Thinking Out Loud

December 17, 2020

Answering the Two Common Objections to The Message Bible

Because I work in and around the world of Christian publishing, I often find myself having to enduring some rather bizarre comments about Bible versions. I do my best to correct these, but often I’m not considered as authoritative as some random person they watched on a video, or on a Christian television show.

This week in going through my hoardings, I discovered a single sheet which was no doubt part of larger package used in the early days to introduce The Message Bible. I don’t see an exact date, but this was distributed by the publisher, NavPress.

The first objection commonly raised is that The Message isn’t a true translation. In terms of the translations with which people are most familiar, there is some truth in this. (See below.) But it’s true of all translations to some degree. In the KJV rendering of Romans 6:1-2a we read, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid…” The term “God forbid;” is a popular colloquialism of the time, much akin to “God save the King!” But God’s name, or the name of any deity for that matter, doesn’t appear in the original languages, nor in any other English translation. It’s not the type of thing Paul would say, as a Jew or or as a Christ-follower. The KJV lapses into paraphrase at this point, and several others.

One linguistics source I checked several years ago expressed some difficulty with the word paraphrase. They basically said, “If you’re taking something in one word-set, and re-stating it for other readers in a different word-set, you are in fact translating.” In the Evangelical world, paraphrase has become a pejorative term, leaving the translation ripe for criticism by those lacking a fuller understanding of how the world of Bible translation operates.

Which brings us back to The Message:

Obviously, a person looking for purity in translation would be best to stick with NASB, but those who get irate when they feel a Bible lacks integrity by the addition of things which strictly speaking are not in the original languages would have greater issues with The Amplified Bible or The Voice.

The second common issue frequently raised is that The Message is the product of a single individual. I don’t remember hearing this so much when J. B. Phillips introduced his New Testament in Modern English or when more recently, N. T. Wright introduced his Kingdom New Testament. Both are respected, though people are free to disagree with Wright’s interpretations that are published elsewhere. Ken Taylor’s original The Living Bible was a one-man production, but Taylor freely acknowledged this and the publishing company he created met this objection head-on with the creation The New Living Translation (NLT) which involved 128+ scholars, but still gets confused with its predecessor by some people.

I will admit The Passion Translation by Brian Simmons is enduring much criticism and has been updated at least twice that I am aware of in a very short period of time. And there are a host of independent translations published each and every year which never make it to the Christian bookstore market, some of which are written by people whose scholarship leans more theologically liberal.

Here’s what I learned — which I didn’t consider before — reading the information sheet:

Academics and scholars use the term peer review to describe the process by which their work is submitted for critique by others, and Eugene Peterson apparently followed this process…

…I think the people trashing The Message Bible are just looking for a fight. They’re the same people who become argumentative on so many fronts, a list of which isn’t needed in these times.

But Peterson himself was apparently surprised the first time he heard of a church using The Message as its core text for scripture readings. He didn’t envision the widespread popularity.

So my advice would be, purchase one, use it, enjoy it, but keep a more formal-correspondence or dynamic-equivalence translation close at hand.

2 Comments »

  1. My wife is a big fan of The Message because it translates/paraphrases into common, everyday American English. I, on the other hand, do not care for it personally as I find it difficult to relate to the writer’s original message. I’m not saying it is a bad translation, just that it doesn’t work for me.

    Comment by Rocky — December 17, 2020 @ 2:23 pm

    • Yes, I get that. I had a friend who worked in street ministry and with a biker church. He loved edgy translation projects. One of his favorite was The Word on the Street, aka The Street Bible, which you can find a reference to using this blog’s search function. But he could never wrap his head around The Message. It just didn’t work for the people whom he was dealing with.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — December 17, 2020 @ 5:25 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Your Response (Value-Added Comments Only)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: