… and why I am so opposed to it.
This post was first written on the 26th September 2014. This has been edited slightly as my original post was less then graceful, and I have removed unneeded or irrelevant comments, cleaned it up significantly.
Everyone who knows me well will know that I take a very strong stance against the Message version of the bible. I think it’s time to spell out loud and clear why I stand so opposed to it. For obvious reasons this post is going to be scripture heavy so bear with me.
Eugene Peterson is the guy who translated the Message version, and as of its release in 2002, some people have used it their main version (and I know we did in high school – which is probably why I dislike it so much), and moreover, some people preach from it (depending on how its used, it can be valuable and I appreciate when people call it what it is). The bulk of my complaint against the Message is based on scripture and blatant disregard for particular aspects of it, where Eugene has in fact changed or totally removed important biblical points found in most other translations. The intention of the Message is not to be a translation but to be a contemporary paraphrase.
So, lets launch directly into scripture, where I shall contrast the Message against the English Standard Version of the Bible, which tends to be my translation of choice.
Let’s begin with a couple of additions by Peterson. Romans 8:35-36 says:
ESV: (35) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (36) As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
MSG: Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:
They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.”
The issue here is Peterson adding in this idea that not even the worst sins listed in scripture are enough to separate us from the love of Christ. Technically he is right as the love of Christ is unfailing, but are the same time, ultimately sin (and not even talking about the worst here) is exactly what separates us from Christ.
One of the most quoted verses in the new testament, John 3:16:
ESV: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
MSG: “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”
I’m sure the apostles would have loved to hear they were going to have a whole and lasting life. Instead they had their lives cut short by crucifixion, beheading, stoning, and many other horrific ways of dying! To paraphrase eternal as ‘whole and lasting’ simply does the text an injustice.
Out of all the research I did, it is here that I am annoyed the most. Peterson totally neglects the person of the Holy Spirit in his ‘translation’. Acts 20:22 says:
ESV: And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,
MSG: But there is another urgency before me now. I feel compelled to go to Jerusalem. I’m completely in the dark about what will happen when I get there.
Being constrained by the Spirit and feeling compelled are two entirely different ideas. I feel compelled to do many things but it would be foolish to suggest this is the action of the Spirit.
And another, in 1 Corinthians 2:11-13:
ESV: For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (12) Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (13) And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
MSG: Who ever knows what you’re thinking and planning except you yourself? The same with God—except that he not only knows what he’s thinking, 12 but he lets us in on it. God offers a full report on the gifts of life and salvation that he is giving us. 13 We don’t have to rely on the world’s guesses and opinions. We didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God, who taught us person-to-person through Jesus, and we’re passing it on to you in the same firsthand, personal way.
There is not a single mention of the Spirit in the message in 1 Cor. 2:11-13.
And one more, in Galatians 3:2-4
ESV: Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?
MSG: Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? 3 Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? 4 Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!
Again, not a single mention of the Spirit in Galatians 3:2-4.
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to this, a blatant disregard for a member of the trinity, in reality this is the main reason why I have no interest, take great issue with and have no desire to make use of the Message version.
Next up, Peterson removes references to the Jewish law, in both the new and old testaments.
First off, Psalm 1:1-2:
ESV: (1) Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; (2) but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
MSG: 1 How well God must like you— you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon, you don’t slink along Dead-End Road, you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College. 2 Instead you thrill to God’s Word, you chew on Scripture day and night.
Sin saloon? Smart mouth college? Dead end road? Come on. This notwithstanding Peterson’s incorrect translation of the ‘law of the Lord’ or “Torah” into God’s word, which are simply not the same.
And John 1:17:
ESV: For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
MSG: We got the basics from Moses, and then this exuberant giving and receiving, This endless knowing and understanding— all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
I appreciate his use of language for grace (exuberant giving and receiving – although can be misleading too) and truth (endless knowing and understanding), Torah, the law of the Lord given through Moses (not from Moses) is anything but basic.
Mistranslations of the Greek to remove references to porneia, or sexual sin, including homosexuality.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10, also adding “abuse to the earth”, an environmental agenda (I’m a biologist and wholeheartedly agree – but can we please just not add things into the text that aren’t there? Come on..):
ESV: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
MSG: 9 Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, 10 use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom.
I would understand that homosexuality may come under ‘use and abuse sex’, however by simply not including it he reinforces the rhetoric many have that the bible says nothing about it, when that’s simply not the case.
Also 1 Corinthians 6:17-19, ignoring the broader term sexual immorality:
ESV: 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
MSG: 17 Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” 18 There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another.
Peterson focuses on sex, as opposed to all sexual immorality, which comes under “we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy.” However, this too I take issue with as not pursuing something and the activity of fleeing from something require different levels of involvement by the individual.
He distorts the reality of the spiritual world. 1 Timothy 4:1 says:
ESV: Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,
MSG: The Spirit makes it clear that as time goes on, some are going to give up on the faith and chase after demonic illusions put forth by professional liars.
Come on, illusions put forth by professional liars? Way to negate the serious reality of the spiritual world that can actually and does actually endanger and harm people.
And in James 3:15:
ESV: This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.
MSG: It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving.
Earthly – animal cunning? Demonic – devilish conniving? Perhaps there is a link between demonic and conniving by the nature of demonic forces, but this is still unhelpful in the scheme of things.
And last, but certainly not least, Peterson distorts Christ and his relationship with the Father.
Let’s begin this with John 14:28:
ESV: You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.
MSG: “You’ve heard me tell you, ‘I’m going away, and I’m coming back.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I’m on my way to the Father because the Father is the goal and purpose of my life.
The Father is greater than I and the Father is the goal and purpose of my life are not even similar. Not sure how he got this or if he is just trying to hide a comment by Jesus which some “Christian” denominations / heresies may take hold of to say Christ is not equal to the Father (which He is). Either way, by masking what the text says you do the text and it’s readers a disservice.
And finally, John 10:30:
ESV: “I and the Father are one.”
MSG: “I and the Father are one heart and mind.”
I bet Jehovah’s Witnesses would love this one, especially in a massive point of contention between the mainstream Christian church and JWs. Even though Christ and the Father are certainly of one heart and mind, as above, Christ is one with the Father (and the Spirit) and a serious issue is presented by Peterson’s treatment of the text here.
Peterson in reality has done much with the Message and although I will argue and fight against it as much as I can, I also recognise that my own faith journey began with the Message in school, and many people get deep spiritual meaning out of it and can no doubt attribute their own personal growth to it.
When it comes down to it though, the problem and frustration I have with the Message is that it completely misconstrues the message of the Bible and takes an apparent agenda of the writer to make it relevant to the modern world, over accuracy and authenticity to the text, which most other modern translations attempt to achieve.
I hope you understand my frustrations with this at times poorly translated paraphrase.