Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Illustration on misreading

We know that words change their meaning over time (and place). For example when we read the word 'unicorn' in the King James Version of the Bible (Numbers 23:22, 24:8), we immediately think of a horse-like creature with horn on its head. 

However, in the 16th/17th century, the word 'unicorn' in the KJV is transliterated from the word used in the Latin Vulgate, unicornis, which means 'beast with a horn'. Therefore contemporary translations of the Bible such as the NIV replace 'unicorn' with 'wild ox'.

So sometimes when we read the Bible, regardless which translation, we impose the present meaning of a word onto the same word used in the past. D. A. Carson called this 'semantic anachronism'. (See his Exegetical Fallacies [USA: Baker Books, Second Edition, 1996], pp.33-35.)

Here's a picture to illustrate this form of hermeneutic:


Martin Yee said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

LOL. Nice cartoon. Misreadings can take many forms and also caused by various reasons. Some are due to plain ignorance or are unintentional. The worst are those that are intentionally misleading. For example see how Zwingli's writings were misread to mislead people thinking that Zwingli exposed Martin Luther passing on something as original when it is not. See


chin said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

Is unicorn = wild ox? As far as I know, unicorn has one horn (from the prefix uni=one). I don't not know any wild ox that has single horn. For me, it can be some extinct animal as i do not know any living animal that fit the definition of unicorn. Therefore, i would not say that unicorn is an example of a misreading. Or can you enlighten me with any animal with single horn that fit the description of unicorn?