Why We Should Stop Using The Message

By Kenneth Berding Nov. 2, 2016 9:00 a.m. Christian Education, Church Life, New Testament, Old Testament

It’s time we stopped reading, buying, and recommending The Message.  We who hold to a high view of Scripture—that the Bible is the very word of God, inspired by God, inerrant in all it affirms—need to carefully reconsider our use of The Message.  There actually wouldn’t be a problem at all if The Message were sold and treated as an interpretation of the Bible, or an expansive reading of the Bible.  But as long as The Message continues to be marketed and used by preachers and teachers as a Bible translation, it is imperative that we ask the question of whether it is an accurate translation or not.  I believe that the answer to this question is:  The Message is not an accurate translation of what the original authors wrote.

I expect to receive some pushback from some at this point.  “But The Message ‘speaks’ to me!  I understand it in a way I don’t any other translation!”  That’s fine…as long as you are treating The Message as one person’s interpretation of the Bible, similar to the way you would treat a commentary.  But as long as you’re reading The Message as though it were a Bible translation, you have a substantial problem.

What is the problem?  The problem is that The Message imports thousands of “meanings” into the biblical text that don’t exist in the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic originals as well as frequently dropping meanings that are actually in the text.  This is what makes it different from any of the other English Bible translations on the market, even the “freer” translations.  All the other major translations are attempting a meaning-for-meaning translation of the biblical text.  The Message is only translating meaning-for-meaning if you reduce the meaning of the phrase “meaning-for-meaning” to its lowest conceivable meaning.  (You might need to re-read that sentence…)

Let’s back up.  How do you evaluate whether a translation is a good translation?  You ask whether meaning has been added, and whether meaning has been lost.  Every time a spoken word or text is translated from one language to another, there is at least a little bit of meaning lost or a little bit of meaning added.  Ask any friend who is fluent in two languages whether or not this is the case.  Your bilingual friend will confirm that no translation from one language to another is identical in every way.  There is always at least a little bit of meaning added and a little bit of meaning lost.

The best translation is the translation that loses the least amount of meaning and at the same time adds the least amount of meaning.  The goal of a good translation is to match the propositional, functional, and affective meanings of the source text as closely as possible.  The aim of a faithful translator must be to add as little meaning as possible and lose as little as possible.

This is especially important for the Bible.  We are talking about God’s Word after all…God’s inspired Word…the book God breathed into existence...

That’s why we should cease our use of The Message, at least as long as it is being sold and treated like a Bible translation.  Thousands upon thousands of meanings that never crossed the minds of the biblical authors who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit have been imported into a text many of us treat as though it were a translation of The Bible, and almost as many meanings that are actually in the biblical text have been left out.  This is intolerable if we truly believe that no one has a right to add anything to or subtract anything from God’s Holy Word.  As long as The Message is viewed and used as a Bible translation, I recommend that we stop quoting from it, preaching from it, or even reading it.

(Note:  After I wrote this post, my friend Gary Manning posted on the Good Book Blog five example passages where The Message either adds or loses meaning--or does both.  Click HERE to read his excellent post.)

Comments

  • Allan Nov. 4, 2016 at 1:03 AM

    Thankyou!

    But you are too gracious. The Message is a disgrace. And clearly the author has no fear of God, when he can change 'Where did you get these wounds in your hands', to 'Where did you get that black eye' !!!

  • Matthew Nov. 4, 2016 at 3:27 AM

    Well said. My guess is that The Message has gone all the way in attempting to translate the affective with near total disregard for propositional and functional accuracy. Peterson wants you to feel what he feels when he reads a given passage. Nothing more, except maybe a literary attempt to include as much English idiom as possible.

  • Doug Nichols - Missionary Nov. 8, 2016 at 8:18 AM

    The Message is SO BAD! A publisher sent me a review copy of the book of James before the Message was printed. I begin to read late one night on a flight to Manila where we work with street children and orphans. I was immediately uneasy as a begin to read and then came to James 1:27. As I read it I was so shocked I loudly cried out, "WHAT!"
    Peterson's paraphrase completed changes the meaning!
    I later wrote him and politely asked why he changed the total meaning?
    His answer was astounding. He simply said that people today do not neccesarily know what an orphan is!!!
    We receive many books for use among the 41,000 untrained pastors the Philippines. We do not send the Message, no way!

