One of the most common questions I hear is one regarding which version of the Biblical text is best to use and study. Perhaps the most common translation I am questioned about would be the controversial version written by Eugene Peterson called, “The Message”.
So the question presents itself: is The Message a viable translation of the Biblical text, and if not, what is the fuss about?
“The Message was paraphrased over a period of ten years, straight from the Bible’s original languages (Greek and Hebrew). The idea of The Message isn’t to water down the bible, making it easier to digest. The idea is to make it readable- to put those ancient words that their users spoke and wrote everyday into words that you speak and write every day.”
From this introduction there are several things to notice. First, The Message claims to be a “paraphrase”, NOT a translation. This is extremely significant. In simple terms, a translation takes the original language and transports it to english in its entirety while a paraphrase is basically a restated version of the original. A paraphrase of the Bible is dangerous because it can certainly be prone to removing scripture, changing meanings, and inserting bias. Another thing to notice from this introduction is that a goal of The Message is to modernize the scripture with common words. This is also dangerous because there is a very good chance the original meaning can be lost. Unfortunately all the dangers mentioned above seem to occur frequently in The Message.
One specific example of this would occur with the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-13:
“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
From “The Message”:
“Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best –
As above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you
and forgiving others.
Keep us safe
from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
Several things are noticeable. First notice that the phrase “hallowed be your name” is completely removed. Also “your kingdom come” is removed and replaced by the phrase “reveal who you are”. These two phrases have very different meanings especially since the latter is asking God to do something he has already done through scripture! Basically I could go down the whole prayer and point these things out, but the thing that bothers me is that Jesus, the Son of God, spoke these words with a certain meaning in mind. Therefore by purposely changing the meaning of his words through paraphrasing, isn’t that kind of removing the value of his original words? Doesn’t Jesus deserve to have his words translated rather than paraphrased?
In addition, try looking up verses like 1 Corinthians 6:9 in The Message and notice how the original differs…it almost seems like The Message is trying to excuse many sins that the Bible actually condemns. I could cite example after example of these atrocities occurring within the pages of The Message, but I invite you to find them yourself. They are so common, it is frighteningly easy to find them.
All in all, The Message scares me. Modern Christians are far too often Biblically illiterate, and the last thing we need is a version of scripture which catalyzes this. Eugene Peterson himself said it best, “if you are interested in serious Bible study, look elsewhere”.