Humpty Dumpty, as you ought know, is the fairy-tale egg that sat on the wall, but in "Through the Looking Glass" he has a conversation with the main character Alice:
`And only ONE for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'- Lewis Carrol, Through the Looking-Glass, Chapter VI
`I don't know what you mean by "glory,"' Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'
`But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument,"' Alice objected.
`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'
`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.'
`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master - - that's all.'
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. `They've a temper, some of them -- particularly verbs, they're the proudest -- adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs -- however, I can manage the whole of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'
`Would you tell me, please,' said Alice `what that means?`
`Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. `I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'
`That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
`When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, `I always pay it extra.'
`Oh!' said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.
`Ah, you should see `em come round me of a Saturday night,' Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side: `for to get their wages, you know.'
(Alice didn't venture to ask what he paid them with; and so you see I can't tell YOU.)
In this dialog, Humpty Dumpty is using words in a sense that is quite far from their ordinary sense and insisting that he is perfectly within his rights to do so. It would be problematic if people spoke this way, since we would always have to ask them to explain what they mean. Thankfully, normal people are not so obtuse as to use "glory" to mean "a nice knock-down argument" or "impenetrability" to mean "we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life."
Humpty Dumpty is an obviously silly character, who pays off words to mean what he wants them to mean. As silly as he is, though, one can imagine a still sillier character: one who pays off words used by someone else to mean what he wants them to mean. This reverse-Humpty-Dumpty-ism is sadly far too common - and it comes in two forms.
The first form of reverse-Humpty-Dumpty-ism comes in the form of those who eisegete a disputed text. Thus, for example, there are those who practice reverse-Humpty-Dumpty-ism in the discussion of John 3:16. The reverse-Humpty-Dumpty-ist will insist that "so" in "For God so loved the world" is intensive (rather than demonstrative) and that "world" means "each and every person." Why? Well, apparently this reverse Humpty Dumpty paid off the words to mean what he wants them to mean. That's not the sense the author (or translator) of the words intended, but that doesn't matter to the reverse Humpty Dumpty.
The second form of reverse-Humpty-Dumpty-ism finds itself expressed in folks who refuse to accept someone else's explanation of his own words. We see this from time to time from the papists who insist that we mean "papist" as an insult or that we mean "pope-worshiper" by "papist" even when we provide explanation that this is not the case. These are the sorts of easily-ridiculed folks who insist not only that they are the masters of language but that they are the masters of our language: that they (not we) determine the meaning of the words that come out of our mouths.
It is one thing to object with Alice that "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument," and it quite another to insist that Humpty Dumpty means glory in the usual sense. The former is a quirky obtuseness, the latter is an antisocial bullheadedness. After all, it is simply a part of honest dialog to let the person with whom one is conversing speak for themselves: putting words in their mouth via reverse-Humpty-Dumpty-ism is simply nefarious.
Thankfully, again, such persons are few who will not accept the explanation of what a person means. There only a few buffoons who will continue to insist "Oh no, you mean 'x'" after you have explained that you mean 'y'. Not so with those who eisegete Scripture.
Sadly there are many who would never do this with another person's words, but will do this with the text of Scripture. The investigation with such people ceases to be an honest inquiry into what the author (or translator) meant by the word but an exercise in power:
`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master - - that's all.'When we investigate Scripture, we need to let the Scriptures themselves be the guide and master as to their meaning, just as we would do for someone with whom we are speaking.
We cannot with Alice directly interrogate the text:
`Would you tell me, please,' said Alice `what that means?`Nevertheless we can seek out that answer with a variety of tools, such as looking to the context, the original languages, and the other usages of a particular word by the same author.
Thus, in the case of John 3:16 we will discover that "so" is demonstrative and that "world" is never specifically personal in John's writings. Thus, through careful study of what John meant, we can ascertain the sense of his words, rather than pulling a reverse-Humpty-Dumpty-ism.
To do this, we need to be careful not to let our preconceptions be the guide. We need to assiduously avoid approaching the Bible as though it were there for us to extract support from. Instead, we should treat the Bible as the Word of God: even if we do not respect our fellow men enough to let them speak for themselves, we should respect God enough to let his Word speak for itself.