I have immense respect for Eugene H. Peterson, the man who spent ten years of his life translating the original Hebrew and Greek languages of the Old and New Testament into the language and vernacular of today.
The Message is the result. For several years I have made it the main text of my Bible reading, and it constantly amazes and revitalizes me. Since becoming a born again Christian some 40 years ago, I have read through the bible almost every year, in addition to the sporadic times of study and hearing regular teaching. Many people have very little awareness of how life-changing this can be.
As I embark on a new year, and a new passage through that text, in reading the introduction to The Message it struck me how relevant and powerful the words there are. I thought I would share them, a little bit at a time, over several days.
Introduction to THE MESSAGE (Excerpt, Part 1)
Reading is the first thing, just reading the Bible. As we read we enter a new world of words and find ourselves in on a conversation in which God has the first and last words. We soon realize that we are included in the conversation. We didn’t expect this. But this is precisely what generation after generation of Bible readers do find: The Bible is not only written about us but to us. In these pages we become insiders to a conversation in which God uses words to form and bless us, to teach and guide us, to forgive and save us.
We aren’t used to this. We are used to reading books that explain things, or tell us what to do, or inspire or entertain us. But this is different. This is a world of revelation: God revealing to people just like us—men and women created in God’s image—how God works and what is going on in this world in which we find ourselves. At the same time that God reveals all this, God draws us in by invitation and com- mand to participate in God’s working life. We gradually (or suddenly) realize that we are insiders in the most significant action of our time as God establishes his grand rule of love and justice on this earth (as it is in heaven). “Revelation” means that we are reading something we couldn’t have guessed or figured out on our own. Revelation is what makes the Bible unique.
And so just reading this Bible, The Message, and listening to what we read, is the first thing. There will be time enough for study later on. But first, it is important simply to read, leisurely and thoughtfully. We need to get a feel for the way these stories and songs, these prayers and conversations, these sermons and visions, invite us into this large, large world in which the invisible God is behind and involved in everything visible and illuminates what it means to live here—really live, not just get across the street. As we read, and the longer we read, we begin to “get it”—we are in conversation with God. We find ourselves listening and answering in matters that most concern us: who we are, where we came from, where we are going, what makes us tick, the texture of the world and the communities we live in, and—most of all—the incredible love of God among us, doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
Originally I posted the above on my facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/greg.thurston.5036#) and several interesting comments resulted, so in case anyone else has similar questions or concerns, here are my edited responses:
Q: Isn’t the message a commentary not a bible?
A: No, it’s not a commentary. It’s a translation, but not a literal one, so it’s closer to a paraphrase. It attempts to take the nuances of Hebrew and Greek into the realm of the nuances in more colloquial (albeit American) English.
That’s where literal translations can break down some – not that I have a problem with literal. My main bible is now again the NASB, because I have found it to be the translation which is the most readable and literally accurate. Over and over when I have studied something, it has proven itself in both those areas. The NIV I found to be slightly more readable, and for several decades I used the NIV, but for a couple of reasons I recently switched back to the NASB.
Often, Peterson will use a familiar cliché in English which so directly communicates something more clearly than the way we have heard it for so long. That’s the freshness I love. In the further portions of the intro as I post them, you may see hints of this. No work is going to perfectly take something from one language to another. It’s impossible. One 9 letter word in German, for example, could take 21 words to translate. That’s part of the reason we borrow words from other languages, such as zeitgeist (the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time).
I should also add that Peterson does include for each book of the Bible a brief contextual overview commentary, each of which in themselves I find to be terrifically clear, readable, and relevant in helping to put the content of the specific book in both a historical AND modern day context. So much so, that when our kids were small, over an extended period of weekly family times, we went through the entire bible, not reading the actual text, but reading the brief commentary in The Message, and another brief one in a pocket NIV I had, which nicely supplemented, but did not repeat, what Peterson said.
I’d like to think that my kids benefited from such an overview.
In response to two other comments, one re Peterson choosing to say ‘new life’ in a particular passage (Galatians 3:2–4) where several translations say ‘Spirit’, and one comment which stated a preference for the KJV: