I recently read CS Lewis’ ‘Studies in Words‘ which was a fantastic challenge to my mind. I promised myself I would look up any words I was unfamiliar with because I am always challenged by Lewis’ precision with the English language, I was forced to look up a dozen words in the introduction alone. One particular section that challenged my was a lesson on authorial intent.
If we read an old poem with insufficient regard for the change in the overtones, and even the dictionary meaning, of words since it’s date — if, in fact, we are content with whatever effect the words accidentally produce in our modern minds- the of course we do not read the poem the author intended. What we get may still be, in our opinion, a poem; but it will be our poem and not his. If we call this tout court ‘reading’ the old poet, we are deceiving ourselves. If we reject as ‘mere philology‘ every attempt to restore for us his real poem, we are safeguarding the deceit. Of course any man in entitled to say he prefers the poems he makes for himself out of his mistranslations to the poems the writers intended. I have no quarrel with him. He need have none with me. Each to his taste.
How much can this line of thought be applied to our reading of Scripture? I thought to change the references to the poem with the word Bible but then I would be committing the error the author spoke of and, worse yet, using his own words to do it. I was told when I first became a Christian that the King James Bible was the only real Bible and to read anything else was an abomination to the Lord. Since those days I have discovered many great translations that do not encourage the reader to misunderstand so easily as the KJV. We still must be careful that we commit eisegesis as we read passages, that although in our modern tongue do not hold the meanings we believe.
One such example is from Proverbs 29 “Where there is no vision, the people perish” This verse has been used to talk of the Vision of a particular church mush as or in the same way as we would discuss a vision statement for a business. Now this could easily be made as an argument for a bad translation but it is also an example of eisegesis. In this case we have read into the passage our own understanding of the word vision where the author would have had no concept of that definition. It is important as we read God’s word that we also seek his wisdom and the wisdom of those before us (We don’t have enough time to make all of their mistakes ourselves) so that we correctly understand God’s intent in his scripture.