The Message Translation Wasn’t Supposed to be Cute

There sure is a lot of vitriol out there for The Message translation. It’s a highly idiomatic translation–not quite technically a paraphrase because he uses the original languages instead of the usual practice of basing it on another translation. He was “always looking for an English way to make the biblical text relevant to the conditions of the people.” It was originally going to be just a translation of Galatians for his congregation. Eugene Peterson is a man of God and loves God’s word, not that the fact that he is and does necessarily makes it legitimate. The translation is so idiomatic that it sounds very odd and even humorous, which I don’t think is a good thing, but it’s not demonic or heretical like some seem to want to believe. Remember, there is a man behind the translation when you make those accusations. When people criticize it, I’ve never seen them compare it to the original languages and make specific charges against it. It should not be used as a regular reading translation–only comparison–which is what Eugene Peterson himself believes. I think that’s the main problem–some people don’t know any better and others want to tell them not to do this–but if you think it’s dangerous because of going against orthodoxy, I beg to differ.

From Wikipedia (I use it with caution but this is a quote that’s hopefully accurate):

“Although The Message is used commonly in congregations, Peterson stated his uneasiness with this in a Christianity Today interview:”

When I’m in a congregation where somebody uses [The Message] in the Scripture reading, it makes me a little uneasy. I would never recommend it be used as saying, “Hear the Word of God from The Message.” But it surprises me how many do.

I use it as the paraphrase type translation when I’m using 6-8 translations of different types for comparison in studying a passage. It sometimes brings something to light I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed.

And once in a while, it actually gets it right when none of the others do:

Scroll down to see:

And that’s where things got amusing for me in this little search. I decided to check The Message:

Barnabas wanted to take John along, the John nicknamed Mark. The Message

Peterson essentially gets it all right where 15 other committee translations got it wrong.

Rick Mansfield also weighed in (this was quite a while ago):

See original review here. While I would never recommend it as a primary Bible, the Message is easily the best pure paraphrase of the entire Bible ever produced. Those who detest it don’t “get” it, in my estimation. Eugene Peterson essentially redefined the word paraphrase, which had previously been applied to works reworded from existing translations, since Peterson created his paraphrase directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts.

Some parts of the Message are admittedly troublesome and some parts are genius. I particularly like the Old Testament wisdom literature (especially Proverbs) in the Message.

Also see:


2 Responses to “The Message Translation Wasn’t Supposed to be Cute”

  1. 1 Craig Benno

    Hi Jeff. Clap clap clap clap.

    I think this is one of your best posts yet. From what I have read about Peterson and the Message, you have absolutely nailed it.

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    Well, my goodness. Thank you for the kindness.

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