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Definitely A Useful Rendering of the Word of God!
on 27 March 2012
I came across 'The Message' by accident. But as I began to read Luke's gospel, the way 'The Message' puts things began to impact my imagination in a fresh new way. I felt compelled to buy a copy for myself. Here's what I think overall.
Is it really the Word of God? I suppose, taken as a whole, we can say that 'The Message' just about delivers the Word of God to us. However, there are far too many inaccuracies for it to be regarded anywhere close to the purity of the NIV, the ESV, the NASB, the NKJV, etc. Interpretive mistakes are bound to crop up with great frequency when something like this is done, plus it's the work of only one man. So if you're looking for an accurate translation, please look elsewhere. Peterson himself says he feels uncomfortable when pastors read and preach from 'The Message' in their churches, because it was never intended for that. In fairness to him, I don't think Peterson ever wanted 'The Message' to have the same status as the other more accurate translations. 'The Message' has an entirely different and inferior purpose to the goals of these great translations, and we all need to recognise that. Nevertheless: I still think it's important for people to realise that 'The Message' does indeed have a valuable place in Christian literature.
This is a 'reading' Bible (certainly not a study Bible). It is meant only for individual Christians to read and enjoy basically what is going on in the Word of God and what God wants us to do. If used for this purpose, then it will deliver great benefit. The reader will gain a pretty good grasp of God's workings through-out history with Israel and through Jesus. As Peterson says himself in the Introduction, people who set out to read 'The Message' from the beginning will probably be very surprised at how readable this Bible actually is. Why is this? Well, 'The Message' delivers God's Word in frank, plain, simple, contemporary language which stimulates the imagination. Not all versions of the Bible do this, though I think 'The Living Bible' succeeds very well in this. 'The Message' does this as often as possible too. It's a paraphrase, designed to give you God's heart and thoughts as explicitly as possible. It's like reading a book full of pictures, even though it has no pictures in it. It should certainly grip you. Peterson was a pastor for many years. So he has had to think long and hard about how to put the whole Bible into language and ways that people can understand. I really appreciate the fact that he has done this with the entire Bible. He clearly values the whole thing and that's a very important lesson for us. So I do think someone can experience God speaking through this version of the Scriptures. I would certainly have little problem recommending a new Christian to buy a copy and read the books of the Bible in 'The Message' in whatever order they want. I think they would get a lot from it and begin to have a decent appreciation for the Word from the very start.
Will I personally ever read it through? Probably over many years I'll read a good chunk of it. As a teacher of God's Word, I feel like I can learn from the way Peterson puts things. We have to 'study to be simple', as John Calvin said. And this Bible sure puts things clearly and simply. But I doubt that I will read the whole thing. I was reading all of Galatians recently in 'The Message', and I just find that there are too many things I think Peterson has gotten wrong. I can't trust 'The Message' much and that's my big problem with it. If I were to read the whole of the Message from cover to cover I think I'd find many frustrating errors and wonder why I didn't just read my NIV instead. But this is how I find the Message useful: I look at various passages here and there in it, but usually once I've read those passages in the NIV first; I check out 'The Message' to see how Peterson interprets it and to see how he puts it, which is often insightful and helpful. It's also lovely to study a portion of the New Testament in the Greek myself and then to read the way 'The Message' puts it. Sometimes I feel Peterson is incorrect. But generally, I'm blessed by how the Word of God is delivered in this version. I often think it's like having David Pawson next to me when I read it because Peterson's paraphrase is very similar to the way Pawson paraphrases certain biblical passages in his book 'Unlocking the Bible'. For this purpose, the Message is great.
So these are just my thoughts, for what they're worth. If you want something really different, then this is it. I think most people will be pleasantly surprised, so long as they realise that Peterson hasn't promoted it as a 'translation' of the Bible as such. Taken for what it is, at face value, it's worth having on the bookshelf.