Friday, January 24, 2014

I've Tried, But I Still Can't Stand "The Message"

I've tried. I've really tried to like The Message. I've given it multiple chances. In the end I've come to a clear conclusion: I can't stand The Message.

The Message may or may not actually be a bible depending on who you talk to. If it is simply a commentary, then fine. However, at least the publisher considers it to be a bible. The cover shown here says, "The Bible in Contemporary Language." Additionally, I've met many Christians who carry this translation to church meetings and use it in bible study.

I'm not some sort of KJV-only type. I enjoy the KJV, NKJV, NIV, ESV, NLT, NASB, HCSB, ISV, and others. They are all good English translations that basically say the same the same thing. If I only had one bible, I'd be happy to have any of these translations (I generally use the ESV or NKJV, but it doesn't really matter to me).

However, I'd rather have no bible than have The Message. I'd prefer to recall what I have memorized than let The Message infect what I know.

The following are the three primary reasons I can't stand The Message:

First, in numerous places it is not accurate. I've been in bible studies where someone with The Message read aloud. Others of us would look at each other and then say, "Huh?" Eugene Peterson has tried so hard to use contemporary language that he has frequently lost the meaning of the original language. Single translators, even with good intentions, are dangerous; committees are much better.

Second, Peterson has effectively "dumbed down" the bible. He has simplified the language to the point that it is almost insulting. I'm not suggesting that the bible should be difficult to understand. However, it's also not play time. This leads me to number three...

Third, The Message is simply too cutesy. Many deep theological concepts are translated in such a way that they seem trivial. Peterson swings the pendulum so far in his quest for reader understanding that he paints a picture of a simplistic God with a simplistic gospel.

I realize it's not considered socially acceptable within Christian circles to criticize bible translations. In this particular case I'll just have to violate that unwritten rule. Not only can I not stand The Message, I also cannot understand why any other Christian would use it as their bible. If you want a bible that is easy to understand, get yourself an New Living Translation.

Scripture is not something trivial. We should desire to know what God has said. We have an embarrassment of riches in the English language as far as bible translations are concerned. What we don't need is a poor translation that actually harms the church. This is what The Message is doing. It sickens me what a high selling "translation" The Message is.

If you want to treat The Message as a commentary, go ahead. However, as far as bibles are concerned, The Message is a mess.


Randi Jo :) said...

I love it!!! as a commentary.

I have found for new christians that do not understand the "bigger picture" of the Bible - it really helps them grasp the bigger story. I was walking through The Story with others - but now I recommend the Message over the story cuz I find the Message to really be even better at helping them walk through the Bible & know the bigger story.

God has really used the Message in my life and in others.... to help create that thirst and to give the "background" and bigger picture... to desire to seek the Lord & to help with understanding when you read the ESV/NIV/whatever version.

Are you around a lot of new christians??? Or only people who have grown up in the Church?

I think for the first time, this generation is actually full of people who have NO background understanding of the Word, the Story, The Savior - and the Message truly can be such a great start for those people. Such a good introduction and "milk".

Randi Jo :) said...

P.S. I also believe we have major major biblical poverty going on right now....and SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO few elders/true leaders that are walking out the Truth in front of others. actually DISCIPLING...and helping others understand the Bible...

that that is another reason the Message is SO popular.. Whether we admit it or not... when a new believer who has no backgorund in the Church tries to read the Bible - KJV, NIV, ESV - ANY of them!!.... without somebody walking through with them... it's very overwhelming & hard to understand.

I don't know if it's spiritual dryness.....not good education in language.... but every person I talk to - across the board - is so overwhelmed/confused by it. It wasn't so long ago that I was in that boat!

Which is why I love bible study fellowship so much - the organization I serve in --- to help eradicate this biblical poverty!!

Eric said...

Randi Jo,

I'm glad you have found The Message beneficial. My hope is that anyone who reads it realizes, however, that it is at best one man's commentary. The biggest danger with translations like this is that little check-and-balance exists. A committee will generally be far more accurate.

Additionally, new Christians may find it easy to understand, but if it is not accurate then what are they understanding? A translation like the New Living Translation is written at a relatively low level and is also much more accurate than The Message.

I can see why someone might use The Message as a commentary. I think it is dangerous for any believer to use it as their primary bible.

Randi Jo :) said...

I too always tell people for "study" I wouldn't recommend it....but I still do recommend for Story.

I don't really have a reason for doing that...perhaps it's just a spiritual discernment to not recommend it for "study".....because I know it's not a literal translation.

I understand what you are saying but then again I have seen it lead to deeper passionate connection with the Lord - and even helped start the journey with the Lord for some - I am not "concerned" about it like you are. I haven't seen those people who were started in it or inspired through it be "off" in doctrinal beliefs or anything.

I guess the major unspoken "issue" here is that you are a "scholar" in comparison to me and I haven't seen where it's "off" from the message anywhere. I don't know the inaccuracies.

I don't know the New Living Translation, either.

Does Eugene Peterson ever claim it to be a direct translation?

Perhaps it can still be a "primary BIble"...if somebody is in a very dry season (or busy season like a mom of newborns!) and having a hard time "studying"....but wants to 'read' and 'connect' still without a lot of "crunching"...sometimes, perhaps it is good for a "primary BIble"...if they aren't in "study" mode.

IDK :) just rambling. perhaps it would help if you gave examples where it's "off"...and not just, "it's off because 1 man wrote it and not a committee"

But....I really don't know if Peterson ever claims it to be an interpretation or translation.....will have to look!

Eric said...

I'm not sure about Peterson, but the publisher advertises it as a bible. The reason for that is sales. The Message is big business. Many people purchase it thinking is is a bible, without knowing what Peterson thinks. They go by what the cover says.

Randi Jo :) said...

thnx for the conversation. will have to pray about this and see if I should still recommend it as a good read.

I am thankful to God that He nudged me to always use the caveat, "just to help grasp the bigger story, not to study cuz it's not a direct intreptation".

abmo said...

The following is out of the message and to me one of the most beautiful pieces of scripture ever written :-)

Matthew 5

5 1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Hope you enjoyed it with me.