Thinking Out Loud

October 25, 2018

The Message Bible: Paraphrase or Translation?

The Message.Romans.12.1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

With the passing of Eugene Peterson this week, Michael Frost has written what I feel to be the best overall summary of The Message Bible. He quickly shows us both why it is needed, and what may have given Peterson the idea to creat it. A few short excerpts follow, but first some background personal background from me.

I’ve always resisted people who are dismissive of The Message because “it’s a paraphrase.” I usually point out that first of all, Peterson was a brilliant scholar who worked from original languages. He didn’t just pick up a previous English translation and restate it, as did Ken Taylor with The Living Bible (not to be confused with the NLT, which was the translation-status upgrade of Taylor’s work.)

Second, I will often point out that some linguists have told me they don’t really have the term paraphrase. Anytime you are taking something written for audience “A” and then re-presenting it for audience “B” you are, in fact, translating.

The problem is that for everyone, including me, it was an either/or proposition.

But Frost introduces a new phrase, “rendering the text” which I think really says it best.

…There are many criticisms of The Message, some of them justified. It’s not a reliable translation if that’s what you need. It’s a rendering of the text, an attempt to make the Bible accessible in the common vernacular. But as a doorway into serious Bible reading, it has been a gift to the church. At least that’s how my friend has found it.

In his book on Bible reading, Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson writes about his motivations in writing The Message. He goes so far as to say it’s a form of sacrilege to speak of God in language that is “inflated into balloons of abstraction or diffused into the insubstantiality of lacey gossamer.” …

…Knowing this helps me appreciate The Message for what it is. It’s a protest against arcane and impenetrable religious language. It’s an invitation for ordinary people to enter the Scriptures once again.

…In his 1997 book on spirituality, Leap Over a Wall, he opens by telling us how his mother used to recount Bible stories to him when he was a child. In quite a moving passage, he writes:

My mother was good with words; she was also good with tones. In her storytelling I not only saw whole worlds come into being, I felt them within me through the timbre of her voice.”

Sure, he admits, she took some liberties with the stories, adding extracanonical detail, but “she never violated or distorted the story itself.” …

Here we have our primary clue to reading The Message: it’s like sitting on Uncle Eugene Peterson’s knee and listening to him tell the Bible story…

A rendering of the text.

I need to remember that phrase. 

Again, click here to read Michael Frost’s article; and click here to listen to Skye Jethani interview Michael about his new book Keep Christianity Weird on Phil Vischer’s podcast. (Skip to the start of the interview at 30:39.)

…Here’s another phrase to keep in mind if you know someone who is a sharp critic of Peterson’s work: “It wasn’t written for us.” If they persist, just smile and say, “It wasn’t written for you.”


Image: Bible Gateway blog

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October 8, 2015

The Message 100: A New Type of Bible Reading Engagement

We live at a time when Bible publishers have offered us a degree of choices and formats that previous generations would never have imagined. Different editions compete both in terms of brand identification and in their desire to readers engaged in the scriptures.

The Message 100The Message 100: The Story of God in Sequence takes the complete text of Eugene Peterson’s version of the Bible and divides it into 100 readings and although the reader is encouraged to go at their own pace, this means that one could read this Bible in 100 days, an acceleration of the usual “read the Bible in a year” type of approach.

Starting in Genesis, I decided to time myself with the first section and clocked in at 26 minutes, though I may have rushed the two genealogies. Still, at less than a half hour, and with only 99 readings left, I was impressed that day how easily this pace of reading the whole Bible might be accomplished.

Because the publisher of The Message, NavPress has merged their marketing and distribution with Tyndale (publisher of the NLT) I was a little wary that this new Message might follow the One Year Bible format which scrambles the text considerably.

Instead, The Message 100 keeps whole books of the Bible fully intact, the First and Second Testaments are completely separated, and the first 30 sections follow the traditional sequence. After that, all bets are off: The minor prophets are co-mingled with books of history, and the wisdom literature is placed at the very end with Psalms wrapping up the 79 OT sections, reminiscent of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) where Prophets come before Writings.

