn’t these then be counted as two revisions in the line leading to the KJV? And then we have to consider Tomson’s revision of the Geneva NT, first issued around 1576, which became the usual form of the ”Geneva” NT thereafter And there appeared in 1599 and afterward editions of the Geneva with the Tomson NT but with a translation of Revelation by Junius, making four separate editions of the Geneva NT alone. Our total has already far surpassed “seven” revisions in the KJV line, and there is yet more to consider.
One glaring omission from every list offered in the literature cited above is the Rheims NT of 1582. The reason for the omission is obvious: it was a Roman Catholic translation made from the Latin Vulgate–horrors! But the Anglo-Saxon and Wycliffe versions were also made from the Vulgate, yet somehow they are “pure.” But far more notable: the King James translators themselves esteemed the Roman Catholic Rheims NT highly, and adopted its readings in nearly 3,000 places in their NT!!! (I demonstrate this in “Is the King James Version a ‘Roman Catholic Bible’?” As I See It,” 6:2 February 2003). The KJVOites are at odds with the KJV translators–the former uniformly dismiss the Rheims NT as corrupt, while the latter valued it enough to follow it 3,000 times in their translation! Beyond doubt they (the KJV translators) would have included the Rheims in any list of English versions leading to their own.
If Psalm 12:6 actually prophesied a seven-step purification of the English Bible, the seven historic steps should be immediately obvious to anyone who studied the matter, and all authors should be in agreement, just what we do not find! And if the 1611 Bible was that final, pristine, perfect seventh English version, why don’t we still use that edition today?
(There is actually another misuse of “purified seven times” met with in pro-KJVO literature, namely that the seven steps of purification were various editions of the KJV, beginning in 1611, with various revisions and corrections, supposedly culminating in the 1769 Oxford edition, supposedly purified from every spot and wrinkle, and preserved and in use today. Unfortunately for this theory, as for the other, the facts are very much and entirely otherwise.)
Let us return to consider the actual words of the text. We must note how dull indeed the KJVOers show themselves to be in their utter failure to recognize in Psalm 12:6 a simple simile: ”as silver purified in a furnace of earth purified seven times.” A simile is a “figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another of a different kind, as an illustration or ornament. . . . They . . . are normally introduced by as or like” (The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, edited by R. W. Burchfield; 3rd edition, p. 714). In our Psalm, the “purity” of the words uttered by God in v. 5 is compared to the purity of silver that has been repeatedly refined. It is NOT the words that are said to have been purified, but rather the silver which is so treated.
Further, that the word “purified” refers to the silver and does NOT refer back to the “words” of the first clause of v. 6 is crystal clear in the Hebrew where “purified” is the word mezuqqaq, a masculine, singular participle, agreeing with “silver” / keseph, a masculine singular Hebrew noun, whereas “words” in v. 6 (both times) is feminine and plural. Hebrew characteristically has agreement in gender and number, and if “purified” referred to the “words,” they should agree in gender and number, but they do not agree in either. Therefore, it is obvious that there is not any declaration of any kind in this verse that the “words” had been, or would be (claiming the words are prophetic, as KJVOers actually claim) “purified seven times.”
Some may perhaps object to our “simile” explanation and say that the comparative word “as” in the KJV is italicized and not in the original Hebrew (many KJVOers wouldn’t adopt this counter argument, since they believe the italicized words in the KJV are as inspired and preserved as the rest of words in the KJV). We readily admit that indeed, the “as” is not in Hebrew, and therefore the Hebrew, rather than presenting a simile, is employing a metaphor, which is in essence a simile without the “as” (see The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, edited by R. W. Burchfield; 3rd edition, p. 491). It is still figurative and only a dullard of monumental proportion would interpret it literally, and claim a seven-fold purification of the words, rather than of the silver of the simile.
It amazes me that people who claim so vehemently to love the Bible, who defend its integrity and insist on its Divine inspiration and inerrancy would be so utterly careless in the study of it so as to convert a mere simile (or metaphor) into a promise of the purification of the English Bible in seven steps (which seven they are utterly unable to agree upon). This is Bible abuse pure and simple. By such blatant perversion of the text, they show themselves to be mere agenda-driven dogmatists, like Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door, rather than serious and solemn students of the Word.
© Copyrighted by the author. Reprinted by permission. Posted in full, with no alterations.