With no verse numbers and a reputation for some shockingly earthy language, for many Bible readers the Message is the translation that went astray. Twenty years on does it need rescuing or is it now the leader of the flock?
The translation has become widely used in devotion, widely distributed in tracts and widely quoted because it connects with everyday language. Nobody claims the words in The Message are exactly those of the original Greek. The point is that it's easy to understand what the original means to say in today’s spoken English.
Even if the eternal never changes, the way language is spoken, used and written changes all the time. The modern soon becomes old fashioned. In time, the Message will appear as conventional and institutionalised as the language of the sixteenth century.
Here Are Some Examples...
Isaiah 40: 31
KJV: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
NIV: But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
The Message: But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind.
Psalm 23: 1-3
KJV: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
NIV: The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
The Message: God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.
Luke 15: 20
KJV: But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
NIV: But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him.
The Message: When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.
Not since the 1560 Geneva Bible questioned the divine right of kings has an English translation stirred up as much feeling as Eugene Peterson’s 1993 Message Bible. The Message isn’t the NIV and certainly isn’t the KJV or any of its more recent revisions. It has no ancient or scholarly pedigree but springs from one man’s frustration in failing to get the vitality and directness of Galatians across his bewildered study group.
“I began to realize that the adults in my class weren't feeling the vitality and directness that I sensed… I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for those who hadn't read the Bible because it seemed too distant and for those who had read the Bible so much that it had become old hat.” – Eugene Patterson.
There’s nothing woolly about the Message, and nothing sheepish about the words it uses. Because the Message concentrates on the overall meaning rather than the detail, it can concentrate on choosing the best modern words and phrases to get the Bible's meaning into language than today's readers use and understand.
In interview, Eugene Peterson said, “When I'm in a congregation where somebody uses [The Message] in the Scripture reading, it makes me a little uneasy. I would never recommend it be used as saying, "Hear the Word of God from The Message.” But it surprises me how many do.”
A new Message translation to communicate God's Word will eventually be needed – if it isn’t already. And why should that surprise or shock anyone? Every Christian is a walking, talking translation of God’s Word. Just imagine, how lost and bewildered would be your family, friends and community feel if you lived and talked as if it was still 1650?
April 4th, 2013 - Posted & Written by Les Ellison