Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Genderless King James

English is largely unique for its generally genderless grammar. Neither nouns, verbs, nor adjectives in the English language are expressive of gender. This contrasts greatly with the biblical languages which are highly expressive of gender agreement between articles, nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

A non-English language that many readers may have a cursory or close familiarity with is Spanish. Spanish is an example of a language that uses gender agreement. For example, the Spanish word for book is “libro” and it is a masculine or “male” word. Articles or adjectives that modify the masculine word libro are then also masculine hence the following phrase, “un libro blanco” (a white book). The article “un” is masculine, and the adjective “blanco” is also masculine. Now introduce the Spanish word for “chair” which is the feminine or “female” word “silla.” The previous phrase becomes, “una silla blanca” (a white chair). Notice, to agree with the feminine noun “silla,” the article and the adjective had to be feminized.

The biblical languages use similar and often much more complex gender agreements in articles, nouns, adjectives, and verbs. Gender agreements assist the reader in understanding how a text is to be read; however, English translations are unable to convey this important device. We briefly exegete Psalm 12 with reference to gender agreements and then compare the KJV translation of verses 6 and 7 with a superior Spanish translation of the same.

Psalm 12 (KJV) reads:

1Help, LORD; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men. 2They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak. 3The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things: 4Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us? 5For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the LORD; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him. 6The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. 7Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever. 8The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted.

Many have lifted verses six and seven out of the above liturgical piece as proof texts to evidence the position that the doctrine of biblical inspiration entails the doctrine of biblical preservation. That is, if God inspired the Bible, then God will also preserve the same down to the smallest detail. We will call this position biblical preservationism. These two verses (6 and 7) are read and quoted as proof texts for this position. The relevant construction of these verses read:

The words of the LORD are pure words… Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.

Again, this is understood by biblical preservationists as a promise of God to preserve the Bible. To the extreme, it is considered impossible that even the slightest fault could then have crept into the Bible, and any maculation of the biblical text would be considered a fault on the part of God. To another extreme, some posit that this promise applies to translations (a form of “double inspiration”). In every contemporary case of this position that I have encountered of translation inspiration, it has related to the King James Version also known as the Authorized Version (AV).

In verse seven the psalmist states that God will preserve “them” twice. The verse does not disambiguate the pronoun, so the reader must look to context to identify the antecedent. Being that the pronoun is plural (“them” not “him” or “her”), the reader must find a plural antecedent. Verse six provides a likely candidate in the word “words” (“The words of the LORD”). However, other possibilities exist such as the collective nouns “poor” and “needy” in verse five. These two nouns are singular; however, they are collective groupings and might alone or together be the antecedent(s) of the “them” in verse seven. The near context would suggest, though, that the word “words” is the more likely antecedent. This would agree with the biblical preservationist reading. However, though there are structural clues in this passage as to the verse 7 “them” antecedent(s), there is a clear gender agreement determinant.

“The words (אִמְרוֹת) of the LORD” The word translated “words” is the Hebrew imrot which is a feminine plural form of Hebrew amar (“speech, word, promise”). This does not agree with the verbs for “keep” and “preserve” in verse seven which are decidedly masculine. Hence, the text, in Hebrew, requires the reader to source a masculine, plural antecedent for the “them” of verse seven. The only referents are the “poor” and “needy” of verse 5. Based on this textual cue alone, the preservation promise of verse 7 cannot refer to the Bible—it must refer to the poor and needy.

It is extremely interesting and telling to compare the King James (or any English) translations of verses six and seven with a Spanish or other language that uses grammatical gender. Notice the following translation into Spanish:

6 Las palabras (femine, plural) de Jehová, palabras limpias; Plata refinada en horno de tierra, Purificada siete veces.

7 Tú, Jehová, los(masculine, plural) guardarás; Guárdalos (masculine, plural) para siempre de aquesta generación.

For the aid of the non-Spanish reader, I have added designations of the gender into the texts. Notice that this Spanish translation provides clear gender distinctions that are not clear in English translations. The Spanish translation makes it obvious that the “words” of verse six (feminine plural) cannot be the antecedent of the “them” of verse seven (masculine plural).

In this brief analysis of Psalm 12, we have found that the biblical preservationist pericope of verses six and seven does not retain its salience to the idea of biblical preservation in the Hebrew (or Spanish). Let me comment briefly on how this relates to the King-James “word of God” position.

It should be apparent to the reader that the English language is incapable of capturing gender grammar; however, gender grammar is a very important part of reading biblical languages. It should be obvious that the King James or any English translation is inferior in its ability to capture gender grammar (not to mention other untranslated grammatical devices and nuances) by nature of English use. This makes English a very poor language in which to read biblical languages and precludes the possibility of an double-inspiration translation. Relative to gender grammar, a language like Spanish would be a better carrier of such critically important interpretive cues. Additionally, if the KJV is the English base text “word of God” for translation into foreign languages, then how is one to construct gender when translating form the sexless English to a gender-sensitive language? These are serious challenges to the King-James inspiration position.


PeterS said...
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PeterS said...

Example of KJV-Only Use of Psalm 12:6

Tandi said...

Hello Peter,

Re: Foreign translations:

My sources tell me differently. It must depend on which base text is being used to translate from:

The Spanish La Biblia de las Américas 1997 agrees with the KJB saying : “Tú, SEÑOR, LOS guardarás; de esta generación LOS preservarás para siempre.” So too do the Spanish Reina Valera 1909, 1960, 1995 and Las Sagradas Escrituras of 1569.

The French Louis Segond 1910 also agrees with the KJB - “Toi, Eternel! tu LES garderas, Tu LES préserveras de cette race à jamais.”

Dutch Staten Vertaling agrees with the KJB _ “Gij, HEERE, zult HEN bewaren; Gij zult HEN behoeden voor dit geslacht, tot in eeuwigheid.”

The Italian Rivudeta 1927 = KJB “Tu, o Eterno, LI proteggerai, LI preserverai da questa generazione in perpetuo.” So too does the 1991 La Nuova Diodati

Re: Grammar

Jewish commentator Aben Ezra believes the promise concerns the preserving of the words of God from generation to generation. Ibn Ezra was also known for his grammatical writings according to the Jewish Encyclopedia.

Dr. Thomas Strouse says this about the grammar in a critique of another man’s article who takes your position:

“However two important grammatical points overturn his argument. First, the rule of proximity requires ‘words’ to be the natural, contextual antecedent for ‘them.’ Second, it is not uncommon, especially in the Psalter, for feminine plural noun synonyms for the ‘words’ of the Lord to be the antecedent for masculine plural pronouns/ pronominal suffixes, which seem to ‘masculinize’ the verbal extension of the patriarchal God of the Old Testament. Several examples of this supposed gender difficulty occur in Psm. 119. In verse 111, the feminine plural ‘testimonies’ is the antecedent for the masculine plural pronoun ‘they.’ Again, in three passages the feminine plural synonyms for ‘words’ have masculine plural pronominal suffixes (vv. 129, 152, 167). These examples include Psm. 119:152 (‘Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou has founded them for ever’), which Combs affirms to be ‘a fairly direct promise of preservation’ of the written form of the Torah (p. 18). As the KJV/TR bibliologists have argued all along, both the context and the grammar (proximity rule and accepted gender discordance) of Psalm 12:6-7 demand the teaching of the preservation of the Lord’s pure words for every generation.

The rest of the article here:

Cack Man said...

Tandi wrote: "The Spanish La Biblia de las Américas 1997 agrees with the KJB saying ... So too do the Spanish Reina Valera" [sic]

Well, you're half right. The Biblia de las Américas dos say "los", but that disagrees with "las Palabras" as an antecedent, which was Peter's point. In fact, Peter was quoting the Reina Valera. Again, the "LOS" disagrees with "palabras" in gender. Even further afield is the more "catholic" NVI, which disagrees with palabras in gender and person:

"Tú, Señor, nos protegerás; tú siempre nos defenderás de esta gente"

That is, the lord will protect and defend "us". Although more consoling and benevolent, this is clearly a papist plot to exalt the vilest of men.

Unfortunately, my French, Dutch and Italian are somewhat too rusty to comment further.

Peter wrote: "Since the King James is inspired (and more inspired than the MT Hebrew and TR Greek), a Hebrew or Greek translation from the King James would be an improvement upon the current "original texts.""


PeterS said...

Hello Tandi,
As Eric points out, the first foreign language Bible that you reference agrees with the version that I quoted in that it uses the masculine plural pronoun for the “them” of verse seven. As far as I understand grammar, the French version uses a neuter pronoun “les,” and the Italian uses a masculine in the word “li.” What you share regarding foreign translations overall agrees and confirms the observation in my post.
I am aware that many KJV-onlyists have argued against the grammatical gender specificity of the masculine plural referents for verse 7 (“them”). They point out that it is possible for feminine plural words to be modified by masculine plural verbs, etc. This does happen, and examples can be shown there this happens; however, it is not the norm. And, for this to occur in verse seven would be highly irregular for the following reasons:
1) It would require two exceptions to the gender-agreement norm. Verse seven has to masculine plural uses. If two masculine plurals modify one feminine plural, then verse seven uses *two* exceptions not just one. The occurrence of a singular exception would be understandable; however, the bible preservationist perspective requires two exceptions. Hence, it is less parsimonious with regard to gender grammar.
2) The theme of Psalm 12 is the cessation of the godly. David is likely in flight from Saul, and he is concerned with God’s promises to preserve his life. David’s theodicy requires God to save his life and to administer justice in the here and now. To apply verse 6 to the modern-day exigency of Bible preservation is to overlay the text with considerations foreign to the writer.
3). The chiastic structure of this psalm groups the verses into doublets with an A B B A pattern. The A groupings are concerned with the righteous and not Bible preservation (not that any parts of the psalm are).
Additionally, it must be mentioned that the “words” of verse six could readily be translated as “promises.” In fact, in this context, it is likely that “promises” is the meaning intended by text. Even if verse 7 does refer to the “words” of verse six, it is unlikely that the “word of God is intended” in the sense of canonical scripture.
If yet the “words” of verse 6 is the antecedent of the “them” in verse 7, it must be acknowledged that the case is quite ambiguous because nothing in the text requires this coupling. In fact, such a coupling is textually unlikely.

PeterS said...

Hello Tandi,

Commentators have taken different "positions" relative to the antecedent of "them" in verse 7. Most of the historical commentators made their remarks prior to the polemical importance applied to this passage in the KJV-only debate; hence, it might be that some simply were not critical enough in their assessments. Furthermore, none applied the meaning to this verse, even if they agreed that the reference was the "words" of verse 6, that the KJV camp applies.

The fact that there are so many positions on this passage might suggest that the obvious: it is impossible to ascertain with absolute certainty a singular reading. It will always be ambiguous, though the biblical preservationist position remains the weaker.

PeterS said...

Hello Eric,

Yes, the Hebrew is "us" for the second "them" of the KJV. The pro-nouns are not stand alone as they are in English; rather, they are built into the gender of the verbs "keep" and "preserve." Hence, the verse should read, "You shall keep them YHWH, you will preserve us..." There may be a grammatical rule that allows the "us" to be an emphasized "them." I am looking into this. But, it should be noted that there are no stand-alone pronouns in this passage. The "them" is built as a masculine plural into the verbs.

Tandi said...

Hello Peter and Eric,

In my ongoing research I found out that the Reina-Valera Spanish Bible was formerly based on the Textus Receptus but was changed:

"While the Spanish Reina Valera Bible was based on the Textus Receptus, a departure began in 1909 and in the year 1960 an official divorcement took place..."

I also want to state that I do not believe the KJV is "more inspired" than the MT Hebrew and TR Greek.

I align more with the view that the KJV is the best English translation and is completely reliable. It can not convey the nuance of the original languages but will not lead astray because it is the preserved Word of God in English. In some instances, it is needful to study the text behind the AV for additional clarity. Knowledge of the Biblical languages is a decided plus for understanding and is encouraged.....yet "the schoolboy and the ploughman" can grasp the Word of God in their native language through God's sovereign preservation of His Word. Faith is the basis for understanding, not naturalistic logic that starts with a presupposition that the supernatural does not exist. "Through faith we understand"....Hebrews 11:3.

I hope I am not being insensitive to continue this discussion at this time. Maybe I can provide a distraction. If not, I will cease from possibly causing more pain by my commentary. But I need to defend my faith and the Bible I cherish. I know this must look very foolish to both of you. It is a spiritual battle and I feel very alone in fighting it, but maybe things will change eventually. I hope we can remain friends despite our present differences.

Cack Man said...

Hi Tandi:

You wrote: "...I do not believe the KJV is "more inspired" than the MT Hebrew and TR Greek... I align more with the view that the KJV is the best English translation and is completely reliable."

Fair enough. Speaking for myself, the problem with this stance is (at least) twofold:

-what even counts as the original "inspired" text to begin with? The answer to that seems rather subjective, if not completely arbitrary. And
-All translations necessarily betray the original text.

I would compare that second point to the old straw men arguments that the Jesuits taught back when I was in high school. These were designed to make the atheist viewpoint seem weak. To wit, can God make a rock so heavy that he himself cannot lift it? (Or, "the Simpsons" twist on that argument: can God microwave a burrito so hot that he himself cannot eat it). So, here's my version: Can God permit an interpretation of his word so accurate that his original intention remains preserved?

A translation necessarily implies inaccuracy. Something is always lost or added in the act of translation. Add to this the first point, that of variances in the original texts, and it would seem that if God had ever really revealed his word, that word has been lost to the ages.

You wrote: "I know this must look very foolish to both of you. It is a spiritual battle and I feel very alone in fighting it, but maybe things will change eventually. I hope we can remain friends despite our present differences."

I said somewhere else that you enjoy defending your faith and I enjoy questioning it, so it's a win-win. Everyone, regardless of what they believe, needs to hear the opposing viewpoints. If anyone believes he already knows it all and doesn't need to hear the opposition, then that person has made a conscious decision not to learn. So, speaking for myself again, I welcome your comments, though I will question them because:

Through doubt we understand.


PeterS said...

Hello Tandi,

What is wrong with the NASB or the ESV?

PeterS said...
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PeterS said...

Hello Tandi,

Eric states,
"Can God permit an interpretation of his word so accurate that his original intention remains preserved?"

Tandi, I really hope that you contemplate this question. It is a profoundly telling question. It might not, however, be a question that a person can answer without practical experience in translation be from spoken or written language.

Using the KJV-only language of polemic, I posit, we should cease from call English translations, translations. We should instead call them perversions. Hence, we have the King James Perversion, the New International Perversion, the English Standard Perversion, etc. Really, every translation betrays the original in countless ways. Betrayal is perversion. Why do you embrace perversion as the Word of God? Does your God pervert?

Tandi said...

Peter asked:

"What is wrong with the NASB or the ESV?"

Did you know that Frank Logsdon who was associated with the production of the NASB and wrote the forward to it subsequently renounced it and regretted his participation?


"When questions began to reach me [pertaining to the NASV], at first I was quite offended. However, in attempting to answer, I began to sense that something was not right about the NASV. Upon investigation, I wrote my very dear friend, Mr. Lockman, explaining that I was forced to renounce all attachment to the NASV. ... I can aver that the project was produced by thoroughly sincere men who had the best of intentions. The product, however, is grievous to my heart and helps to complicate matters in these already troubled times."

This page will explain the issues by way of an essay by Logsdon:

Basically, what is wrong is the doubt cast on the Word of God. It is satanic to ask “yea, hath God said....? in the footnotes and in the 7% of the verses that are changed or deleted. Yes, 93% remains an accurate translation, but 7% arsenic in your coffee is deadly. The modern versions with the subtle doubt factor is spiritually deadly. Every time you see the words “the oldest and best manuscripts have.....” you are losing your faith drip by deadly drip. And those “oldest and best” manuscripts are the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus .....clearly perversions of the Word of God. Oldest does not necessarily mean best. You can get the basics of these arguments in the Chick tracts, or you can read scholarly articles on the subject. I recommend the Dean Burgon Society website and Emmanuel Baptist Theological Seminary website or see links at my blog. The KJV does not betray. It is a faithful rendering of the original tongues, so in answer to Eric’s question, yes I do believe God’s original intention has been preserved. Therefore the KJV is NOT a perversion of the Word of God, as are the Westcott and Hort-based versions.

I will send you both a pictorial answer to “what’s wrong with the modern versions” by email. : )

PeterS said...

Hello Tandi,

You state,
“Basically, what is wrong is the doubt cast on the Word of God. It is satanic to ask “yea, hath God said....? in the footnotes and in the 7% of the verses that are changed or deleted. Yes, 93% remains an accurate translation, but 7% arsenic in your coffee is deadly. The modern versions with the subtle doubt factor is spiritually deadly.”

Do you realize that this is utterly arbitrary? I could readily argue that it is spiritually deadly to perform the sin of Adam, that is, to add to the word of God. Adam told Eve to not eat and to not touch the tree. He added to God’s instruction to not eat with a preventative fence prohibiting Eve from even touching the tree. The KJV base texts contain passages so obviously spurious that it would be nothing but blind philosophical commitment to the doctrine of KJV bible-preservationism, that would impel one to justify their inclusion (e.g., John 7:59-8:8; Mark 16:15ff, I John 5:7; Acts 15:24, et. al.). Those who preserve their inclusion are adding to the Word of God. How dare they perform such a heinous deed!

The majority of the Evangelical world accepts the critical texts upon which many of the widely-used texts are based. Is acceptance of the critical texts their greatest sin? Is it causing troves of them to abandon the Bible? No. Frankly, I assert that to hide the study and findings of textual criticism from the laity is utterly wrong and dishonest. You would fault the Muslim world if the clergy veiled the occurrence of variant readings from the laity. Why do you not see the same?

KJV bible preservationism is a form of head-in-the-sand protectionism. It is a self-serving means by which to preserve and protect a faith system that really and ironically has little relationship to an exegetical understanding of the Bible. It is all smoke and vanity.

The KJV does not betray? How are you able to determine this? How much base-text reading have you done? Why do you depend on men for this determination? Every translation is a perversion. In fact, it is amazingly interesting to note how translations reflect the biases and underpinnings of the translators. When the Bible is seen as a grand memeplex, the interpretive translations in which the text is received (as RNA) to the people are the mutations. This is an area for fruitful study, me thinks. In fact, it was one of the original intentions of this blog: to explore the relationships between text and memes.

The KJV is the most literal English translation in popular use today. That is one of the strengths of the KJV, but there are incorrect readings in the same. For example, Acts 12:4 refers to Easter when the base text refers to Passover. How is the mind of God communicated through such a perversion? Additionally, the KJV often relays miso-Judaic readings from the base text—readings which have been largely dispelled in the eclectic texts. Consider Acts 15:24 which ends with the statement, “…to whom we gave no such commandment.” Removal of this phrase ameliorates the case for a pro-Judaic, pro-Torah reading of Acts 15. Fortunately, it is not found in the “earliest mss.”

Every translation is a perversion. The King James is a perversion. Since you assert it is God’s preserved and protected Word, then I now know that your God creates perversion. And, it appears that you embrace the offal of your God with glee. You may never realize this until you can read the base text. In the mean time, the only way that you are able to know this is through reliance on the hand of man, that is, through trusting the writings of those who can itch your ears. I, for one, I have chosen to stop ingesting offal.

Tandi said...

Peter, much of this post is just awful! I am offally offended, so I am off to my office to do more research. Did you even read the Logsdon essay? It is not offal. It is truth. (Except there is a typo....Scottish should be sottish. This was transcribed from an audio message.)

More tomorrow......I cannot comprehend your latest blog entry. I will try reading it again in the morning.

PeterS said...

Hello Tandi,

I do not see the point of the Logsdon essay, but, yes, I have read it. It does not mean anything to me but that Logsdon bought into a "fragile faith" system that sought to remain detached from textual studies. I do not see how the "earlier mss" are Catholic but the TR is not. Geesh...if anything, the TR is more Catholic than the earlier mss as the TR was more influenced by Catholic insertions and deletions than the untouched "earlier mss."

I am not seeking to offend. I am trying to stretch your thinking. I consider aspects of your belief system to be absurd...but, don't forget, I once held to similar ideas. So, if I can insult your beliefs then I am speaking to beliefs I was embraced.

Tandi said...

Hello Peter,

Just as one example of how a supposed “error” in the KJV can be explained, consider this:

How would you have translated the Hebrew word Pesach in 1611? The English word “passover” had yet to be invented. Even today, in other languages and countries, Pascha, or some form of the word, and Easter are synonyms. Both refer to the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Of course, now we know that the etymology of the word easter springs from Ishtar and pagan fertility ceremonies, etc. Yet the inspired word in the text behind the KJV is correct, so not a problem; just nitpicky to mention it. Another possibility is that King Herod was himself celebrating the pagan holiday. Passover proper had passed. These were the Days of Unleavened Bread. So for all we know, God guided the English translation to reflect that facet. Or maybe He wanted this generation to have this discussion and learn about the pagan origins of many of the church practices and "come out from among them and be ye separate” in these End Times that are upon us.

Your statement about the Roman Catholic influence on the KJV manuscripts as opposed to the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus is not according to the facts if you would research it.

Just a few thoughts so as not to let too many of your erroneous statements stand. Other objections have answers as well, not that you would be convinced by them if you do not wish to be convinced. But for the sake of others who may be reading this blog, I try to answer some of your charges, though I do not have time to answer them all....and there are others far more knowledgeable than me who could answer them better than I can. I wish they would post...but I cannot blame them for not wanting to endure the abuse they would probably receive.

PeterS said...

there are no legitimate objections. Kjv'ism is poppycock. It is like Wahabi Islam. It is stupid.

PeterS said...
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Tandi said...

Hello Peter,

An Atheist wannabe is someone who wants to be an Atheist for philosophical and social reasons. I used to be a Jewish wannabe, but I got over it, and I hope you get over your attraction to Atheism.

I am a confirmed Bible believer, and I have never gotten over it in 27 years. I do not need KJV apologetics to remain a Bible believer. The intrinsic evidence convinces me. I have been researching for your sake, as you had said something to the effect that Bible inspiration and preservation was something you hoped for but did not find to be true.

Since it annoys you so much that I bring up “KJVism” maybe I should stop. You prefer “Westcott & Hort-ism” and “Gunkelism” and “Liberalism” to the narrow view that God inspired and preserved His Word to this day to make Himself known and as a guide for our lives.

So where do we go from here with our polarized positions? I am unwilling to cast aside my faith for Atheism, if that is your goal.

The “rightly dividing” dispensational doctrine that negates ¾ of The Bible, including the Gospels and many of the Epistles is beginning to annoy me at the KJV forum, so I may not last long there either.

I can find no like-minded fellowship, but it only drives me closer to God and His Word for consolation.

Tandi said...


It was Tyndale who coined the English word “passover” in the 1500’s when translating the Pentateuch. The KJV translators had this word available to them and utilized it everywhere except Acts 12:4. For example, they translated pascha as “passover” in 1 Cor. 5:7 and in all other NT passages EXCEPT Acts 12:4. Why did they retain Tyndale’s use of “Easter” in this one verse while refraining from using it elsewhere in the NT as Tyndale had done?

The best answer is that Passover was past. These were the Days of Unleavened Bread. Herod, an Edomite, familiar with the mystery religions (as were many Israelites....see Jeremiah 7:18 and Jer. 44) waited until after the upcoming fertility festival, which was a counterfeit “pass over” (sparing from misfortune) through goddess/nature worship. We know the Herods celebrated birthdays, which was a pagan, not Jewish custom, so it is likely they honored other pagan holidays as syncretism held sway in ancient as well as modern times. It is known that the Herods followed Roman social practices, while adopting some Jewish religious practices, such as dietary laws and circumcision.

The Spirit of the LORD guided the KJV translation, as this was to be the preserved Word of God in the most prevalent world language, English. for the next 400 or so years.

I am sorry to revisit this topic, but I needed to correct my erroneous statement above. I utilized some non-KJVism source materials to broaden my horizons. However, I am experiencing information overload. I am reading too much too fast. I need a break...and you probably need a break from me. I will try to be quiet for awhile.

Anonymous said...

hi, new to the site, thanks.