Recently, I had a conversation with someone regarding salvation and the afterlife. A death in her family had prompted her to ask questions about life beyond the grave, so we talked about faith in Jesus, and she showed a great deal of interest.
“Where can I read more about what Jesus said?” she asked.
Of course, the correct answer is to say, “Read the Bible,” which I did.
And she took me up on it! A few days later she told me she had taken my advice and downloaded a Bible app on her phone and had tried reading it.
“But it makes no sense,” she said, exasperated. “I don’t understand it.”
I enquired what translation she was reading, and she looked at me as if I was stupid. “English, of course!” she snapped.
When I looked at her phone it was clear the app she had downloaded used the KJV as its default translation. I went into the settings and changed it to an NIV and asked her to read a section. It was better, she said, but still somewhat esoteric. So I changed it again, this time to The Message.
“Oh, that’s much better!” she exclaimed. “I can understand this one.”
There are many criticisms of The Message, some of them justified. It’s not a reliable translation if that’s what you need. It’s a rendering of the text, an attempt to make the Bible accessible in the common vernacular. But as a doorway into serious Bible reading, it has been a gift to the church. At least that’s how my friend has found it.
In his book on Bible reading, Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson writes about his motivations in writing The Message. He goes so far as to say it’s a form of sacrilege to speak of God in language that is “inflated into balloons of abstraction or diffused into the insubstantiality of lacey gossamer.”
And that is the reason he agreed to provide people with a paraphrase of the Bible that makes sense in contemporary language. He sees it as part of the mission of God’s people. He explains:
“For those of us who take the Scriptures seriously as the word of God and the authoritative text by which we choose to live, translation is one of the primary defenses that we have against . . . letting language inflate into pomposities or artifices that are no longer current with the way we express our ordinary lives.”
Knowing this helps me appreciate The Message for what it is. It’s a protest against arcane and impenetrable religious language. It’s an invitation for ordinary people to enter the Scriptures once again.
But writing an accessible paraphrase didn’t arise only from his pastoral vocation, it goes even deeper for Peterson. In his 1997 book on spirituality, Leap Over a Wall, he opens by telling us how his mother used to recount Bible stories to him when he was a child. In quite a moving passage, he writes:
“My mother was good with words; she was also good with tones. In her storytelling I not only saw whole worlds come into being, I felt them within me through the timbre of her voice.”
Sure, he admits, she took some liberties with the stories, adding extracanonical detail, but “she never violated or distorted the story itself.”
Here we have our primary clue to reading The Message: it’s like sitting on Uncle Eugene Peterson’s knee and listening to him tell the Bible story, which is exactly what the woman I was talking to needed—the story!
Peterson takes the opening verses of Genesis 1, “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,” and renders them like this:
“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.”
God’s Spirit hovering like a bird; a soupy nothingness; an inky blackness. The universe came from this? What reader wouldn’t be intrigued?
At other times the text has a surprising, fresh beauty: “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.” (Matthew 5:14)
God-colors? What a startling way to put it.
Then there’s this:
“God’s love is meteoric, his loyalty astronomic, His purpose titanic, his verdicts oceanic. Yet in his largeness nothing gets lost; Not a man, not a mouse, slips through the cracks” (Psalm 36:5-6).
“So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.” (Colossians 3:1-2)
Sure, there are some slightly jarring colloquialisms: “God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son” (Romans 8:3). And some grating anachronisms: “The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it” (Romans 8:4). Or: “If you’re so hungry that you can’t wait to be served, go home and get a sandwich” (1 Corinthians 11:33).
And occasionally, a deeply moving verse like, “Because of this, we have been comforted” (2 Corinthians 7:13) sounds a bit lame by comparison: “That’s what happened—and we felt just great.” Well, golly gee.
Others have been far more scathing in their criticism of The Message: it’s inaccurate; it’s misleading; it overstates the legalism of the Pharisees; it flattens out the beauty of the Authorized version, etc., etc. I’ve heard them all.
But it’s not a translation, folks. It’s Eugene Peterson’s retelling of the old, old story that was told to him on his mother’s knee, the rich tone of her voice reverberating through his body, and now through ours.
Twenty-five years later, it is still a story worth listening to.
[This article first appeared as part of NavPress’ 25th celebration of the publication of The Message].
92 thoughts on “Is The Message as bad as they all say?”
I really appreciate this perspective. This very topic has arisen in our church recently and, as an elder, I’ve found myself at times defending both sides of the argument. You have given me peace about this and provided some fresh words for my conversations with others. Bless you for this.
Thank you for that encouragement, brother.
Yes, nearly every time I hear someone mention they are reading from ‘The Message’ I hear someone else pipe in. They usually say “You know it’s not a translation, right?” as if to give some sort of rebuke. Next time I will pipe in saying, “Sure, they just wanted to have the story retold from their grandma’s knee again”.
Maybe that makes sense if it’s a young child, but why would responsible, literate adults value that over actual accuracy of the words?
It helps me clearly visualize what’s going on. I’ll take it!
Because the usual translations – even NIV – don’t use accessible language, so it feels like what was written might not apply to modern day issues and problems. I don’t need wine turned to water – I need to feel less overwhelmed as a working Mom. I have been reading the bible since I was a small child and it never occurred to me that those are the same problems that can be solved by the same source – until I read The Message.
And then they’ll say “the Bible never actually said that. Who are you to rewrite God’s word? “ “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.”
