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Serious Bible Study!

What about the Message version?

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”.




  1. Very good article and well said. When people ask me about versions I tell them to know what they are reading. When one looks at “The Message” objectively he finds that it is a poor and dangerous paraphrase.

  2. Shirley Moore

    May 2, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Thank you for this information. It is frightening that someone could be so misinformed on the Scripture. Revelation states that if anyone takes away or adds to the Bible is in big trouble. Mr. Peterson may have had good intentions, but he is sincerely wrong. Therefore I agree that anyone who seeks truth should stay away from The Messenger.

  3. The article is a good observation of what is going on in this version of scripture. But keep in mind that every “translation” version since the original Hebrew and Greek, does some of the same things but perhaps to a lesser degree. Even the King James Version is a modification from the prior Tyndale and later Geneva Bibles derived perhaps from the earlier Gutenberg Bible, and those a modification from some of the medieval scrolls that were hand re-copied throughout the middle ages. Since the present day NIV and RNIV and KJV is still a change from the original Hebrew and Greek, you really need to consider that the first version of the Lord’s Prayer listed here as coming from yet another version of the Bible, is not the same as the KJV either. If we could study the scriptures in their original form, we could be more confident that we are reading closer to what the Lord originally said. And if you don’t think that is significant, then explain how ONE Gospel can give rise to different interpretations that lead to thousands of different “Christian” churches being formed espousing different doctrines. It should be obvious that that was never His intent, nor would He authorize that. Don’t be content with what is “popular”. It’s an example of the blind leading the blind, and that keeps you in the dark. Insist on accuracy and that is more reliable the closer to the original you go. Learn the “olde” English. It is far more accurate and distinctive in its meanings than the so-called modern language versions.

  4. Rita Aguirre-Frankmore

    January 11, 2012 at 4:19 am

    This is great when I was looking for a bible for my step daughter and the worker in the Bible store was directing me to The Message I had a problem with it b/c it didnt say HOLY BIBLE on it so I called my Preacher Elliot Hine and he enlightened me in that … I couldnt beleive the language used in the Message way too street for me and didnt have anything of reverence in my opinon.. great article

  5. Thank you for this explantatory article. I have never read (or handled The Message) nor do I intend to do so.
    I had a friend who entered Bible College and he asked me for advice concerning using The Message and I simply told him always to refer and rely on KJV / NKJV. He had been informed by one Tutor to always answer questions, quoting The Message – any other answer would lose him marks. It would appear, from the above article, that my advice was good advice – bearing in mind I had never seen The Message previously. Thank you for your article.

  6. Every journey starts somewhere.
    If the Message helps someone begin their journey of digging into God’s word – then let’s encourage them.

    God is glorified anytime we learn more about him.
    The more we learn about Him, the more He transforms us to make us like Him.

    The Message serves an important role in understanding God’s word. Just like the Dead Sea Scrolls serve an important role. I’m blessed to have had a modern paraphrase when I started my spiritual journey. God took those words and brought them alive and changed my life.

  7. I have to agree with Dennis–many people who are not familiar or comfortable with the Word in any official translation are often intimidated and overwhelmed by it. The Message gives them a place to start their journey–a jump-start, if you will–into serious Bible study. Just my two cents.

  8. God does not need The Message – it is not of Him. It will burn. It pretends His Word is inadequate.

    I came knowing nothing but Jesus Christ –

    it pretends to need a lacking form of eloquence. It denies God’s Power in that.

    No problem with sharing. Thank You for this wonderful discussion of something that needs to be seen for what it is – tampering with the Holy Word of the Living God!

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