  • Ken Berding Nov. 8, 2016 at 10:07 AM

    Doug,
    Thank you for your comment. I couldn't agree more. When I saw your name, I wanted to let you know that years ago (perhaps as many as 30 years ago), I heard you speak at [then titled] Los Gatos Christian Church in San Jose and was very moved, encouraged, and strengthened by that message. Thanks for your comment....and your many years of ministry in the Philippines.

  • Jefferson Bennett Nov. 9, 2016 at 12:38 PM

    I respectfully disagree. I think the Message is a great work that is a helpful aid in studying the Bible. Obviously it is a paraphrase and therefore should not be given out as a translation. I agree with being discerning about how and when you recommend it as a resource, but to totally dismiss it, even boycott it, seems foolish. There's a lot of helpful and fresh English language that can equip theologically sound believers with culturally relevant ways of communicating the gospel of Jesus. This post was helpful to me. I will be more discerning in the future when I use, or recommend, the Message.

  • Greg Nov. 18, 2016 at 7:17 AM

    I agree, but think you are being too generous. The message is in no way a 'Bible Translation'. It is full of distorted and even opposite meanings of the original autograph. I have been teaching for years that the message is a DANGEROUS and INSIDIOUS attack of the enemy against the Word of God. We have a 'christian' population that has already been 'dumbed down' to the point of Biblical illiteracy....and now in the last several years 'the Message' has soared in popularity and use. It is 'the only Bible' many youth have ever known, and it is constantly validated by its use by popular teachers/preachers and the result is that Satan has succeeded in CHANGING the Word of God for Millions of people.

    This is a strategy, not an accident. Satan from the beginning has tried to twist/distort and misuse the 'Word of God' for his ends.... Eve in the Garden, Jesus in the Wilderness.... 'Did God really Say....'

    The Message should not only not be used, they should be destroyed lest they fall into the hands of undiscerning readers.

  • Robert Nov. 30, 2016 at 11:13 AM

    I don't use The Message in my personal life or when teaching/preaching, but this post strikes me as poorly argued and based on a false premise. Had you argued from specific passages and with more direct citations there might be more substance, however your argument is limited.

    From what I recall, Rev Peterson never suggests this is a translation but instead always refers to the work as a paraphrase. He notes that his work isn't the same as translators of the Bible. This is a critical distinction. Would you say the same thing about The Living Bible or JB Phillips' work?

    Like I said before, I don't use The Message nor do I recommend it for devotional or personal use. However, the work never claims to be that which the author of this post is supposing it to be.

  • Ken Berding Dec. 1, 2016 at 9:43 AM

    Thank you to everyone who has commented so far. Note that Gary Manning has just posted five biblical examples where The Message either adds or loses meaning. (I've included a link to his post at the end of my post above.)

    Many...many more examples could be added to his helpful list.

    Robert, thank you so much for commenting, but I think that most people who are thinking about purchasing a Bible will not be able to make a distinction between a translation and a paraphrase, particularly if the book in front of them is being sold in the Bible category—which The Message usually is. I also think that the way Christians tend to use the word "paraphrase" is probably incorrect. In all other uses in English, the word "paraphrase" means something like: "summarize the meaning of a spoken or written passage to make it clear." My complaint about The Message is that it repeatedly adds meaning and loses meaning. That is something different than summarizing meaning-that-is-there to make it clear. In light of this, we should probably dispense with our use of the word "paraphrase" when talking about the The Message—or any other book sold as a Bible.

    Thanks again to everyone who has commented on this post.

  • Cheryl Jun. 5, 2017 at 6:28 AM

    I've actually seen the Message used as the "version" from which a preacher spoke. (I started attending a different church on the weeks I knew he would be filling in.) Apart from its inaccuracy, it's simply annoying in its overuse of trendy idioms. But its inaccuracy makes it a useless tool, in my opinion, not useful even as "commentary," since commentary doesn't just add speculation willy-nilly.

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