The Bible is defined in different ways by different denominations. In the fellowship of
and Churches of Christ,
the Bible is generally defined as a collection of 66 books which were produced
by individuals operating under the special inspiration of God so that the
resultant texts were exactly what God wanted them to be. The Bible is considered the church’s
authoritative standard for faith and practice. Christian
For most Christians, however, when the Bible is consulted and studied, the text being read is a translation that was designed to convey the meaning of the inspired Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts; the proportion of Christians who interact daily with Biblical texts in their original languages is relatively low.
It is practical to emphasize the meaning of the inspired text: the use of a translation allows those who do not know Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek to know and apply the message which those ancient texts convey. The translation of the Bible into many languages has greatly advanced the spread of the gospel. But with the benefit comes a risk: the risk that if the base-text – the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek text – is not compiled correctly, and is not translated correctly, then the result will not convey the message that was conveyed by the original text, and that where a translation contains shortcomings, its users will not possess the Word of God.
|Most of the Bible in Contemporary English,
blended with Eugene Peterson's
comments and interpretations.
No English translation perfectly conveys the full sense of every nuance of every word and phrase in the original text, but several English versions are sufficient for the needs of most readers. The Message, however, is so inaccurate that it does not deserve to be considered a Bible. To see why this is the case, let’s compare the Greek base-text of the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew to The Message. (In the following comparison, the text of The Message is from The Message: Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language, Copyright © 2003 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.)
10:1a – “The prayer was no sooner prayed than it was answered.” – This sentence has no parallel in the Greek text.
10:1b – “and sent them out into the ripe fields” – This phrase has no parallel in the Greek text.
10:1c – “and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives.” – This is not a translation, but rather a replacement of what Matthew wrote, stating that the disciples were given power to heal every disease and every sickness. The emphasis on healing in the original text has been obscured.
10:5a – “harvest hands” – This term has no parallel in the Greek text.
10:5b – “Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers.” – Jesus’ words did not pertain to distance; instead, He told His disciples on this occasion not to preach to the Gentiles – εις οδον εθνων μη απέλθητε: into the nations’ way do not go.
10:5c – “And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy.” – This is simply not what Jesus said. He told them not to enter into any city of the Samaritans – και εις πόλιν Σαμαριτων μη εισέλθητε. This is a very simple sentence. The prohibitions against being dramatic and against tackling “some public enemy” were made up by Peterson out of thin air.
10:6 – “Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood.” – What Jesus said was, “But go instead to the lost sheep of the house of
Israel.” The distinction that Jesus drew on this
occasion was pretty simple: minister to
those in need among fellow-Jews, not to Gentiles and Samaritans. This is not a difficult concept to
understand; nor is the sentence difficult to translate accurately – but instead
of doing so, Peterson replaced the specific reference to “the house of Israel”
to the vague and inaccurate, “right here in the neighborhood,” as if Jesus was
referring to a place rather than an ethnic group.
10:8 – “Touch the untouchables.” – The base-text says, “Cleanse lepers” (λεπρους καθαρίζετε). This is not a command to touch; it is a command to heal; it is about applying divine power, not human pity.
10:9a – “Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start.” – This resembles the original text only to the extent that they both are about not acquiring money. Jesus’ words are considerably different: “Do not acquire gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts.” There is nothing in The Message to correspond specifically to gold, or to silver, or to copper, or to belts.
10:9b, e – “You don’t need a lot of equipment” and, at the end of the verse, “Travel light.” – Jesus’ instructions were not this vague. He specified that the disciples were not to take along a knapsack for the road, nor two shirts, nor sandals, nor a staff (or, in the Byzantine Text, staffs). The Message’s paraphrase blurs Jesus’ sentence and makes it impossible for readers to perceive what He specified to His disciples.
10:9c – “You are the equipment.” – This is entirely from Peterson; nothing in the original text corresponds to this sentence.
10:9d – “and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day.” – Jesus said nothing to His disciples about eating three meals a day. Jesus said that the worker is worthy of his food. The reference to three daily meals is just something that Peterson threw in without any textual basis, except the reference to food.
10:14a – “If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.” – Jesus’ instructions were very different. He told His disciples that if they were not received and their words were not heeded, they were to shake the dust off their feet as they departed. How did the early church interpret Jesus’ statement? We do not have to guess, because Acts 13 provides an account of how Paul and Barnabas acted when their message was rejected in the city of
Antioch-in-Pisidia: in Acts 13:46,
they boldly answered the Jews who opposed their message, and in Acts 13:51 “they shook the dust from their feet in
protest.” This is a far cry from the
quiet shrugging of shoulders that Peterson made up out of thin air.