Job 38:2-4 NLT
Taking that verse out of Job and quoting Job as if you are God speaking to the person instead of its original application where God speaks to Job is a pretty good tactic, I am sure it goes well for you. You could also try saying something in a really loud voice like, Thus sayeth the Lord God Almighty, I now pronounce judgements and curses on you, curses on your family and business, curses on your health and livestock, I command the fire from heaven to come down and consume you and your family.
I am sure both applications would work well for you.
Never ending arguments back and forth. A reality of life , no one wins but our common enemy, the Evil one, and the evil inside all of us. I guess both sides can listen to each other , share our thoughts freely in love. We can surely hold on to our convictions, but make sure we let the gentle Spirit of God reveal and speak to us without self justification.
Well, as a German I have a more general view, because I don´t know “The Message” – there are corresponding editions (“Volxbibel”, derived from “Volksbibel” – “Peoples Bible”) available here, too. Mike should know better than me, but all of the essential translations – take Martin Luther for example – weren´t they signs of their times? The invention of printing gave birth to multiple intentions of translation. Given that every translator aims for a better understanding – do we discuss differences between translations as often as ocurring transfers? Don´t we hide our disability to translate Greek or Aramaic into our mother languages behind our rock-solid view on the ranking of our favourite transalations we stick to? Do we walk blind-folded through our lives not realizing that languages change as well as people´s capabilities due to whatever reason? IMHO we are just witnesses of these changes which lead to the necessity of inspiring and inspired transfers. And wasn´t it Jesus himself taking parables as vehicles for deeper meanings?
[…] the passing of Eugene Peterson this week, Michael Frost has written what I feel to be the best overall summary of The Message Bible. He quickly shows us both why it is needed, and what may have given Peterson the idea to creat it. […]
When the negative reactions to the Message began to spread across America and beyond back in 2003-2006 it was stunning to me that Eugene was essentially acted as an unofficial translator for Wycliffe Bible Translators for English speakers. The KJV’ers might remember there are 6000 languages on this Flattop Ball. Russians, Italians and tribes of the Andes Mountains cant do anything with a KJV. I never give my Arabic speaking friends a KJV.
Eugene did a courageous thing in letting his work of translating go beyond his congregation. He knew there would be plenty of backlash for him. All he had to do was look at the icy receptions that legalistic KJV’ers gave to NIV and NASB and so on. But he saw the results in his own congregation and it was exciting and promising so he figured the price was worth it. Amazing!
I’ve been buying his lectureships on CD at the Regent University in Vancouver, BC every time I’m in Canada since 1997.
Mike I do appreciate you and your work for the Kingdom. My criticism of the headline (FB post) was because I thought it – the headline – was all about you and I wanted all of it to be about Eugene. He was a brilliant man, inspired to produce a great work. I’m glad I read this. You taught me something. Scott T
Thank you – insightful.
Any book that says the phrase God d**m you is not a book anyone should be reading. God’s name is holy and never to be used as a slander in any circumstances
What is God’s name?
Where is this?
Your reading the context in your context of it being blashemy, yet the context is one of God cursing as king James bible makes clear.
Sounds like your minds made up, its of the devil.
Yet many people have been saved from the Devil through it, who would never have read other more accurate translations
I’m an ordinary person. This does not make me too thick to understand accurate translations of the bible it’s no longer only available in Latin.!!! If Peterson hadn’t changed Gods word in several places though I wouldn’t have a problem … it would just be another available paraphrase… but he has changed it and it shouldn’t be put forward as ok …unless of course you belong to a church that only believes in the kindly God that never gets cross like the church I go to…
Very well said
I get what you’re saying, BUT there is a lot of verses that don’t sit well with me as a grateful Christ follower of almost 6 years. This is one example:
John 3:16 New King James Version
16 (A)For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten (B)Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 3:16 The Message
16-18 “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.
Notice the difference here, we are given EVERLASTING life, meaning it life doesn’t stop for us, it is eternal. The Message changes this to a whole and lasting life, which implies life to last over a period of time, implying life has a limit. There are other scriptures that just don’t agree with biblical scripture and don’t give reverence to GOD and his holy word. There are plenty of articles on the web to help clear this up. We have to know The Word and respect its original text because it is our weapon against the enemy. Thank you for your time.
This is what bothered me. I am on the youversion bible app and it’s never concerned me until today when the verse of the day (Jeremiah29:11) is in the MSG version and it was so different than any other version, I was confused. There was so much added to it! How is this clearer? Everyone has a preference, mine is usually NIV but for the MSG to completely change content is scary.
I agree, read 1 Corinthians and see how our Lord Jesus is called Master in The Message. This is how new age teachers see Him. There are many other places where Lord has been replaced with Master. None of the other translations of the Bible call Jesus Master.. Why Bible Gateway have The Message listed amongst Bibles is very bad. J.B. Phillips paraphrased Bible is listed, but it is still in line with the King James Bible, and I am not saying that everyone should only read King James Version, I personally use the New American Standard Version but would need a paraphrased version to have the same meaning and give The Lord Jesus His correct title. It seems people who are reading The Message, are more interested with the language, and not the Truth.
Totally agree with you. Frightening how so many people have bought into this “bible”. The word “soup” in Genesis 1 was enough for me and then John 1 v1 is nothing like the it should be.
Fair point, with the exception that the 15th verse of John 3, ends with, “will gain a real life, eternal life.”
Yes, in the 16-18 section, it says, “whole and lasting,” but the Message does not change the notion of everlasting life in this passage. It reads more like the book should be read in its entirety, rather than for the cherry-picking of a myriad of verses that are often quoted and or used out of context.
Food for thought.
Yes, but why change John 3:16, it is probably one of the best known verses in the Holy Bible which so clearly conveys the good news, the gospel.
Yes, there seems to be numerous translation issues when you compare it to other mainstream versions. Here is a spreadsheet showing some of them: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1IKm1mUQD8Cw4MV_uVthaNo86xZzW9a7z6BC_XQfoXVU/edit#gid=0
So basically your original qualification on why the Message Bible is a good translation is because someone who had no theological training, wasn’t a Christian, and probably never read the Bible before thought it was a good translation and sounded good? Maybe they would have liked to go to Vegas to enjoy the hookers and coke, would that be a good justification that hookers and coke are good?
The Message Bible significantly changes the meanings of many verses. This is not a matter of preference. For the most part, all Bible versions such as the NASB, ESV, KJV, NKJV, YLT, RSV, NRSV, Luther’s German Bible, Latin, the original Greek, primarily say the same thing. There are variations, but they mostly say the same thing. The Message Bible brings a new Message. Either the original authors of the Bible got it wrong, or the Message Bible is wrong.
You know, Fred, when you’re comparing me giving the Message to an unbeliever to going to Vegas and enjoying hookers and coke, you’ve really lost all perspective.
I agree with Mike that you lose perspective when comparing something that God has placed in someone’s heart to do with hookers and drugs. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Mike clearly stated that he doesn’t see it as a translation, but as a story of the Bible told by Peterson. Saying it’s wrong to advise someone to read the Message is like saying you can’t give someone perspective about the Bible, because your words aren’t accurate. We don’t have hours and hours explaining everything to every new believer and that is where the Message is helpful.
I dont disagree that this comparison should be thrown out. Sometimes radical comparisons need to be made to see the point. The Bible is the infallible word of God (not man). The message being treated as a Bible version is taking man’s perceptive paraphrase of the Bible and now taking that as our guiding force, when it isn’t God’s word. God’s word is so beautiful in the way it speaks to us in so many ways and has so many hidden meanings and things we will never understand in this life. To make it as simple as “The Message” portays it to where a reader can say, yeah I understand this completely, truly takes God’ out of it all. As a comparison, sex can be a beautiful experience when experienced in the way God designed. It can be simple and enjoyable with one night stands or trips to Vegas with hookers, however, so much of the love, connection, and experience God designed within is lost in any of these scenarios. Similar to reading “The Message” as if it were the infallible word of God.
I have been thinking a lot about the two opposing views of why the Message is a good or not for the English readers . As both sides have valid points it becomes v contentious and seems causing many divisive issues among Christians and churches . In any cases , we as true followers of Christ , we must be very careful on what we say and do . My humble opinion is that one question we can ask is how do we evaluate the authenticity of an English Bible translated version or a paraphrased version of the Bible of Christ’s beloved church that we can accept as an authentic version of the Bible. Moreover, can paraphrase Bibles be treated as The Bible that we can and should treat as trusted words of God in comparing to different versions of the translated English Bible ? If the answer is no then the issue is solved . Do not read any paraphrase bibles or story telling bibles as the Bible. But if the answer is us yes, we have to answer many more not so easy questions. What process and authentic standards we can use that can establish the story telling or paraphrase bibles be authentic bibles ? I think there are quite a number of reasons why some objected using the Message, one of those being that although Eugene Peterson did not claimed it as a Bible per se , people tends to recommend others to read it as a best modern English version of the Bible which implies that the reader can read it as the Message from God for us today . This is my impression from the title Message in capital M even it has no article The in front of the title Message . But if the church of the English world never recommended others to read it as an acceptable authorised version of the Christian Bible , and Eugene Peterson just changed the title of the book as let say : A Morden Story telling Book from Eugene Peterson of the English Bible; will this be acceptable resolution ?
Unfortunately many people do not see The Message as just a story, they believe it is the Bible. On Bible Gateways website it is listed amongst Bibles so if someone is looking up a Bible verse, there it is. There are other amplified Bibles listed, The Amplified Bible, Phillips Bible, but they do not change verses.
forget about what OTHER people say about the MSG, just look at its preface, it says it is a READING BIBLE, not a study Bible. So, yes, it claims ti be a version of the BIBLE, never a paraphrased version. Period.
Yes, I agree with Mike. The comparison is not fair and correct I think. But again, I do agree that the Message (with all good intentions and purposes of Eugene P. I believe) has various places listed above “amended” too much of the original text that do not “accurately” translated or paraphrased the original meaning of the text. May be if these “controversial” phrases can be updated, it will help a lot for the Message. I do agree the language of the Message is much more accessible to people who really find the traditional English bibles difficult to grasp. It is not easy to resolve: 1. To keep and be faithful to the original ancient Text, but 2. to make it easily understandable to all without any biblical jargons. For the Bible is truly a Christian theological book, not just a novel that meant to be read just casually. It does require deep thinking and assistance, and by the grace and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and in time, Christ’s truth can come alive to us. It must be also read with a true obedient heart and faith in God’s words, and willing to live out His words at all costs. The Bible reflects the truth of God, which requires our active response to it which is the most difficult part. An easy reading of a Bible version like the Message is very good, it is a first step only though an important one.
As someone who grew up and currently resides in Las Vegas, I can attest that you are unlikely to find more hookers and coke here than you would any place else. It’s as illegal here as it is wherever you’re from, possibly more so.
Vegas isn’t a modern Sodom or Gomorra. We have more churches by the square mile than I’ve seen in any city in California or Arizona.
No one who lives in Vegas lives on The Strip. We have hobbies that don’t include gambling or strip clubs, work normal jobs outside of casinos, and go to church one or more times a week. We also tend not to judge, as we have a melting pot of differing viewpoints and people from all over the world.
To not make this entirely off point, I’ve been a Christian for 23 years, studying only the KJV and NIV versions of the Bible (with some NASB at times). I’ve learned from pastors like Thieme, and from pastors who weren’t so harsh and dogmatic. It wasn’t until I picked up The Message a few weeks ago that I began to understand some of the verses that were always a mystery to me. It isn’t my new Bible or anything, but it helped me grasp some concepts that I can take with me back to the NIV, put through a test to ensure that it’s clear, and then continue on with my studies.
It’s a useful tool, particularly for those who think more colloquially and might need a love hand to reveal the concept, before we go back to the deeper mysteries of it all.
Please listen, it is important. Have nothing to do with THE MESSAGE. I came across a copy while helping clean a house where a friend of my wife had died. I took it home and read it for a little while and got up and threw it in the trash can. It’s one thing to read the Bible, but it is sinful to read what someone interprets as the Bible.
Teachers like me have heard too many other versions of God’s word.
So I assume you’ve mastered Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek? It would be a sin to use others interpretations no?
Are we being a touch dramatic?
Not dramatic at all. There are TRANSLATIONS, where translators, preferably in teams, work hard to find the accurate way to bring the Greek and Hebrew into English. And then there is “The Message” where Peterson doesn’t bother with accuracy and creates a book that oftentimes makes the verse LESS accurate and understandable, and sometimes even erroneous. A translation faithfully rendered is a good thing. The Message is heresy and does not belong in the life of anyone who honors God’s Word as holy.
I totally agree with you, Brian.
In Mathew 6 we find the Lord’s prayer in the NIV:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
The first thing we take away from this model prayer is to have reverence towards God, as His name is to be ‘hallowed’.
Eugene writes this garbage in 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!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Eugene changes “Lord Jesus” to merely “Jesus” 2,081 times in the Message. I don’t think “Lord” is too hard of a word to understand.
Instead of attempting to dumb down the Bible, why not attempt to raise your own intellect and learn 3 or 4 new words?
Clearly, the Holy Spirit will lift the veil of understanding to the scriptures if you genuinely ask Him to help you… we don’t need Eugene to do it for us. Eugene Patterson is not doing anything different than Mary Baker Eddy, Charles Taze Russell, Jim Jones or many others have done in the past. The Message is garbage and it’s dangerous if it’s given credibility.
“Go home and eat a sandwich” is not a Bible verse… but it is a verse in the Message.
Want a better book to explain passages? Try the Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by Gleason Archer or any of the competent study bibles available today.
My favorite verse in the Message is at the end of the Lord’s Prayer:
“Yes. Yes. Yes.”
What passage is that translating?
I have no idea, there’s nothing even close to it in that scripture. Maybe Eugene feels it adds extra depth that the Holy Spirit forgot to add?
The Message is misleading garbage.
He uses the term “Master Jesus Christ” or “Jesus the Master” or “Jesus Christ, the Master” because in today’s common language, the closest term we use in everyday speech is Master. I think we have to remember that the goal is to use colloquial or common language to make the ideas more accessible. It is worth remembering that for those of us steeped in the Bible, we are unable to recognize how much Biblical “jargon” alienates nonbelievers or many who are less familiar with the Bible. It is also important to remember how many Biblical terms are almost never used outside the Bible or religious spaces. While I don’t read the Message because it’s not the colloquial I’d use in my spaces, I can see the value in reading a range of paraphrases as well as a range of translations. Let’s not be so dramatic.
I don’t say well said to Mike,I mean’t David G. Mike just google “Adding to and taking away from the Word of God”, and see how many times God warns us about doing this. As followers of Christ we are to have discernment by power of Holy Spirit as to all that we do. In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 the apostle Paul humbly warns the Corinthians of this. Eugene Peterson did not come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ when he wrote the message, otherwise he would not have changed so much of Scripture.
I think 2 Timothy 4 sums it up,
2 Timothy 4 sums it up, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth and shall be turned into fables”.
Thank you, Dr. Frost, for your explication of The Message as a personal interpretation and not a translation of Scripture. I have heard others say that The Message is a translation, though I have thought it a paraphrase. After reading a text in the The Message this morning, I wanted to read about its being a translation or not; thus, I came upon your discourse.
I text I read today in The Message stopped me and made me think, “Well, that seems ironic. This does exactly what this text says not to do.”
Matthew 7:6 (The Message): “Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.”
Matthew 7:6 (King James): “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”
While writing this commentary, I chuckle because verses 1-5 speak of not judging (KJ). In juxtaposition to this text, my comment may seem judgmental; however, I am not criticizing, finding fault, trying to wash someone else’s face when mine needs attention (MSG). I am sharing my observation that emanated from my personal study.
Thank you for your time.
Julia, In your last paragraph you said “verses 1-5 speak of not judging”.
I would encourage you to read the text again. It doesn’t say to not judge… it says to not judge hypocritically. See the difference? It actually tells you HOW to judge. How else would you determine with whom to share the gospel without determining who is displaying fruits of the spirit or not? I mean, you can’t drive to the grocery store without judging those around you and their potential actions. Is the driver in front of me going to turn or stow down or continue forward?
Philosophically speaking, you can’t judge if I’m judging you without making a judgement! In reading my reply, you’ve already made a judgement, even if you don’t reply. 🙂
The Bible is not contrary to absolute truth. It is logical and correct.
Bless you and have a great day!
Hi Julia, very interesting point. I just want to share my view here, hope you don’t mind.
The verse Matt 7:6 is very interesting, and I would say it is surely not easy at all to understand. Once must understand the background and culture and the timing and purpose of the whole Matt Ch.5 – 7, the invaluable Sermon on the Mount and subsequent explanation and sometimes in proverbial sayings which the original audience could understand fully, unfortunately not us, and the scriptures did not immediately gave us an interpretation by Jesus the speaker which will solve all our problems! And obviously, this was not being provided by us. So if you read all different translations of this verse, you can almost see they all tried not to interpret it, but just translate it literally, for i guess, the purpose of translations is not to put a personal interpretation on the bible, rather, trying to use a more up to date English language to translate the original meaning. Now as we read the Message on Matt 7:6, it is clearly a very very clever good “interpretation” by Pastor Eugene Peterson. This is where the potential problem lies. If the Message is read as a personal bible scripture interpretation by Professor Eugene Peterson, then it is no problem at all. It is just another like Commentary of Matt 7:6. Many people read the bible, and then read some commentary. The great Reformers like Calvin, Luther, they all write commentaries on the Bible. Anyone can read them as a reference book, but not as THE Bible! Do you agree? This is the controversies , quite unfortunate. Many Christians whom we belong to the same family of God, will become almost like enemies because of reading the Message. It is such a pity to me. Going back to the Message Matt 7:6 interpretation: “Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.” If you take it out, and just read it as a word of wisdom. It is perfectly fine. Nothing in it contradicts any wisdom, truth, or Bible teaching. I will say, Eugene Peterson is so cute, his writing so clever, i give him all the praise for his wit and creative writings. But I must say, this was not Jesus said! Jesus will not mind using a somewhat derogative words like “pigs and dogs” towards those “unclean people”. It is certainly politically NOT correct in today’s world. That’s why Eugene Peterson will not use these words. But all other translations retain all the words of Jesus even seems derogative. Can you see why? I hope you do. For one needs to really make a big effort in searching the meaning of the precious words of Jesus, and we need to help each other, not to condemn each other. Now if you read 2 Peter 2:22, “It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” (2 Pet. 2:22 NAS), we got a clue. It is a Jewish proverbial saying, and I think both Jesus and Peter uses some well known Jewish cultural wisdom sayings to bring out a point. If we translate it like Eugene Peterson do, it lost the whole point. It is not mystery, or slogan for the original hearers. It strike them hard I think to see how holiness of God and the unclean words or works or behavior cannot co-exist. It is not something cute and inviting sacrilege, but a very serious matter, that such behavior does not belong to the Kingdom of God.
Thank you for this analysis.
Yes, the Message Bible is as bad as they say. It changes the word of God around, gives it a new meaning. There are multiple websites available that show the distortions in the Message Bible. It needs to be avoided. The author of the Message Bible, Eugene Peterson, said it should not be used in the pulpit. But it is. Revelations 22:18-19 NIV says: I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.
If it weren’t for The Message I never would have met God. No arguing and no judgment of anyone or anything on here, just a fact. I am so thankful that this wonderful book was made a part of my life. Correct and perfect doctrine aside, it helped me learn about the heart of God. For those that feel the need to respond to this posting by telling me I’m not a true believer or I’m being misled. God is my only judge and I will not be back on this site again. May the love of God be the most important thing to all, not arguing about what is right and wrong. How that must hurt the heart of God. Take care out there. Be a light and shine!!
“Correct and perfect doctrine aside…” Then how do you know you learned about the heart of God? What you learned was Eugene Peterson’s thoughts about the heart of God – which thoughts are, quite often, incorrect and quite humanistic. Get rid of The Message. If you don’t want to wade through King James language, at least get an ESV. But The Message is poison and will NOT enhance your walk with God.
No disrespect intended, as I think MSG is a good thing when seen and used in the proper context. But imo it should be considered within the same spectrum that, for example, a child’s picture book of Noah’s Ark resides. Supplementary material that should only be used to help understand actual translations of Scripture. Though, MSG is at the very top of that spectrum and closest to actual Scripture, while a picture book is at the bottom of that spectrum. Regardless, my point is that they are of the same category. Supplementary. MSG should never be someone’s main version of Scripture, unless they truly lack the ability to understand something like NIV. It should be used to help them understand NIV and other actual translations better. Nothing wrong with MSG as long as we all see it as a storybook-version meant for illustrative purposes, like a TV show or movie based on a book. Great for understanding and visualizing, but it’ll get certain things wrong, both unimportant and important, so if you want the whole story, dive deeper into the original.
Given how much ERROR is in The Message, how exactly would it HELP someone understand Scripture? It doesn’t. It muddies the waters. Most of it is humanistic garbage, and what parts of it are not are nevertheless murky nonsense that does nothing to improve upon the reading of the Scriptures.
Just now considering this purchase. In teaching biblical context, I use at least three translations, concordances, commentaries, lexicon, biblical encyclopedias, and my brain to question them all. I think The Message may bring a poetic story telling to my study table. So it’s a thumbs up from this artist/poet.
So what does your brain do when it realizes that the Message says different things than the three other translations you use, the concordances, commentaries, lexicons, and biblical encyclopedias?
Are all of these sources that you mentioned wrong? Or is the Message Bible wrong?
For me the issue isn’t whether The Message is a translation or a paraphrase. I think it’s a good choice for people to read on their own as a way of better understanding the Bible. What I don’t care for is reading it aloud in church. To me the overly folksy language just doesn’t sound appropriate in a place of worship.
The author of the Message agrees with you in that it isn’t appropriate to be used at the pulpit. Unfortunately, not all teachers are informed of this.
Thank you love it – its clear – on the spot good translation- Past McPherson – South Africa
If new believers need a simpler version of the Bible to want to read the Bible than there is a lack of commitment to learning truth there. The Message deletes whole verses from the Bible leaving out important study information. A Christian will tell you that God himself will assist a believer in understanding thru study and application of the Bibles true text. The Message may be helpful for some clarification of some verses but it should not be considered equal to the original text.
The fact is that the ‘Message’ is quite vulgar in the language it uses in many places .Peterson inserted a lot of things that definitely were not in the original text, has erased some reference to satan and has subtly changed the meanings of important passages ) like John 3:16/17, etc… All these cannot be reconciled by simply saying it is story telling or a paraphrased version, it is sacrilege to the core , while he implied /accused others more formal versions of making the Bible incomprehensible to the ordinary people , he actually did the same thing in another way, he makes God incomprehensible IN GOD’s original perspective as found in the original text. He paraphrased a pleasing , comprehensible spiritual being called God to the ordinary person.
He implied people cannot understand the truth and God by reading traditional translations, he allows people to understand , sure he did, but about the wrong things. So which is worse ( just for argument’s sake) : an obscured / incomplete understanding of the right thing, or an easy and convincing understanding of the wrong thing ?
the Bible tells of an eternal God and transitory fleshy humans, why does God’s words have to be current and ‘relevant ’’ to the modern-day people , instead of true and relevant about God himself ? The Bible is written for is bit ABOUT GOD, not about us.
What kind of God do people understand by reading the ‘Message Bible? Even Jesus is quite vulgar by Peterson’s depiction in the ‘message’.
The bottom line is : It should NEVER have been called or touted as the ‘Bible’ , it is anything BUT.
I really agree on Eric’s comment that the purpose of reading and understanding the Bible, be it a translated, or paraphrased Bible, must be that one can understand a “complete” depiction of God or About God, and not a watered down human friendly version of God, and not just concerning about how readers felt about God. There is no question that reading the Old Testaments caused much much problems for readers of today. This is why we must have a Bible of both Old and New Testaments to make it complete. And it is also the duty of the church in any places and age in time to explain to others the proper way of understanding the Bible especially difficult passages of the Old New Testaments instead of replacing them with different meaning and wordings. But of course, I am not here to criticize Mr. Eugene Peterson’s intention to make the Bible more readable to modern time readers, and though i do not not him personally, I believe he has all the good intensions and love for people and God.
I agree with you here.
typo: the Bible is written for us ABOUT GOD…..
In 50 years tome , do we need another ‘updated’ version of GOD v3.0 ny another ‘paraphrased’ bible, to satisfy the generation then, to make God and the Bible ‘current’ and ‘relevant’ to the age of 2071. ? Can this evolving God be trusted ? Is he everlasting? Are we creating god in our image ? Do we still need the original or at least ancient versions / translations for any useful purposes?
What if people call God ‘dude’ in 2071? and we also paraphrased God as ‘dude’ ?
Yes, for sure there will be newer, or “better” translations, or paraphrased versions of the Bible in ages to come, and it is never going to be easy, and there will always be many opinions and or arguments on which translation is better. Nevertheless, most Christians should understand there is no perfect translations of the Bible per se, and one can have healthy discussions on them. But one must be very careful in treating a person’s story telling friendly version of the Bible as a modern version Bible for non believers and believers to understand the God of the Bible.
Should be : Not to treat ….
What does this have to do with the Message Bible? I’m not seeing the conparison
I’m thankful for the message version. I’ve read and studied from NKJV, NIV, ESV and HCSB, but these days my favorite is the Message and I’m loving reading the Bible for fun, and not just another study. I truly look forward to reading the word each day again and love how the text reveals something in a new way. Today, it was Romans 12 and the gifts. I knew the gifts but didn’t really understand all that text was saying! This version pointed out what NOT to do and I can let myself be changed by that. Thank you.
That’s good. I am glad you read all the different translations, so do I. In that case, you are protected as you already read the original translations of the Bible into your heart. I respect that you want your read and love to read the Message for fun, and not just another study. Normally, I think Christians read the Bible more for knowing deeper on God, our creator of heaven and earth, and our Lord Jesus Christ, his love and works in manifesting who our Father God is, and helped us to experience God’s love and power in helping us to face all our shortcomings and struggles in life through his precious gift the Holy Spirit, his own Spirit living in us. The fun part is good too, but need not supersede the true purpose of the gift of the Words of God preserved for us for thousands of years. The only danger of many whom I know has used the Message , permit me to say “as an easier way out” or more “friendly acceptable reading”, but putting away those little bit more “unfriendly” but authentic translations of the original scriptures of both the Old and New Testament, and they thought and believed the story telling style of Message is the word of God, the Holy Bible.
