A paraphrase is a retelling of something in your own words. A paraphrase of the Bible is different from a translation in that a translation attempts (to varying degrees) to communicate as “word-for-word” or as “thought-for-thought” as possible. A paraphrase takes the meaning of a verse or passage of Scripture and attempts to express the meaning in “plain language” – essentially the words the author of the paraphrase would use to say the same thing. The most popular example of a Bible paraphrase would be “The Message” by Eugene Peterson.
Many people use paraphrases as their “reading Bible,” preferring to read straight through as with a novel. This can be particularly helpful in long narrative passages such as found in Genesis, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles. Then they use actual translations—such as the New American Standard, New King James, and New International Version—for indepth reading and study.
Should you use a paraphrase? A paraphrase of the Bible should not be used as a Christian’s primary Bible. We have to remember that a paraphrase is what the author thinks the Bible says, not necessarily what the Bible says. There are some helpful renderings in The Message, but there are also many passages in The Message that do not accurately render the original meaning of the text. A paraphrase of the Bible could essentially be used as a commentary on the Bible, a way to get another perspective, but that is it. A paraphrase of the Bible should not be viewed as the Bible, but rather as an author’s idea of what the Bible says and what it means by what it says.