The Message – History
The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language was created by pastor, scholar, author, and poet Eugene H. Peterson and published in segments from 1993 to 2002 by NavPress. In the first four months after its release, 100,000 copies of The New Testament in Contemporary English were printed by NavPress, and 70,000 books were sold. After that time, a legion of product offshoots flooded the bookstores, most of which are now out of print.
The Message – Translation Method
The Message is not a translation, nor can it strictly be said to be a paraphrase of the original languages of the Bible. Peterson’s goal in creating The Message, in his own words, was to “bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat’.” Pastor Peterson’s parishioners, by his own admission, “simply weren’t connecting with the real meaning of the words and the relevance of the New Testament for their own lives.” However, this contradicts what Scripture reveals about the power of the Word of God, written by the Holy Spirit and made clear to those who are His: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Far from “losing its impact,” as NavPress describes traditional Bible versions, the Word of God becomes clearer and more impactful the more it is read and studied by those who seek its truth.
The Message – Pros and Cons
The original version of The Message was printed without the traditional numbered verses, making it read more like a novel. Many people found this refreshing at first, but also found it inconvenient for cross-referencing, comparison with other versions, and group Bible studies. As far as the negatives are concerned, there are numerous websites and articles devoted to the translation errors in The Message, too numerous to reiterate here. Suffice it to say that The Message has engendered more criticism for its lack of serious scholarship and outright bizarre renderings than just about any other Bible version to date. One common complaint from many who read The Message or hear it read aloud is “I didn’t recognize it as the Bible.” Other critics declare The Message to be not a paraphrase of what the Bible says, but more of a rendering of what Eugene Peterson would like it to say. In an interview with Christianity Today, Peterson described the beginning of the creative process that produced The Message: “I just kind of let go and became playful. And that was when the Sermon on the Mount started. I remember I was down in my basement study, and I did the Beatitudes in about ten minutes. And all of a sudden I realized this could work.” Aside from the impossibility of doing justice to the Sermon on the Mount in ten minutes, one wonders whether playfulness is the appropriate demeanor for those who attempt to “rightly divide the word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Awe and reverence for a holy God and His holy Word, yes. Playfulness? No.
The Message – Sample verses
John 1:1, 14 – “The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”
John 3:16 – “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.”
John 8:58 – “Believe me,” said Jesus, “I am who I am long before Abraham was anything.”
Ephesians 2:8–9 – “Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing!”
Titus 2:13 – “This new life is starting right now, and is whetting our appetites for the glorious day when our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, appears.”