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.