|THE MESSAGE “BIBLE”|
God is called by a variety of names in the Bible, names worthy of Him, in Bibles that are written to be worthy of Him. All these names speak in tones that ascribe to Him reverence, power, glory and strength.
Elohim translates to God and implies ruler of the whole universe, or the Mighty One. Yahweh, the covenantal name for the God of Israel (Jehovah is an erroneous rendering), was regarded with such respect that Jews that did not use it on their lips. They substituted Adonai (Lord) for it, meaning the Most High; Shaddai, the Almighty.(Lindsell Study Bible footnote)
Barnes Commentary makes the observation that the words of the Bible were “composed under Divine influence. . . truths imparted to [the writers] directly by the Spirit of God, which they could never have arrived at by the unaided exercise of their own minds.”
The next two topics we will cover are The Message and The Passion Translation. Please keep one very familiar verse in mind for the next month to use as your standard as we analyze these books.
2 Timothy 3:16 Amplified Every Scripture is GOD-breathed (given by His inspiration)
The question we need to ask ourselves at the end of each study is a very simple one: was each book “God-breathed”? In each case the evidence will not be my own but that of established scholars and, of course, the Word of God.
IS THE MESSAGE A BIBLE? Taken with permission from Peace and Truth 2013:4, the magazine of the Sovereign Grace Union (condensed by editor)
Eugene Peterson’s The Message was completed in 2002. Increasingly popular among evangelicals, The Message may even be found in pulpits, and is used by many as their Bible version of choice in personal reading and even study. There is no denying the popularity of The Message, and at our Church book shop in Hanley (England) we have had several customers come in and ask if we stock it. We do not, and this for good reason.
Some people may ask, ‘why are you so picky? Isn’t it a good thing that people are reading the Bible?’ Well, that is just the problem; someone reading The Message is getting the false impression that he or she is actually reading the Bible, when in fact they are doing nothing of the sort; they are actually reading one man’s explanation of the Bible. To put it more forcefully, they may be getting The Message, but they are not getting God’s message.
Anyone comparing Peterson’s work with an actual translation will find very quickly that it departs widely and very quickly from the text. In place of the majestic opening of the Authorized Version (KJV)
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
The Message reads,First this: God created the Heavens and Earth — all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was like a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.It sets the tone for the rest of the work, the rather debased style, the unnecessary expansion of the text, and the introduction of striking imagery (‘a soup of nothingness’) that in fact adds nothing and has no basis in the original text.
No translation of the Bible can convey everything that is in the original text. . . the goal of all translation is to convey as much as possible what is in the original text and nothing more. The Message fails here, for not only does Peterson omit certain passages, he also adds new passages.
One of the most helpful critiques of The Message is an article by the scholar Neil Richardson entitled ‘Should Eugene Peterson’s The Message be Read in Church?’ that was published in The Epworth Review in October 2009.1 Richardson’s conclusion is that it should not be, and his reasoning is sound. . . In his article, Richardson identifies different types of problems with The Message’s renderings of the Epistles of Paul: inaccuracies of translation, misleading rendering, references to Jews and Judaism, colloquialisms and anachronisms, additions, disappearances and a general blandness. For the sake of brevity, I will use the same headings.
1. Inaccuracies of translationIn Galatians 5:19-21, Peterson renders Paul’s description of ‘the works of the flesh’ as:
It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community I could go on.
It would be difficult to find the equivalents for some of these in the original text or indeed in a decent English translation. In Romans 1:18 the NKJV states “For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Peterson writes that, ‘But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate’. Peterson has actually abandoned what Paul wrote. Romans 8:35 is another example of a list where Peterson has significantly amended what Paul wrote, ‘Bullying threats’ is not a satisfactory equivalent to the more accurate ‘danger’ in the ESV.
2. Misleading readingsThese are paraphrases that misunderstand Paul. The first example Richardson gives is Romans 2:10, where The Message reads, ‘if you embrace the way God does things, there are wonderful payoffs’. To describe the eternal glories of God’s presence as ‘wonderful payoffs’ is frankly painful.
3. References to Jews and JudaismThe rendering of 2 Corinthians 3:15, ‘Whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds,’ as ‘Even today when the proclamations of that old, bankrupt government are read out, they can’t see through it’ is simply awful. Then there are such additions to the original as ‘all their talk about the law is gas’ in Galatians 6:13. There is simply no need to do this; Paul knew what he wanted to say, and God knew what he wanted Paul to write.
4. Colloquialisms and anachronismsIn Romans 8:3-4 the Authorized Version reads:
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
In The Message this is changed out of all recognition to:
God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that. The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.
It is hard to tell that the second is meant to be rendering the same text as the first!
5. AdditionsA paraphrase is bound to be longer than the original, but Peterson is guilty of addition for the sake of addition in many places, and many of these are misleading and distort rather than clarify Paul. For example in Galatians 6:14-15 we read, ‘I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate.’ Gone is Paul’s striking image of the world crucified to him, and in its place is this long ‘explanation’ of the idea of Paul being crucified to the world that in fact explains nothing. One gets the impression that there are places where Peterson is making Paul say what he thinks Paul ought to have said, rather than what Paul actually meant to say.
6. DisappearancesPaul’s striking words, ‘And the world is crucified to me’ are certainly not the only omission. What is striking in fact is that the phrases that are missing are often ones that are somewhat difficult; one cannot avoid the impression that where Peterson did not understand what Paul was saying and knew that he did not, he just left that bit out. The phrase ‘God will destroy him’ is lacking in 1 Corinthians 3:17. In Romans 12:20-21 Paul’s striking metaphor of heaping coals on an enemy’s head by kindness is [gone]. The troubling thing is that phrases and passages are being omitted despite the fact that they appear in every Greek manuscript; the omissions are entirely at Peterson’s pleasure.
7. BlandnessIn Romans 5, where Paul wrote, ‘Where sin abounded, grace abounded far more’, Peterson renders it, ‘When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down.’ ‘Abba! Father!’ at Romans 8:15 becomes, ‘What’s next, Papa?’ Worst of all, in Romans 2:4, ‘the riches of his kindness’ becomes, ‘because he’s such a nice God.’ One gets the impression that Peterson really is not competent to paraphrase Paul.
ConclusionSo what is to be done? The Message is obviously not a Bible translation, or even a terribly good paraphrase. While paraphrases can be useful in their proper place, they must be faithful to the original material, and that is precisely where The Message falls down. To read The Message in church as if it is a Bible translation is misleading and wrong. When The Message is read, the reader must be aware that he is reading what Eugene Peterson thinks God meant to say, not what God actually said. The charge may sound harsh, but it is quite accurate.The Message should not be marketed as a Bible at all, and there the publisher is emphatically to blame. What ought to be marketed as a paraphrase (because it is) is being marketed as a Bible version (which it emphatically is not), and being read in churches. Preachers are making points based on The Message, points based on things that the original text does not say. It would be funny, if it was not so deadly serious. The Message does not belong in the pulpit. No-one should use it as their primary Bible, because it is not a Bible. If a person reads only The Message, then he is not getting all of God’s message, and what he does get is heavily filtered through Eugene Peterson.NotesNeil Richardson’s original piece is found in The Epworth Review Vol. 36, No. 4, pp. 71-77.
Next week we will compare verses from The Message with Authorized verses side by side and comments from other Biblical scholars.