I could write a book about Eugene Peterson's rough paraphrase of the Bible, titled The Message, that is inexplicably sold next to Bibles in the Christian bookstores. Due to time constraints and domestic duties, however, this blog will have to do.
Perhaps I should explain, first, how I see the Bible. In the original Greek and Hebrew (and a bit o' Aramaic), it's perfect, infallible, and wholly God-breathed. In my opinion, all translations are going to fall a bit short somewhere, which is why I like to study many different ones and go to the original languages in my studies. But at least the NIV, NASB, KJV and many others can claim to be translations. I fear many readers don't know that The Message is a paraphrase. There is a HUGE difference. Nothing gets my hackles up like someone distorting the Word of God.
I don't intend to reinvent the wheel in this short article. Other ministries, pastors, teachers and leaders in the church at large have already sounded the alarm about Petersen's work. I highly recommend this article, which includes tables showing side-by-side Message/Bible comparisons:
Throughout both Old and New Testaments, God forbids us to distort His Word. Additions and deletions are strictly forbidden in Scriptures like Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32, Proverbs 30:6, Galatians 1:8-9 and Revelation 22:19. Acts 17:11 exhorts us to learn from the Bereans who 'examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.'
Eugene Peterson would probably agree. His own interpretation of 2 Corinthians 4:2 holds him accountable to this timeless standard:
'We don't maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don't twist God's Word to suit ourselves. Rather we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.'
While the above verse corresponds to the original Greek, many other passages do just what The Message promises not to do: they 'twist God's word to suit' human inclinations. In fact, the very next sentence (verse 3), fails the test. It does not 'keep... the whole truth on display.' Instead, it deletes the original references both to 'those who are perishing' and to the glory of 'Christ, who is the image of God.'
It doesn't take a Greek scholar to recognize the appalling distortions of God's holy Word. Any Bible student willing to compare Peterson's Message with a Greek/English Interlinear Lexicon and take time to look up key words in a credible New Testament Bible dictionary will discover alarming deletions, distortions and additions to the original text. If Peterson is right, then all our other Bibles - the KJV, NASV, NIV, Greek-English interlinear Bibles - are false."
Dave Hunt writes in The Berean Call:
"The Message, like other paraphrases, substitutes man’s words for God’s words! Peterson says that The Message is 'not...a word-for-word conversion' of God’s Holy Word into modern language but what he thinks God’s Word means -- not a translation but an interpretation (Introduction). What audacity to rewrite the Bible!....Paraphrases based upon 'dynamic equivalency' partake of two destructive errors: 1) instead of translating the words of Scripture, they interpret in modern language what they believe are the ideas presented; and 2) they dumb down the language to make it 'understandable.'
Interpretation is proper in sermons and commentaries, which listeners/readers can compare to the Word of God. The Message, however, is offered as 'This version of the New Testament...' (p. 7), misleading readers into thinking they have the Scriptures in their hands."
I'll level with you: the widespread acceptance of The Message and its seemingly permanent place next to real Bibles frightens me. It means that when I talk to someone who has had that book as their 'Bible' from the inception of their Christian walk, we are probably going to speak two different languages when we talk about the Word, the Gospel, and God. So much damage is being done to new disciples because of one man's biases and hubris.
If you've been using The Message, I ask you, I challenge you to compare Petersen's words with Scripture.
Do not add to his words,
or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.