The New Testament begins with the synoptic gospels, then Acts, then the letters (epistles) in a more accurate chronological sequence, not the sorting-by-length with which we are familiar. The writings of John, including his gospel, concludes the 21 NT sections.

The Message 100 also contains a short introduction by Bono — himself quite familiar with the version — which makes it an instant collector’s item for U2 fans.


Connect to the full text of Bono’s intro at fellow-blogger Dave Wainscott’s review.

The Message 100 is 1,808 pages, available in both paperback and hardcover editions, with a North American release date of Tuesday, October 15th.

December 26, 2011

KJV 400th — The Party’s Over

Last one out, turn off the lights, okay?

Well that was fun.  But now it’s over.  We politely saluted the survival of a 400-year-old or 222-year-old (if you prefer the present 1789 edition to the 1611) translation of the Bible.  The KJV version is more than a mere blip in thousands of years of Bible translation in hundreds of languages, but not much more than that in the larger scheme of languages and centuries.

It served us well.  It propelled the idea advanced by William Tyndale that the Bible should be available in the common language; that whoever your society counts as the least — the classic ‘garbage collector’ comes to mind, though they often make good money — should be able to access the Bible and understand it.

Today however, the understandability of a Bible translated in 1611 but not significantly updated since the late 1700’s is a questionable premise.  For several reasons:

  1. English is a fluid, changing language.  In the words of the Cliff Richard song, “It’s so funny how we don’t talk like that anymore.”  (I may have added a couple of words.)  Furthermore, some words actually mean the opposite today of what they did then.
  2. We now have better manuscripts.  And verification from a greater number of fragments found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.  And a whole lot of other documents that are contemporary to the time the Bible documents were written.  So we know, for example that some KJV place names are really people names and vice versa.  (John White’s The King James Only Controversy is must-reading on this subject.)
  3. We have higher standards of translation and a better understanding of when to include something in the text and when to add it as a footnote or save it for a commentary.  We also know — for sure — that Paul did not invoke the name of God in Romans 6:1.  No other translation adopts the KJV “God forbid!”  It is — to use a word that offends Bible translation purists — a paraphrase.  A British colloquialism.
  4. Perpetuating language written in a Shakespearean form somehow robs the Bible of its relevance to real people living real lives in the 21st century.  Yes, it may be  easier to memorize, and it sounds churchy, but it clearly has what linguist Eugene Nida calls “a high fog index.”  Really, to cling to it in 2012 is no different than the attitude of Roman Catholics who perpetuated the Latin Mass.  And it defies the spirit of William Tyndale, who the KJV translation team greatly revered.
  5. There’s a guilty-by-association thing going on with the KJV-only crowd:  The people who stand for the exclusivity of this particular text often tend to stand for other causes.  I wouldn’t necessarily associate them people who picket soldier’s funerals, or the people who burn the Koran, or the people who wildly predict dates for the world to end.  No, I’d leave that for you to connect the dots.  Heck, even the King James Bible translators weren’t KJV-only.

So enough, already.  Let’s put the KJVs on a shelf and display them only when the occasion arises.   Let’s haul them out when we’re trying to find that verse we learned in our childhood.  Let’s refer to them when we want to see what verses Grandma and Grandpa underlined or highlighted.

But otherwise, in terms of everyday use, let us determine that anyone under forty (at the very least) will finally lay the KJV to rest, because, truth be told, most of us attended the KJV-400 party only because we love the Bible and we love a good celebration.

May 21, 2009

Psalm 19 in The Message – Excerpt

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:16 pm

7-9 The revelation of God is whole
and pulls our lives together.
The signposts of God are clear
and point out the right road.
The life-maps of God are right,
showing the way to joy.
The directions of God are plain
and easy on the eyes.
God‘s reputation is twenty-four-carat gold,
with a lifetime guarantee.
The decisions of God are accurate
down to the nth degree.

Something about the wording of this really struck me the other night.    I hope it helps someone out there today!   The Message is a modern-language rendering of the Bible by Eugene Peterson.   Although some call it a ‘paraphrase,’ it’s important to note that Peterson worked from the text in the original languages, not another English version.   We prefer to call it a ‘loose translation.’

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