Thursday, July 13, 2017

Eugene Peterson and The Message, Revisited

The Message:  Remix 2017
          Now that Eugene Peterson has advocated gay marriage – not just as a legal right, but as something that the body of Christ ought to bless – he should be regarded as one who has fallen away from the faith handed down to the saints.  I believe that this is how each and every one of Christ’s commissioned apostles would respond, prayerfully hoping and praying for him to repent.  [Update - July 13, 4:15 pm:  Peterson has retracted his earlier endorsement of gay marriage as a church rite.  Prayers answered, and quickly!]  
            With that in mind, I implore my fellow preachers, and anyone who has been treating Peterson’s “translation of tone,” The Message, as if it is a Bible translation, to stop using The Message in any ministry-context that would give people the impression that it is a Bible.  In February of 2015, I demonstrated that The Message is too inaccurate to qualify as a Bible translation.  Using Matthew 10 as a sample-passage, I showed that it is badly contaminated with additions, deletions, and alterations of various kinds which render it useless as a representation of the message conveyed by the original text of the Bible. 

            Why should Peterson’s affirmation that he would officiate at a same-sex marriage if he were asked to do so mean that Christians should not use The Message?  Perhaps for the same reason that when the author of How To Safely Drive a Car drives his car headlong into a wall at 100 miles an hour, it raises doubts about the wisdom of using his book to teach students how to drive.  Common sense ought to suggest that when someone openly defies the teachings of Scripture, his presentation of the meaning of Scripture might not be trustworthy. 
            But let’s not commit the genetic fallacy, right?  [Update, July 13, 4:15 pm:  whatever position Peterson holds - and earlier today, he affirmed that he subscribes to a Biblical view of marriage, one man to one woman - the flaws in The Message are still there.]  A close look at the contents of The Message reveals plenty of reasons to avoid using it.  Let’s examine specifically part of The Message that seems to have been adulterated because of the view which Peterson just now affirmed:  First Corinthians 6.

            For the first several verses of this chapter, Peterson’s paraphrase conveys the gist of the meaning of the original text; it is embellished but not obscured – until verse 6.  Where the text should mention that one brother take another brother to court (ἀδελφὸς μετὰ ἀδελφου), Peterson’s rendering loses the gender, stating only that “you are taking each other to court.”  But this is minor compared to what follows:  Peterson inserted a full sentence into end of verse 6:  “How can they render justice if they don’t believe in the God of justice?” 
            In First Corinthians 6:6, the Greek text is ἀλλα ἀδελφὸς μετὰ ἀδελφου κρίνεται, καί τουτο ἐπὶ ἀπίστων – but brother takes brother to judgment, and that before unbelievers.  This is adequately represented in The Message by the first part of verse 6:  “And here you are taking each other to court before people who don’t even believe in God!”  The rest of verse 6 in The Message – “How can they render justice if they don’t believe in the God of justice?” – has no foundation in the Greek text.  It comes from Eugene Peterson, not from Paul. 
            Perhaps one could overlook that in a “translation of tone,” regarding the insertion as completely unauthorized but rather benign.  Let’s move along to verses 9-10.  First, here are these two verses from the English Standard Version:

            “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived:  neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Here is how the Christian Standard Bible renders the passage:
            “Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom?  Do not be deceived:  No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” 

And here’s verses 9-10 as they appear in the New International Version (2011 revision):  
            “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived:  Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

You may notice that all three of these versions have something in common between the reference to adulterers and the reference to thieves, where the Greek text reads οὕτε ἀρσενοκοιται:
            ESV:  nor men who practice homosexuality
            CSB:  or males who have sex with males
            NIV:  nor men who have sex with men.

Yet in The Message this is what we find: 
            “Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live?  Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom.  Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom.”

            A more blatant case of watering down the meaning of Scripture would be hard to find.  Peterson butchered the text of First Corinthians 6:9-10 by removing Paul’s specific references to idolaters, adulterers, men who practice homosexuality, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers, with generalizations – and, as if this was not enough, he added something brand new – “use and abuse the earth and everything in it” (which has no foundation in the Greek text).  Peterson thus erased Paul’s warning against committing homosexual acts (and other acts), and put words in Paul’s mouth as if Paul wrote something here against littering and pollution.  Both of these things are irresponsible – and some of those who have approved or recommended such butchery, committed under the cover of paraphrase, were also irresponsible.  (Looking at you, Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary.  You too, Michael Card and Max Lucado.) 

            Via this swindle of words, Peterson not only obscured the inspired apostle’s condemnation of fornication, adultery, sodomy, thievery, and so forth, but he also obscured the next verse’s statement that salvation is freely offered for those who repent of those acts.  A real Bible would inform its readers in First Corinthians 6:11 that among the Christians at Corinth, there were some individuals who had committed the specific acts that Paul warns against in verses 9-10 – and that they had been forgiven of those sins, as the New American Standard Bible puts it:  “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” 
NavPress, something is wrong
with your product
The original text of First Corinthians 6:9-11 makes it clear that sodomy is classified as a sin, along with adultery and thievery; it also clearly states that those sins can be forgiven and that the guilty person who repents of those sins can be restored and become a child of God.  The Message does neither of those things in First Corinthians 6:9-11, because it is a counterfeit, not a real Bible.  It shouldn’t be called a Bible, and NavPress should never have marketed it as a Bible. 
            When The Message began to be deceitfully marketed as if it is the Word of God, I should have protested more vocally than we did.  I can’t go back in time and state my protests more forcefully.  I wish I could.  But I can say this:  I have no use for The Message as a paraphrase, and it is not very good as a commentary, either.  There is no good reason to preach or teach from The Message as if it is a Bible.  I advise everyone who has access to the KJV or NKJV or WEB or NIV or ESV or CSB or NASB to do to their copy of The Message what Eugene Peterson did to the meaning of the original text of First Corinthians 6:9-11:  tear it up and throw it away. 


Quotations from The Message are . . . oops; the copyright page is torn apart.  Let's see here . . . . 

The Message is Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson.
Quotations from the ESV have been taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Quotations from the NIV have been taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®  Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked CSB have been taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers.  Used by permission.  Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.



Unknown said...

This is legitimately helpful. This type of review takes effort and real work, and you have done a real service to share this information. When I have a chance I'll be checking into specifics of your work. I'm troubled by multiple items here, including your reporting of Petersen's openness to gay marriage, etc. Thank you again.

Eunice said...

Thank you for this. I've never really been a fan of the Message mainly because teachers I respect in the Reformed tradition haven't endorsed it either. Also, it seems much too casual and glib of a translation. Now I have a very specific reason to say why I don't like it. You've done a good work here.

Unknown said...

I appreciate you bringing this issue to light. Just forwarded along to fellow pastor teams. Thanks.

Daniel Buck said...

"Treason never prospers, what's the reason? If it prospers, none dare call it Treason." - my paraphrase (to correctly use the word) of John Harington
The same could be said of Sexual Immorality. Because no one dares talk about it, it's assumed it doesn't exist.
We speak of Gay Marriage and Lesbian Couples using innocuous words to conceal what is really going on in such relationships. Those who even attempt to speak without euphemism are condemned for using even such softened words as Sodomite and Pervert.
If I were to use the English terms that actually describe what Paul was condemning in 1 Cor 6:9, I wouldn't be able to access this page from my home computer. But let's at least translate all the categories on the list, which none of the above quotations do. I trust I'll have to use no more euphemism than necessary.

πορνοι - those who commit sexual intercourse outside of a marriage relationship
ειδωλολατραι - those who replace a relationship with their Creator with something else
μοιχοι - those who break vows of fidelity to the marriage partner
μαλακοι - those who enjoy sexual arousal from being sodomized
αρσενοκοιται - those who enjoy sexual arousal from committing sodomy

John Podgorney said...

Thanks for speaking out on this so accurately James. If someone is willing to play so fast and loose with the Word of God, what can be next? More valuable time can be used in studying real Bibles.

YbMhL said...

I remember back in the 1970's there was a popular Bible paraphrase called "The Living Bible Paraphrase." To the writer's credit, the actual title designated that it was a Bible paraphrase and not as an actual Bible translation, although I recall one critic noting that with each subsequent printing, on the cover the words "Living Bible" were printed in increasingly larger letters and the word "Paraphrase" was written in increasingly smaller letters -- whether true or not, most people referrred to it as "The Living Bible."

I appreciate the desire to make the Bible more accessible to those who might be put off by literal translations, but in my mind, translations should be labeled as translations, and paraphrases (like The Living Bible Paraphrase and The Message) should be labeled as paraphrases, and ONLY accurate translations should be used for teaching and exposition.

Unknown said...

I have followed your comments and those from the various reports about Peterson. Both his statement about homosexual marriage, his stated change of mind about that only after the fur started to fly, and the way he often "translates" the Bible lead me to one conclusion. Peterson is one of those fellows highly influenced by our very powerful culture. He has blurred the Biblical teaching on several things by looking at it only through the lense of our culture. This is a somewhat easy thing to do unless we are very careful. But it is especially sad to see it from someone like that who so many seem to look up to and admire.

Unknown said...

That is a good insight Harold. And it's compassionate... BUT firm. These types of assessments are helpful as we are all trying to put our arms around how to respond to him and to those we influence-- in the right way.

This is a biggie and, sadly, I fear that despite his 11th hour conversion back on the issue, my guess is that this sad episode probably officially ends a lot of the influence he has had over the years, moving him slowly out of mind and into retirement.

He'll likely now, despite his change of mind, now be used as a tool by liberal leaning people and 'sympathetic' or 'gay Christians' to support their role. It's really a sad way to end a career that had been at least somewhat (to quite) distinguished. It just goes to show that Satan is very patient and can, even at age 84, cause us to wash away years of influence by tempting us to go soft on the authority of God's Word.

Sorry for rambling. I just appreciate your comment, the others, and the original post.

Daniel Buck said...

You need to read his entire statement. It's reprinted here, with commentary.
Basically, he regrets being caught and promises it won't happen again.

Unknown said...

Sorry. Not sorry.

At least that's how it seems to me. I want to be as sensitive as possible to the good work he's done for the Kingdom-- but this was an interview that shouldn't have happened. And words that shouldn't have been spoken.

Daniel Buck said...

Another commentary, on why it matters--even if it doesn't matter to Peterson.

Unknown said...

Thanks James for taking about Eugene Peterson and The Message.It’s really a knowledge full post. thanks to shear. this post has removed me some wrong thing. I think if you carry on your acctivetice you will achieve much popularity.Please give a useful link about academic ghostwriting.