I’ve been studying my backside off. Well–not really–because if that were true these jogging pants I have on right now wouldn’t be necessary, nor would they be giving me a belly ache because they wouldn’t be too tight.
So in the figurative sense, I am worn thin and loving every minute of it. I can’t think of a more fulfilling major; to be able to study the Word each day and find new ways of approach, interpretation and application is just more than I deserve.
But something has happened, as I knew it would: My quiet time has transformed into study time. And this leaves me feeling intellectually full but spiritually parched.
So I purchased The Message.
A year ago, I would never have advocated such a move. I would have stood firmly and demanded as much translation purity as possible (whatever that means)! However, a few weeks ago, we were required to research various translations of scripture and what I found was this:
The Message was never intended as a translation: It’s a paraphrase, meaning it was written from the original Hebrew and Greek texts, but takes the scriptures thought for thought rather than word for word. This paraphrase was written for two audiences. (1) Those who have never encountered the word of God, so they might be drawn in to the language, the sentence structure, the story line and the revealing truth of our core crying out to God. And (2) those who have been in the Word since dirt comprised the earth and they need a fresh sense of God’s unlimited creative and transforming Word.
There is a scale for Bible translations and it goes from FORMAL <——————> DYNAMIC.
The NASB is a version that falls on the extreme formal end while the Message is currently the furthest on the dynamic end. Why? Because Peterson used a high amount of idioms, using current figures of speech and phrasing. To this extent, the Message is more than a paraphrase, it’s an inhalation of God’s Spirit–taking the current dynamism of culture and orienting it toward truth.
( For middle ground on the formal – dynamic scale, we can look at the NIV. The reason the NIV is so respected is because of it’s success in being both a formal translation of word, thought, and discourse in a way that is respected across all denominations and nations. The Message claims no such philosophy of paraphrasing.)
Does the success of a translation or paraphrase depend upon how well it adheres to its philosophy? If the Message was written as a cultural devotional, does it succeed?
To the original believers, the text of the gospels and NT letters much the same–it was edgy, incorporating over-familiar text from the LXX, inter-testamental wisdom books, and the law and presenting this gospel of Jesus in a way that took all familiar and flipped it upside down. The letters were breathtaking, a stripping of membranes so that a rebirth began that neither man nor hell could keep from laboring.
And so I read. I’ve compared several books now between the Message and the Holman Christian Standard and I have yet run into anything that sets of my alarm. I know we are all different, but I find Peterson’s work a beautiful accomplishment within the boundaries of his goal: He has taken the unfamiliar and the overfamiliar and granted us a chance to see clearly again.
In an interview by Christianity Today, some years ago, Peterson said he never intended for the Message to be used as a teaching tool or cited as “The Word of God says…” He himself admits The Message is great devotional, but he prefers to hear a formal translation used in the pulpit.
What do you think? Do you read from the Message regularly, or has it scared you? Does it help to know Peterson intended it as a paraphrase rather than a direct translation?
I know I’ll keep my amazing (wonderful, insightful, incredible) HCSB bible as my primary. The notes and translation are incredible to study from. But I am so grateful to have a new perspective on the Message, and am already seeing the freshness of its content impacting my devotional life.
“While I was teaching a class on Galatians, I began to realize that the adults in my class weren’t feeling the vitality and directness that I sensed as I read and studied the New Testament in its original Greek. Writing straight from the original text, I began to attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original language. I knew that the early readers of the New Testament were captured and engaged by these writings and I wanted my congregation to be impacted in the same way. I hoped 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.” ~ Peterson, Introduction to The Message