By Cris Putnam
A “sacred cow” is an idiom taken from Hindu bovine worship, a practice that Christians consider idolatry. We also call something a sacred cow if its devotees consider it immune from question or criticism. For many fundamentalist Christians the King James Translation has become a sacred cow. Unfortunately, a great many people have been indoctrinated from childhood with scare tactics and fallacious arguments and never meaningfully question what has come to be known as “King James Onlyism” or KJVonlyism.
For an example of the fear based argumentation I am referring to, examine the webpage at Chick Productions here. I am not intending to simply make fun of these people and I have a lot in common with them. I went to a KJV only Christian school for one year of high school so I really do care about the people. That eleventh grade year at Friendship Christian School led me to believe that most Christians were mind controlled and incapable of critical thinking. I’ve grown to see I was wrong about a great deal but, sadly, some of my adolescent analysis was accurate.
Fear based false beliefs are called “strong holds” in the Bible and part of my call to ministry is the destruction of strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4). This is not an attack on the Bible or even the King James Version. Rather, it is an attack on a false idea about the Bible—a stronghold—I am slaughtering a sacred cow. Here is the primary argument you will see repeatedly used by the KJVonlyist:
Psalm 12:6-7 says, “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.” Then we read in Psalm 100:5 that “. . . . his truth endureth to all generations,” and Jesus said in John 17:17 that God’s WORD is truth.’
These words state very clearly that God’s preserved word MUST be available to us today, because God PROMISED to preserve it for us. There MUST be an infallible Book somewhere.
Similarly, in a discussion on Facebook a fellow asked me, “If God can’t keep His word pure (as he promised in Psalm 12), how can I trust Him to keep ME?” You can see the dangerous nature of such indoctrination in that his faith is hinged precariously on something as fragile as the absolute perfection of a seventeenth century translation. The same fellow later commented, “No. I’m thinking if I can’t trust any of the versions to be accurate, PERFECTLY, then why bother. Either God is able or He isn’t.” (Use of all caps reflects that I copied this directly from a real conversation).
How do you respond to this without destroying someone’s faith? Well first of all it is unfortunate that his faith is in the wrong thing. I believe this is idolatry or perhaps bibliolatry. These folks have made an idol out of the King James Bible. Next, notice the selfish demands placed on God. “If God will not meet my requirements, then why bother?” That is quite a presumption. It reminds me of the atheists who say, “If God wants me to believe in Him, then he should appear to me.”
Is it wise to make demands of God …or else?
You might get an answer like, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2)
I realize many of you might be thinking, “Hold on a minute! God promised he would do this in Psalm 12, so this is not an unreasonable expectation.” Indeed, that is the crux of the KJVonlyist argument.However, it is riddled with errors and assumptions.
First, even if the Lord promised to preserve his words, (I do believe he has preserved them) the words the Psalmist was referring to were Hebrew words not 17th century English words. It also begs the question of where God’s preserved words were before 1611? What about non-English speaking countries? But the argument’s worst flaw is actually more egregious than that erroneous assumption. It’s truly self-refuting.
Unfortunately, in this case the King James translation leads one to misunderstand the Psalm in a fundamental way. This is why serious Bible students put in the effort to gain at least some minimal competence in Hebrew and Greek exegesis. I am far from an expert but I have completed one year of biblical Hebrew at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as working through Dr. Michael Heiser’s training videos for Logos Bible software on my own (available here).
Using Logos’ interlinear Hebrew Bible, it took me less than five minutes to see that they misinterpret Psalm 12. To understand why a brief explanation of basic grammar is helpful. In Hebrew, all nouns have what is called grammatical gender. Many languages like French and Spanish do as well. It serves as a grammatical function more than a commentary on sexual gender. Part of that function is to clarify what or who a pronoun is signifying. Accordingly, a pronoun should match its antecedent in gender and number.
For example, if I say in English “My wife went to the store.” I would choose a feminine pronoun to continue, “She bought milk.” The antecedent “wife” is female, so “she” is correct and “he” is not. Number is similar; in this case, both are singular. However, if I wrote “The women went to the store.” The pronoun would be “They bought milk.” Now let’s analyze the passage in light of Hebrew grammar.
The words of the LORD are pure words (noun, common, feminine, plural):
as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
Thou shalt keep them (pronoun, 3rd person, masculine, plural),
O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation forever.
The genders are parsed from the Hebrew text. Here is the passage from the Hebrew Bible:
אִֽמֲר֣וֹת יְהוָה֮ אֲמָר֪וֹת טְהֹ֫ר֥וֹת כֶּ֣סֶף צָ֭רוּף בַּעֲלִ֣יל לָאָ֑רֶץ מְ֝זֻקָּ֗ק שִׁבְעָתָֽיִם׃
אַתָּֽה־יְהוָ֥ה תִּשְׁמְרֵ֑ם תִּצְּרֶ֓נּוּ׀ מִן־הַדּ֖וֹר ז֣וּ לְעוֹלָֽם׃
Here are the parsings:
Noun, Common, Feminine, Plural “words” —- אֲמָר֪וֹת
Pronoun, Suffixed, 3rd person, Masculine, Plural —- הֵם is suffixed on תִּשְׁמְרֵ֑ם
For their argument to work, “them” must match “words.” However, in verse 6 “words” is grammatically feminine and the pronoun “them” in verse 7 is grammatically masculine. So the pronoun “them” is not referring to “words” but rather the poor and needy (masculine, plural) that are mentioned above in verse 5 (Ps 12:5). In fact, this is one passage where the NIV (cue foreboding music) has a vastly superior rendering to the KJV.
6 And the words of the Lord are flawless,
like silver purified in a crucible,
like gold refined seven times.
7 You, Lord, will keep the needy safe
and will protect us forever from the wicked,
Don’t place your faith in sacred cows.
 “How I Know That The King James Bible Is The Word Of God,” http://www.biblebelievers.com/jmelton/knowkjv.html accessed 8/17/2013.