Ethics & Religion
April 11, 2019
The Message by Eugene Peterson
By Mike McManus
No author has been more successful in translating the Bible than the
Rev. Eugene Peterson, whose paraphrase of the Bible, The Message:
The Bible in Contemporary Language, has sold an astounding 20
million copies. It also won a Gold Medallion Book Award.
For nearly 30 years Peterson led a congregation in Bel Air, Maryland,
where he had a congregation that "didn't read books." So he began
translating the Bible into contemporary American language, and found
that suddenly church members "started paying attention to me in a way
they never had before."
His translation of Galatians was published by a magazine that caught the
attention of an editor at NavPress, who urged him to translate the whole
New Testament. He did so by 1993, and NavPress sold millions of copies.
That inspired Peterson to translate the Old Testament as well, which was
completed in 2002.
The King James version of John's Gospel states: "And the Word was made
flesh, and dwelt among us." Peterson's translation puts it in today's
language: "The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the
neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes."
In his Introduction to the New Testament, Peterson said his goal was to
put the Scripture into the same language "in which we do our shopping,
talk with our friends, worry about world affairs and teach our children.
The goal is not to render a word-for-word conversion of Greek into
English, but rather to convert the tone, the rhythm, the events, the
ideas, into the way we actually think and speak."
This is best illustrated with examples:
- The traditional John 3:5: "Except a man be born of water
and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
- Peterson: "Unless a person submits to this original
creation - the wind hovering over the water's creation, the
invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life - it's not
possible to enter God's Kingdom."
- Traditional Matthew 1:22: "All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had spoken by the prophet."
- Peterson: "This would bring the prophet's embryonic
sermon to full term."
For the most part, this works very well. Long and formal sentences in
the original are often simply replaced with punchy phrases. "The grace
of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you" is replaced with a jovial, "Enjoy
the best of Jesus!"
More colorful language makes Scripture jump alive. For example, James
4:7: "Resist the Devil and he will flee from you" becomes "Yell a loud
no to the Devil and watch him scamper."
However, sometimes the translation is too loose. His version of the
Lord's Prayer begins well, but ends with utterly forgettable words:
"Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right.
Do what's best - as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You are in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You're ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.
What we want to hear is "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us
from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory,
This is evidence that The Message cannot be the only Bible
one reads. My wife and I have been doing our daily Bible study using
The Message which we have found to be full of fresh,
thought-provoking insights. But my regular Bible is nearby.
Eugene Peterson died last fall at age 85. Astonishingly, he wrote more
than 30 books in addition to translating the entire Old and New
Unfortunately, he made one major mistake in an interview about a year
before his death. He was asked if he would perform a same-sex wedding if
he were still pastoring. He replied with one word: "Yes."
Peterson was attacked by evangelical leaders, such as Andrew Walker,
director of policy studies at the Ethics and Religious Liberty
Commission, who asserted: "How sad that a creative voice like Eugene
Peterson would forsake the Scriptures." LifeWay Christian Stores
threatened to ban all of his books from their shelves. Within one day,
his literary agent released a statement saying that he "would not
perform a same-sex wedding."
It was a sad, embarrassing close to the life of one of America's
However, The Message is attracting millions to
Surely, that's far more important than one mistake.
Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and
a syndicated columnist. To read past columns, go to
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