Please get a copy of Experiencing the Holy Spirit, by Andrew Murray, I have found the Bible to be difficult at times to comprehend, now I know why. The Message is obviously not the Holy Bible, as the other Bibles which you mention are. They have been translated from the original Hebrew and Greek texts which were written by men filled with the Holy Spirit. The translaters have stayed true to the text as much as possible when translating from one language to another. That is why we as Christians who want to grow in our Lord Jesus Christ must have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of our Lord, we must rely on the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, as Jesus said He would, to teach us and lead us into all truth. I pray that this will be your ernest desire as it is mine to live a ch anged life not relying on my own strength but on the Word who is Christ and by the power of His Holy Spirit.
The Message may give some useful insights into the meanings of certain Bible passages. But it’s also full of New Age terminology, contains occult words, inserts false teaching, distorts God’s revelation about himself, and even alters the gospel message in places.
It’s been likened to someone making you a nice drink but then stirring a drop of cyanide into that drink – do you still want to take it?
A classic example occurs where the words “Hallowed be Your name” are removed from the Lord’s prayer in Matthew chapter 6 of The Message and replaced by the phrase “As above, so below” – an occult phrase attributed to the legendary occultist Hermes Trismegistus.
One of the Bible passages quoted in this article is Genesis chapter 1. Eugene Peterson’s rendition of Genesis 1:27 falsely states that human beings were created “godlike”. In Genesis chapters 2 and 3 of The Message, the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are capitalised. But after Genesis chapter 3 the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are not capitalised. The Message appears to be hinting that Adam and Eve were created godlike or divine but then they lost that quality in the fall. This would be false teaching.
We are told to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11) so that would be good grounds for not using The Message as a learning tool. I’m sure people can find other resources such as modern English Bibles and user-friendly commentaries to help them understand the scriptures better. Ask the Holy Spirit to increase your understanding.
This comment thread holds enough proof that there will never be an end to religious, Pharisee-lke legalism. Jesus never approached the lost or non-believers with the sanctimony that is loaded on this comment thread. Jesus was killed for his approach, which of course, ultimately served God’s providence.
Eugene Peterson was a tremendous Pastor and his devotion to the word of God has transformed so many lives, including that of many of my friends. I am grateful for his work, and Michael, I thank you for a well-reasoned and spot-on post here.
I have every respect on Pastor Eugene Peterson for all the work he has done for God’s Kingdom on earth. Although i do not know him, I believe he is a true pastor and servant of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. But it does not mean I must agree on all the translation, or interpretation of the Bible – in the Message. As I stated before, it is the translation of the Bible which is very important. If it was a Story Telling Book of a grandma to her grandchild about the story of God, it is a totally different thing. It can be even be a more imaginative and creative writings of different bible stories. Many people do not understand why some of us are so concern about the Message, for it is read as THE BIBLE, the word of God, as it is marketed or presented that way in our real world. I hope I put my point clear that I have every respect for Pastor Eugene Peterson. I am just doing my part in pointing out the potential danger of reading a story-telling book about the stories of the bible as THE Bible, the Word of God. Throughout the history, Christians sacrificed their lives to preserve the words of God, and pass down to us, and all the authentic Bible Translations made every efforts in maintaining the integrity of each Bible word or verses despite its difficulties, but make it accessible to the public. I therefore admire Pastor Eugene Peterson in trying to make the Bible more accessible in writing the Message, and I imagine why he uses the word Message as a title, not Bible. If this were Pastor Eugene Peterson’s intention, then we must tell the world that it is NOT intended to be read as THE Bible. But if his intention was to treat it as the Bible (Message) for people to read and understand, and to know, and to have true relationships with God, then I hope the Message can be revised on those areas which did not really serve justice to the ancient biblical scriptures original meaning for all intents and purposes. My apology if I there are in any ways my opinion may hurt anyone’s deep feeling and respect for Pastor Eugene Peterson as I honestly does not intend to.
Oh my! So much efforts on both sides to validate wether the MSG is God-inspired or not. I am not sure that is what Jesus is asking us to do. Most of the time, I remember him asking us to put into practice the bible instead.
Anyway, one thing about the MSG on a personal point of view:
– the fruits: when I read the MSG, I am THRILLED about God and I want to know more about him
So please leave me my MSG and let us mind our business: love of God, compassion and making disciples. We have got enough on our plates.
Discussions on different opinions should not be a fight of who is right or wrong . All I want to do is to share a personal view and not attacking your favourite Message . Blessings
I’d say the frequency, wordiness, and directness of each of your responses suggests an attack whether you want it to or not. Otherwise, I’d say you got your point across in your first post, and you can let others say their piece as an equal participant in the conversation. No need to respond to every single person who likes “The Message”.
Ok, I got your point. I guess you are saying that i said too much against Message. If so, it’s a pity, for i thought this is a space where we can discuss freely with Christian love and mutual forbearing. I got your point. I will restrain from now on.
It is a pity that to be able to discuss anything we have to be politically correct, even when it comes to discussions on what is truth and what isn’t If The Message is read as a commentary on the Holy Bible,as it seems it should, and not listed as a Bible translation, as Bible Gateway and others do, then it would not be so controversial. There are many Bible commentaries, some excellent some not so. If The Message if used by someone as their only source of Scripture, and verses have been left out or watered down, then I would say Truth is being compromised in this book. One of the books which I believe God used to reveal His Son to me was The Cosmic Conspiracy”, by Stan Deyo but he encouraged me to put my trust in The Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Bible, not just his words. I was only familiar with a childlike understanding of Jesus from Sunday School as a small child, and thought of Jesus as a good man but not as God come in the flesh. If this book is bringing people to Christ then. I hope and pray that they are encouraged in their walk with God, and to understand that this book is not a translation of the Holy Bible but a commentary by Pastor Eugene Peterson.
