Remember that “The Message” isn’t Scripture

There are a number of things that I find disturbing about The Message, though much of that concern goes away if people will acknowledge it’s not a presentation of Scripture but a commentated retelling of Scripture.

Here are some problems I see:


Peterson made the choice to use “Master” when the New Testament calls Jesus “Lord.” But then he also chose to replace “Lord” with the word “God” in Old Testament references. By doing so, he lost the amazing point that Paul and others make when they show that Old Testament passages which were applied to God are now applied to Jesus! Look at Romans 10, where Paul uses a passage about “calling on the name of the Lord” as proof that we are to call on Jesus to be saved. That point gets lost in The Message:
Romans 10:9–13 (ESV)

Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.””
Romans 10:9–13 (The Message)
Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!”
Scripture reassures us, “No one who trusts God like this—heart and soul—will ever regret it.” It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. “Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.”

(The quote about calling on the name of the Lord is to be connected to confessing Jesus as Lord. You can’t really connect “Help God” with “Jesus is my Master.”)


The Message frequently de-emphasizes the activities of demonic powers.
Ephesians 2:1–3 (ESV)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Ephesians 2:1–3 (The Message)
It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us.

1 Timothy 4:1 (ESV)

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,
1 Timothy 4:1 (The Message)
The Spirit makes it clear that as time goes on, some are going to give up on the faith and chase after demonic illusions put forth by professional liars.

(The Romans 8:38 quote from the previous post about The Message is another good example)


In my studies on nationalism, patriotism, and citizenship, I’ve often pointed out that the Bible never says “Be a good citizen.” That’s very far from the New Testament concept of Christians as strangers and aliens.
Of course, I was going by what the Bible says, not what The Message says:

Romans 13:1 (The Message)
Be a good citizen.
Romans 13:1 (ESV)
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.

(The only time Paul talks about being a good citizen is in Philippians 1:27, and that’s about being a good citizen of the Kingdom)


Obviously I could go on and on. There are concerns about what Peterson has done with biblical passages that criticize homosexuality, about the introduction of mystical terms from other religions, about the insertion or deletion of this concept or that concept. There are strange anachronisms that can create confusion (note Andrew’s comment from the other day, for example). There are many times when we have to look at Peterson’s words and say, “Where in the world did that come from?”

My main point is this: when you read The Message, you are not reading God’s message. You are reading Eugene Peterson’s message about God’s message.

It’s the difference between listening to me read Scripture and listening to me talk about Scripture. As long as you can tell the difference, there’s no problem.

As long as we don’t pretend that The Message is Scripture, there’s no problem.

Links To Go (March 29, 2017)

Crux listens as Africans ask: Why isn’t it big news when terrorists slaughter our people?

It states that, when tragedy or terror strike, 1000 victims in Latvia equals 500 in India, which equals 100 in Mexico, 75 in France, 50 in England, 25 Canada, five in the United States of America (that’s flyover country) or one Hollywood celebrity or a famous person in New York City or Washington, D.C.
In other words, according to the mathematics of news, not all human lives are created equal. It’s a matter of location, location, location.


What is Worse? Removing from Scripture or Adding to Scripture? (Matt 18:11)

I was asked why all modern translations “omit” Matt 18:11. “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost” (KJV). The form of the question betrays the basic problem, that people think modern translations omit verses rather than other translations add verses.


Toward civilization

If war has an opposite, it’s not peace, it’s civilization. (inspired by Ursula LeGuin writing in 1969)
Civilization is the foundation of every successful culture. It permits us to live in safety, without being crippled by fear. It’s the willingness to discuss our differences, not to fight over them. Civilization is efficient, in that it permits every member of society to contribute at her highest level of utility. And it’s at the heart of morality, because civilization is based on fairness.


On Not Having Your Cake, but Eating It

But the real bizarreness (bizzarity?) comes when the abortion lobby get involved. Some of them (though by no means all) say things like “If a woman does not want to have a foetus who is one sex or the other, forcing her [to go through with the pregnancy] is not going to be good for the eventual child*, and it’s not going to be good for [the mother’s] mental health.”
But if we can’t know what gender the child is going to identify as until they’re, say, two or three years old, how can the woman be certain what she is aborting? It may look like a girl, but really be a boy (and Nursie would look like a good liberal, not a daft old woman).
Who would you sue if your IVF doctor, on your instruction, implanted a male embryo, and it turned out to identify as a girl? Pity the mother’s mental health then.


Three Reasons God is a Cessationist

God simply can’t be the Author of what we see today. The gifts that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah had and that were spilled over onto a few of their disciples, were altogether different gifts. God has rarely allowed men to have miraculous abilities, and each time He had specific reasons for allowing it.
Prophecy was infallible, speaking in tongues were actual discernible languages that resulted in the salvation of souls, and miracles were instantaneous and undeniable. God must be grieved with what He sees today, and in no way would He want to be associated with them.


Urgent Church: Nine Changes We Must Make Or Die

  1. We must stop bemoaning the death of cultural Christianity.
  2. We must cease seeing the church as a place of comfort and stability in the midst of rapid change.
  3. We must abandon the entitlement mentality.
  4. We must start doing.
  5. We must stop using biblical words in unbiblical ways.
  6. We must stop focusing on minors.
  7. We must stop shooting our own.
  8. We must stop wasting time in unproductive meetings, committees, and business sessions.
  9. We must become houses of prayer.

12 TED Talks Every Church Leader Should Watch

In no particular order, here are 12 viral Ted Talks we think every church leader should watch.


