The Message Remix | Eugene H. Peterson

Let’s get things straight: I’m not interested in writing a review of the Bible—I don’t even know how you would approach something like that! As a follower of Jesus, I submit myself to the Spirit of the Jesus who speaks to me in and through the written word.

That said, every English Bible we have is a translation and every translation is an interpretative judgment. I will offer my thoughts on Eugene Peterson’s very popular colloquial translation of the Bible.

One more disclaimer before we begin. My childhood was spent with the KJV, my youth years were spent with the NIV, my ministry life began with the NASB, my Seminary days were spent with the NRSV, and I’m currently living out of the ESV. I am not devoted to any one translation of the Bible. Every translation has strengths and weaknesses, reflecting the strengths and weaknesses of the translators who are just as human as the rest of us.

That said, I am predisposed to take a favourable view of The Message because Peterson has been such a positive influence in my life.

  1. It’s often remarked that the language of the New Testament (Koine Greek) is the common language of daily life and commerce. Therefore, our translations should reflect street-level literacy. While I take the point, I also know the extreme artistry that has gone into many of the books and letters that make up Scripture. 1 Corinthians, for example, is an extremely finely structured masterpiece (see Bailey’s Paul through Mediterranean Eyes). Many people who support the KJV do so because if it’s literary artistry. I think we need to use common language—but use it carefully and artistically. Here’s where Peterson is very strong. You don’t need a degree in literature to understand his language and metaphors, but he uses this common stock of vocabulary in very artistic ways. Peterson translates scripture like a poet.
  2. Every translator of scripture interprets while translating. Peterson is no exception. Unlike many of the other translations, Peterson’s interpretative judgments are more transparent due to his through-for-thought paraphrase style. It can be easy to forget that woodenly literal translations are still interpretations. You can mistake the English container for the actual word. On the other hand, when I read a phrase that surprises me in The Message, it sends me straight to other translations or BibleWorks to research why he wrote the way he did. Whether you agree with his judgments or not, you have to respect the increased transparency this provides.
  3. Peterson’s translation is lively. If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’ve probably heard many verses the same way many times. Reading a paraphrase like Peterson’s will help the text to come alive in your mind. You will see things a way that you’ve never seen them before. Sometimes novelty helps the Spirit to get to our heart.
  4. Of course, the danger with any colloquial translation like Peterson’s is its timeliness. The more colloquial the vernacular, the more tied to one era that translation will be. Some of Peterson’s phrases will sound dated more quickly that a those used in a more literal translation. If you’re interested in reading this translation, read it now: by its very nature it will grow stale.

I’m glad I took the time to read The Message cover-to-cover. Many verses came alive to me. Many times Peterson’s choice of words cut through my over-familiarity and worked their way into my life.

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