An Amazingly Bad Article on THE MESSAGE

Well, not really so amazing. I’ve seen many like it, and it comes from the Worldview Weekend folks who have been spending their time being extraordinarily critical of other conservative Christian organizations.


I’m not going to run the article point by point. Rather, I’m interested in the general approach.

One common way of comparing Bible versions is to take a set of one’s favorite proof texts and determine whether one can still support one’s favorite doctrines using the translation in question. I want to distinguish this from the quite legitimate comparison of renderings for their quality. Orthodox doctrine is not created on the basis of a few lines of scripture and doesn’t fall based on one or two mistranslations. If it did, it would already have fallen.

I can’t find any translations on my shelves, including my favorites, that don’t have one rendering or another that I’d prefer were different. In many cases, I can get quite passionate about how a particular rendering is bad, and my preferred rendering is good. I consider such discussions entirely appropriate.

But in evaluating a translation, one needs to look at a number of things, including:

  1. The goals of the translation
  2. The method of translation employed
  3. A wide variety of texts, not just a few proof texts

In this analysis all of these items are ignored. Yes, the author says he could find many more issues, and doubtless he could. I found quite a number in my own reading of The Message, and personally I don’t like it all that much. At the same time, I’ve also found some exceptional renderings that are well worth reading.

More importantly, if a reader is using sound methods of biblical interpretation, one will still find orthodox doctrine in The Message. One may find certain texts don’t sound like what one expected in doctrinal terms, but in some cases, Peterson’s rendering is well justified.

The approach taken by Justin Peters in the referenced article is simply a failure. While I would not recommend using The Message as your sole Bible for study (I really wouldn’t recommend making any English translation exclusive), it can be a valuable tool in improving understanding. It is especially useful for reading large portions of scripture for an overview and for its cultural translation of the text.

Authors get their one idea of what a translation should be, and what information should be conveyed, and if they don’t find that, they think the translation is very bad. The fact is that all translations fail to convey part of the original, and do convey other parts. Which part is most important? Let the reader decide! This reader decides on variety.


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One Comment

  1. Hi, Henry. I like your article
    As you say, it would be unwise to use a paraphrase such as The Message as one’s only English Bible; but with that reservation I have to say that I quite like this version. It has a freshness of approach that is very welcome. Sometimes I’ve read a passage and thought, “Hang on a moment, that’s not what the original says”; I’ve then gone to the Greek or the NRSV and have realised that it is indeed pretty much what the original said! The Message may go at a passage in a roundabout way, but that is usually because a straight translation will often not convery the spirit of the original.

    As you say, for prolonged reading, The Message often makes excellent reading, even though as in any version there are things I would prefer to be somewhat different.

    For British readers there is sometimes a problem with colloquial American usage which, to our ears, can sound quite weird; but then the same would be true the other way round.

    So, in short, I wouldn’t recommend The Message for scholarly studies, but for general reading it is really very good.

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