Friday, February 11, 2005

Why The Message Drives Me Nuts

Oh Message, how do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways.

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.

Proverbs 30:6
Do not add to his words,
or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.

25 comments:

Amy said...

I think you'd be happy with the ESV...

JP Manzi said...

Amy,

I agree with you, ESV is a superb translation if there is one. I use that mostly for study. I have seen The Message many times and actually thought of picking it up, thanks for your post and that article. I'll turn the other cheek to the message.

Kristen said...

Thanks, Amy!

JP,
If you do take a look at it, I think you'll be as appalled as I was. Just have a real Bible handy to compare Petersen's words. I am sure Petersen gets some things right here and there...but even one lie in a bowl of truth is death in the pot.

JP Manzi said...

I trust you on your review, I looked at the TNIV and it appears to read just like The Message. I would stay away from that one as well.
Have you looked at the HCSB? I like that as well. I would get an ESV, you will not be disappointed.

Kristen said...

No--I haven't looked closely at that one...let me know what you think of it. My church uses NASB, so most of the time I alternate between that and NIV. Haven't been at all impressed with what I am hearing about the TNIV!

JP Manzi said...

by the way, I made mention of your blog on one of my posts. Take care

JP Manzi said...

HCSB is not bad, pretty comparable to the ESV (word for word translation) vice (thought for thought)

Holly said...

eee--yew! I agree. The Message drives me bananas. Many people love it because of the common language it uses, but I think it trivializes very important truths. I have liked the ESV, myself.

Kristen said...

It definitely wins the prize for best marketed, too. I am always drawn to The Message:Remix despite myself. Must...look...away...

Holly said...

You are not reformed? Wow! A first amongst bloggers. What is your denomination? I clicked on your church link, read the statement, and it seems to be what I believe theologically. I thought I was alone in this vast land - I must say, however, that most of the Reformed women I find are quite impressive. :)

JP Manzi said...

Kristen, I am with you, a rare blogger who is not reformed.

Kristen said...

Nope. I am not Reformed--perhaps I should say I am not a Calvinist. There's a long answer to your question, and there's a short answer. Since we're talking in the comments, I'll give you the short one. ;-)

I am a Christian. I want to follow Jesus, by His Spirit, and persevere until the end of my days. I seek to understand and apply His Word. I don't like many labels, because almost inevitably there's an aspect that I don't like or that causes misunderstanding with others; thus, I generally avoid them.

I try to anchor everything I believe firmly in Scripture, taking into account its context and implications.

I can get more specific if anyone is that interested in the nitty-gritty of what I believe. :)

Molly said...

I'm not Reformed either, though I lean that way in many ways...

On the Message, I think it can be a great tool AS LONG AS ONE isn't reading it as if it's "The Bible."

A paraphrase is a paraphrase is a paraphrase. As long as the reader understands he is reading a paraphrase (like the Living Bible or the NLT), fine. Great. Whatever. It's just a far-cry from a literal translation of the God-breathed book.

If you want to know the actual words God-breathed, then go to a literal translation. If you want to get a person's "take" on the words (kind of like a Commentary of sorts), then checking out the Message is fine.

That's my three pennies... (*big grin*).

By the way, I have a hatred for (dare I say it?), the NIV! Speaking of a Bible that was well marketed but of very dubious origen...

We jokingly refer to it around here as the Non Inspired Version.
*grin*

Ok, you can throw rocks at me now. I'm going to duck on out of here before I get whapped!

Love,
Molly
http://threepennies.blogdrive.com/

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Molly about the NIV. It too, is a thought for thought "translation" and misses the mark in quite a few places.

Kristen said...

Regarding the NIV: I definitely agree that it drops the ball plenty of times...but it's not NEARLY as heretical as The Message.

Molly--I agree that it won't kill anyone to read a paraphrase, and I am sure that EP gets things right in some places. But seeing how he twists scripture to suit his own preferences makes me sick. Many of the changes he makes are so New Agey.

Kristen said...

Guys--you are so right about the ESV. I think I am in love.

Amy said...

Molly, not reformed? Puh-leeeeeez....Haven't we already been over this?!


Regarding the translation, schmans-lation, does this mean everyone has entered to win on my site?!

Amy said...

Cool.

Is this a new Blogger comment thingy?

Is everyone as annoyed as I am to see pictures of myself all over this place?!

Amy said...

O-kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay.

The only time you see the pictures is if you post a comment yourself?

Blogger-schmogger. I wish I knew HTML better...

Kristen said...

A: No, I haven't yet. But I will, and if I win I will probably give it to you because I think it is a Bible that will have Calvinist notes. :)

B: Yes, it is a new Blogger comment thingy. No, I LIKE seeing your picture. So there.

C: Huh?

Molly said...

HAhahyukhyukSNORTguffawchucklewheezegiggleHAWhawHAW!

Amy said...

The only time I see the pics is when I hit Post Comment. It's not on the permalink page. Does that make sense? And of course, nobody's else's picture is there, so I feel dumb. Not the first time.

Sorry for calling you names, Molly, but I'm sure you've been called worse before in your lifetime. Love you.

Kristen said...

I know what you mean. I'll work this weekend on getting my pic up there so you won't feel lonely. Don't you do a THING to yours! I like it!

thicket dweller said...

I love The Message. I read it along with my KJV, Amplified, NIV and Living Bible. I like using it to read aloud and to get a point across to people who are "turned off" by stuffy language. I'm not familiar with the marketing tactics. It was a gift to my family.

Kristen said...

Well, it's not just about marketing. It's about content. The question isn't whether someone likes the language...it's is it accurate? And The Message just isn't. Period. That's my issue with it.

I don't care that The Message doesn't have "thee's" and "thou's". I like relevant language too, but not at the expense of accuracy.

Blog Archive

Contributors