The WORD of God saves and heals. The MESSAGE translation is a version that can open the door to non believers. Once the door has been opened and that seed is planted the hunger begins, then other translations can be introduced. I’m always baffled by well meaning Christians doing such harm with their opinions I choose to listen and encourage and pray for others particularly non believers.
Many of you have been critical of The Message in terms of its accuracy (and rightly so), but consider this:
Have you ever sat in on a Sunday School class? Have you ever listened to a sermon? Have you ever participated in a devotional? If so, you likely understand that there’s value in a process where someone says, “Here’s what the Bible says. And here’s what it means to me when I read this.” The fact that what they’re saying isn’t entirely accurate doesn’t mean it doesn’t bring value to the table.
Do I think The Message is completely accurate? No, by no means. But neither are Sunday School classes, sermons, and devotionals. But we approach them with the understanding that while they’re not 100% accurate, they often provide us with a fresh way of looking at things.
If a person will treat The Message like a colorful sermon about the Bible instead of an accurate translation of the Bible, there’s plenty of value in much of what Eugene Peterson says. It definitely should never be used as a person’s sole translation (since it’s not a translation). Instead of “The Message” it should have been named “Eugene Patterson’s Personal Commentary of God’s Message to Humanity.” That would have been more accurate and less controversial.
Hello Damien. I’m not sure where to comment on this subject so I guess I’ll pick your post to piggy back. Lol. The whole point of “studying to show thyself approved onto God” is to seek the truth. Jesus Christ is the “truth.” Find the truth and you find God. How do you think the apostate church grows ( actually outgrows the true believers). One lie at a time. One misinterpretation at a time. The best lies have the most truth in them. The problem lies in our society (or even human nature). We want everything “NOW”. I have twenty minutes God so You need to make it count attitude. Relationships take time . Waiting on the Lord is almost non existent in todays world. We find the truth and understanding not by changing Gods word but seek Him with your whole heart. Study!, pray!,fellowship!, TIME!!! Yes , we make mistakes in understanding the Word. But if we truly seek God with our whole heart the truth will be “REVEALED “ . This is not a brain thing, it’s a spirit thing. The only reason I would use the Message is to teach how apostasy works. If Peterson was truly led by the Holy Spirt he would have a book that would not change what the Holy Spirit originally “wrote”.
Agree Damien. The Message can be used as good devotional material , but I saugers to use an “authentic translation “ Bible (yes no translation is perfect) as foundation is better . Peterson also wrote many good exegetical and devotional materials too and many benefited from them including myself. But I will not recommend to use the Message as another Bible translation, better to stay as Peterson originally intended a grandma retelling the Bible stories to her grandkids.
Typo: suggest not saugers
Agree! Thanks Damien. “Bible” should be a reserved word, isn’t it?
I decided to find reviews on ‘the Message’ after listening to a strange reading from Deuteronomy 4:19 this morning. It states that God made the sun, moon and stars, for other nations to worship. This is the same as what is written in the Good News Translation. While I can see why the ‘the Message’ is easier to read, we cannot overlook this absolute LIE!
No I checked . Both the Message and the Good news version did not say what you stated . Please verify again
26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either—women didn’t know how to be women, men didn’t know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches.
This is clearly an incorrect rendering of the text in the “The Message”. Paul is clearly saying that men and women both exchanged the truth for a lie. That is, they rejected God’s command and created order of one man and one women in a union and instead opted for “vile passions”. The greek phrase para physin is a stock phrase of the time period for homosexuality per se. Not to mention there are myriad passages in the old and new testament condemning homosexuality as against nature and Jesus himself reiterated that His Father created them male and female and that is the proper union. This alone is enough to write off this translation as invalid but I am sure there are a plethora of other issues within it given how wildly inaccurate this verse is. The translators (if one can call them that with a straight face) clearly did their best to change to the times and did not keep to the timeless word of God.
Get a copy of Andrew Murrays book Experiencing the Holy Spirit, it is astonishing that so many Christians say they cannot comprehend the Scriptures (I have been of the same mind too), and the reason is clearly set out in Murrays book. Unless we have the indwelling Holy Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible becomes flat and impossible to understand. The men who wrote the scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, so only the Holy Spirit of our Lord can teach us. John 14:26, Nehemiah 9:20. Matthew 10:19-20, Mark 13:11, Luke 12:12,. We are to deny ourselves, get rid of the pride and selfishness, put off the old self and put on the new, then we will see changed lives and we will see unbelievers wanting Jesus, why would they want Him when they see no change in a persons life who says they are a Christian. I dont know what Peterson believed, but it appears that he was not submitted to the Holy Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, otherwise he would have preached and taught his congregation of the work and power of the Holy Spirit in a believers life. Unless a person who believes on the Lord Jesus is totally submitted to His Lordship in their life there will be no power in their life to change to become more and more like Him until the great day when He returns.
Unfortunately it is not a translation. A translation does not change the meaning of words, nor does it add in or take away from the text, as Eugene Peterson does. We are warned often in the Holy Scriptures to beware of adding to or taking away from them, but this is exactly what Eugene Peterson does. Please use discernment, which can only come through the teaching of the Holy Spirit of God.x
“The Message” is a modern feminist/gender studies major’s version of God’s word. Completely changes the hierarchy of God, man, woman. It removes any mention of submission and replaces “wives” in Proverbs (as an example) with “spouse”. In order to not single out women. It (MSG) is more dangerous than any translation in history and should be removed from all churches in the world.