Gettin’ Fresh

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


9 thoughts on “Gettin’ Fresh

  1. I’m not a “Message” user, but over the years I do keep coming back to Peterson’s book “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” which is his paraphrase of the psalms of ascent. (Perhaps they are included in “The Message”?) Anyway, I take it as commentary, food for prayer, a study guide. Read alongside an actual translation, I think paraphrases can, as you say, get fresh!

    1. Hmmm, that sounds like a wonderful book! And I love the idea of taking it as commentary; that seems like a very very good description of a purpose it can serve. I also am finding value in reading it to my pre-teen. We read alongside the Bible, as a way for him to try to put the scripture into his mind in a way that he might understand…as well as teaching him how to begin to see the ‘life’ of the Bible. Great ideas, Megan!!

  2. I find comfort in my NIV bible. However, often I have no idea the meaning of several verses. Hence my intrigue with the Message. I unfortunately haven’t taken the leap to purchase and experience it yet…although have seriously considered it since my oldest is approaching his teens quicker than Id like to admit! His questions are often deep and relevant…but I can’t often give him the answers.

    1. Hey Crystal! That’s what Megan and I were just talking about…another GREAT place to go to get practical and insightful life application (along with a little historical context) is Weirsbe. He has these compact books that explain things in a way that makes so much sense. There is a NT one to match. These are often cheaper than buying a new study bible.

      My oldest son does the same to me (maybe this is some sort of birth order thing? 🙂 ). Just this morning we had to get into the idea of dogma, doctrine, and opinions! How wonderful are their brains?!

  3. I absolutely love my message bible and have loved it for about 5 years now. I have found that it has brought a whole new light to reading the bible. After beginning to find verses monotonous after reading them for years, I’ve seen them in a fresh new way that has brought light to things I’ve previously missed. It brings a whole new life to the Word and almost presents it as a novel-styled story. I still love the NIV and often prefer to read it, but sometimes I just want to feel caught up in a story and let it reveal to me through that aspect. I also love it for new believers. When you’re just beginning to understand the Message is a great way to get immersed in the word and then “graduate” (if you will) into the NIV or whatever translation they find preference in for deeper studies.

  4. I’ve always been afraid that changing words in the Bible to more common day words can cause the original meaning to be lost. Or that paraphrasing leaves out scripture that should be there, and God instructed us to never add or take away from the words of the bible. Or what if his opinion is inserted instead of God’s true message. It’s easy to think that everything we are reading is correct, since it sounds well put and correct. But that’s dangerous ground. The fact that “the message” was intended to be more of a devotional is comforting, but I don’t feel Peterson made that clear enough. Don’t get me wrong, I read it. The same way I listen to a sermon at church, on T.V. or read a christian book. However, I always try to turn to God for the interpretation. Isn’t that one of the reason’s God gave us the Holy Spirit? Only His interpretation will be the correct one and I often think our human minds are misguided by relying on what someone else says the Bible means. We are supposed to test what we hear (and read). That being said, he should rewrite it, with devotional in the title and/or a more clear indication of his intent. Thanks for this blog Marian!

    1. Julie, I loved your conviction and stance on where you stand. I have so many thoughts and responses in regards to concepts such as translation and adding/taking away from scriptures. Whether or not there is a true translation, if it should lie in the realm of dogma, doctrine or opinion (connected to Cyrstal’s comment there!) but the largest comment I appreciate is: “I always try to turn to God for the interpretation. Isn’t that one of the reasons God gave us the Holy Spirit? Only His interpretation will be the correct one.”

      I would love to know how you test the Holy Spirit’s interpretation and what tools you use as you discern the correct interpretation? Such as: prayer? reading? comparison of commentaries? historical studies? Do you find what the original interpretation meant to the Biblical audience, the discern the differences between their culture and ours today, try to find the theological truths of God and then apply those truths? Or do you prefer to find what the text means to you in the moment that you are enduring hardship or experiencing joy? Do you translate through symbolism found in OT and NT, or by seeking insight from other believers?

      I know that’s a lot of questions, but this very much interests me. Thanks so much!

  5. Hi Marian,

    I have used the Message when preparing to teach and also as a primary text when teaching although typically I use the NIV. I have no issue with it as a paraphrase (as he meant it to be) at all and find it refreshing. I think we need to step outside the box occasionally and allow for the word of God to flow creatively.

    Speaking of creativity, I have just found a site that got my attention..I have not thoroughly searched the site, but was drawn to a video of NT Wright discussing what he would say to his children on his death bed. I think you will like what he says about the gospels and “looking at Jesus” That is where your spirit will be fed…concentrate on Him. The concept of video used this way is terrific. The url is
    Have fun exploring this site – what a wonderful resource!

    Much love,

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