10:15a – “You can be sure that on Judgment Day they’ll be mighty sorry’ – Here Peterson has subtracted and added. Jesus said that it will be more tolerable for the
of Sodom Gomorrah
on Judgment Day than it will be for such a city. The
Message completely skips this reference to Sodom
and Gomorrah. This does not mean that Peterson undertook
his task with an agenda to eliminate or significantly reduce Biblical
condemnations of sodomy, but when references such as this one in Matthew 10:15 are deliberately obscured, one wonders how different a version made with such an agenda
would be from what is encountered in The
10:15b – “but it’s no concern of yours now.” – Nothing in the Greek text of Matthew
10:14 corresponds to these words. Peterson just threw them in.
10:21a – “When people realize that it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good” – There is nothing in the base-text that corresponds to any of this.
10:21b – “They are going to turn on you, even people in your own family.” – This is an extremely blurry summary of what Jesus said. The base-text says, “Brother will betray brother to be killed, and a father his child, and children will rise up against their parents and have them killed.” This verse has been thoroughly abbreviated and adulterated.
10:22b – “But don’t quit. Don’t cave in. It is all well worth it in the end.” – This is all a fine sentiment, but it is ridiculous as a translation of what Jesus said in this verse, which is simply, “The one who endures to the end, that one shall be saved.”
10:24a – “A student doesn’t get a better desk than her teacher.” – Jesus’ actual sentence lack any reference to a female student; it also lacks any reference to a desk.
10:25b – The entire phrase (present in the Greek base-text), “and for the slave to be like his master,” is not represented. It is as if a sentence in the base-text has simply vanished.
10:25c – “If they call me, the Master, ‘Dungface,’ what can the workers expect?” – The Greek word that Peterson rendered “Dungface” is Βεελζεβουλ (Beelzeboul), which is the name of a demon. Peterson’s mistranslation completely obscures the connection between
and the Pharisees’ actions in 9:34. In addition, the term οικοδεσποτην simply
means house-master, not capital-M “Master,” as if Jesus is some sort of
Ascended Master or Jedi Master.
10:28a – “Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies.” – This is a fine sentiment, but it leaves out a significant part of what Jesus said: “And do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.” The opponents in view here are not schoolyard bullies; they are individuals with the means to kill.
10:28b – “Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life – body and soul – in his hands.” It is difficult to overstate the inaccuracy of The Message in this verse. Here is the Greek text of the last sentence: Φοβεισθε δε μαλλον τον δυναμενον και ψυχην και σωμα απολέσαι εν Γεέννη, that is, “Fear, instead, the one with power to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Besides significantly altering the nuance of the sentence, Peterson completely removed the reference to hell.
|Matthew 10:38: where did the cross go?
I thought there was something here
about taking up your cross.
So: in Matthew 10, The Message contains 37 flaws (or more, depending on how they’re counted). Peterson freely adds phrases and sentences which have no textual foundation. He repeatedly fails to translate entire phrases and sentences that are in the base-text (no matter which text-type is being consulted). He omits two references to the cross, two references to Israel, a reference to
and Gomorrah, and a reference to
These inaccuracies in Matthew 10 are not exceptions. They are typical. Elsewhere, The Message refers to casseroles, telescopes, pajamas, the dictionary, and on and on. The New Testament's references to hell have been consistently watered down. Some of Peterson’s theological biases have been smuggled in. Inspired sentences have been left out. From beginning to end, this version is blatantly inaccurate.
Can any responsible, well-informed Christian recommend The Message? Certainly: as a representation of Eugene Peterson’s interpretations of the Bible, it’s terrific! If it were being marketed as a commentary, many aspects of it would be commendable. When it is read discerningly, as a commentary, The Message can be a source of edification. But as a Bible translation – which is what NavPress is marketing it as, and which is what many preachers treat it as – it is a disaster. It is like a shipwreck at the bottom of the sea, with barnacles and holes from beginning to end.
Thus ends my review of The Message. But there is an implication of this that should not be ignored: the people who helped make The Message and the people who still promote it as a Bible translation must be extremely untrustworthy as evaluators of the quality and accuracy of Bible translations. (I daresay that if you meet any scholar who recommends making The Message your primary translation for doctrinal study, run away fast and far.)
These individuals include – as consultants for The Message – Darrell Bock (Dallas Theological Seminary), Peter Ennes (Eastern University), Duane Garrett (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), William Klein (
Seminary), Tremper Longman III ( ), and Rodney Whitacre (Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry). They also include – as public promoters for The Message – Gordon Fee, Michael Card, Westmont
College Leith Anderson, and Jerry B. Jenkins.
The individuals in these lists may be fellow believers, with impeccable credentials of every kind, and they may have wonderfully fruitful ministries; nevertheless, as evaluators of the accuracy of Bible translations, each and every one is demonstrably unworthy of the church’s trust.
Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE, Copyright © 1993, 21994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
[Normally I would not refer to The Message as Scripture,
but this notice is probably legally required and I don’t want to get sued.]