Spurs set NBA record by beating every team for 3rd straight year

With their victory over the New York Knicks on Saturday night, the Spurs have claimed a victory over every team in the league during the 2016-17 campaign, marking the third consecutive season that they have done just that – an NBA record.


“The Message” isn’t always a translation

There’s some debate about whether Eugene Peterson’s The Message is a translation or a paraphrase. I’d argue that it’s both, in some ways.

That is, Peterson translated from the Greek without consulting English translations, according to him. That’s a translation. Yet it seems to me that he then took that translation and “riffed on it,” producing a paraphrase of his own work!

Look at Paul’s question to the Ephesians in Acts 19:2. Here’s how the NIV translates it:

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

I’m no Greek expert, but looking at the GNT, the question seems to consist of 5 words which basically state what is above. Now look what Peterson did with the question:

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart? Did he get inside you?”

See what I mean? The first sentence is the translation. The next two… have no basis in the Greek text. They aren’t translation. At best they are paraphrase. Essentially they are Peterson’s commentary on the translation.

How is the reader to know that? How is the reader supposed to know when Peterson is merely injecting things into the text?

Look at Romans 8:38-39. In “translating” this verse, Peterson writes:

Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture: (Tim: underline mine)

As a reminder, here’s how the NIV does it:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In another post, I’ll note how Peterson avoids discussion of spiritual powers; that’s a definite problem. What I’ve underlined shows a major theological point that Peterson has inserted into this passage… with no textual basis. Depending on what Peterson means in what he has authored here, I very well may agree with him. However… that’s not Romans 8. That’s not translation.

Again… how is the reader supposed to know?

So what do we do with The Message?

I’ve been taking a closer look at The Message after some awkward moments in Bible class the last few Sundays. In each case, someone read from The Message, and what was read led the class away from what Jesus was talking about in the Sermon on the Mount (our subject material).

I’ve been looking more closely and like less and less of what I see. The Message is a version of the Bible produced by Christian author Eugene Peterson. Peterson is a masterful author that I’ve enjoyed for years. The Message is his attempt to produce a Bible in the “street language” (his term) of the late 20th century.

Colloquial speech Bibles have been around for a long time. J.B. Phillips’ New Testament is a joy to read; I love gaining new insights into biblical passages from reading Phillips’ interpretation. Take Romans 8:19 for example:

The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the songs of God coming into their own.

Yet, I think we need some awareness when reading such texts. Clarence Jordan, who wrote the intriguing Cotton Patch Version, stated:

obviously the ‘cotton patch’ version must not be used as a historical text. The Revised Standard Version and the New English Bible are excellent for this purpose.

I personally wish Peterson had put a similar warning somewhere in The Message. I’ll spend some time next week looking at some of the things that trouble me about this version of the Bible. But I’d like to hear your thoughts and experiences. How do you see The Message?

Links To Go (March 23, 2017)

How much does science knowledge influence people’s views on climate change and energy issues?

Similarly, Democrats with high levels of knowledge about science, based on a nine-item index, almost all agree that climate change is mostly due to human activity (93%). By contrast, 49% of Democrats with low science knowledge think this is the case.
But among Republicans, there are no significant differences by science knowledge about the causes of climate change. Put another way, Republicans with high levels of science knowledge are no more likely than those with lower levels of knowledge to think climate change is mostly due to human activity.


Princeton Seminary Reforms Its Views on Honoring Tim Keller

In recent weeks, some Princeton alumni voiced concerns that, as a PCA pastor and complementarian, Keller’s beliefs conflict with the seminary’s embrace of “full inclusion for ordained leadership of the church.” A Christian Century post described his belief in male headship as “baptized abuse” and “toxic theology.” Barnes’ letter rescinding the prize referenced this critique.


N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 82 (He Foreknew)

In short,

  • Knowing the future does not make the future happen. God and Jesus did not lose their free will just because they knew what was going to happen.
  • God’s foreknowledge may be much more particular, but the emphasis in scripture is on covenantal foreknowledge. That is, God knew where his actions would take him — to the cross — going back to the beginning. The cross wasn’t plan B or C. It was always the only plan — and it always included Israel and always included the Gentiles coming into Israel by means of God in the flesh dying on the cross.
  • To Paul, this is a big deal. It’s the reason for his career as a missionary! It’s the whole of his life! It’s the reason he met with Jesus on the road to Damascus. It’s the reason he suffered beatings, stonings, shipwrecks etc. to share the gospel with the Gentiles. He was part of the unfolding of God’s plan, a plan that predates the Creation.

Book Review: Food – A Love Story

I tend to overload my reading with theology and devotional books. Occasionally I read through a fiction book. After reading Jim Gaffigan’s FOOD: A LOVE STORY I’m going to have to try to read more humor books.


The NBA’s secret addiction

“Man, I could go for a PB&J,” the player said.
And then Garnett, in an act with historical reverberations, uttered the now-fabled words: “Yeah, let’s get on that.”
Garnett had not, to that point, made the PB&J a part of his pregame routine. But on that night in Boston, as Doo recalls, Garnett partook, then played … and played well. Afterward, from his perch as the Celtics’ fiery leader, Garnett issued the following commandment: “We’re going to need PB&J in here every game now.”
And so a sandwich revolution was born.


8-Year-Old Boy With Rare Skin Disease Meets Dog Across the Country With The Same Condition

A boy with vitiligo is now proud of his skin markings after meeting a dog across the country that shares the same condition, and the same spots.