Recap

In Part 1, I covered Eugene Peterson’s translation philosophy and gave five reasons that disqualify The Message as a Bible translation or paraphrase.

  1. Peterson’s assertion that the New Testament was written in the “street language” of the day is misleading.
  2. Peterson has confused the mission of the Holy Spirit with the mission of a Bible translator.
  3. Peterson believes the Bible, without his interpretive skills to modernize it, is insufficient to transform lives.
  4. The Message utilizes a form of Mystical Liberalism
  5. Even if the Bible is God’s “dehydrated” Word, the solution is not Peterson’s “street-language” commentary.

In this post, I want to share specific examples of where his claims of making a reliable translation from the Greek fall short.

Peterson’s Approach Yields a Commentary

Following is the first 2 of 9 points that demonstrate why Peterson’s bible is not a translation or even a paraphrase. Rooted in his “translation” philosophy, Peterson has produced a “Message” which is nothing more than a commentary published as a translation.

1. Peterson inserts his own dogma that is nowhere in the Greek or taught anywhere in Scripture.

a. He adds the denominational dogma of baptismal regeneration.

Romans 6:1–3 (ESV)

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Romans 6:1–3 (NIV11)

1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Romans 6:1–3 (The Message)

1 So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? 2 I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? 3 Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land! That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means.

and

1 Corinthians 10:2 (ESV)

2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,

1 Corinthians 10:2 (NIV11)

2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.

1 Corinthians 10:2 (The Message)

2 They went through the waters, in a baptism like ours, as Moses led them from enslaving death to salvation life.

and

Colossians 2:11–12 (ESV)

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Colossians 2:11–12 (NIV11)

11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Colossians 2:11–13 (The Message)

11 Entering into this fullness is not something you figure out or achieve. It’s not a matter of being circumcised or keeping a long list of laws. No, you’re already in—insiders—not through some secretive initiation rite but rather through what Christ has already gone through for you, destroying the power of sin. 12 If it’s an initiation ritual you’re after, you’ve already been through it by submitting to baptism. Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ. 13 When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven,

and

1 Peter 3:20–21 (ESV)

20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

1 Peter 3:20–21 (NIV11)

20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

1 Peter 3:19–21 (The Message)

19 He went and proclaimed God’s salvation to earlier generations who ended up in the prison of judgment 20 because they wouldn’t listen. You know, even though God waited patiently all the days that Noah built his ship, only a few were saved then, eight to be exact—saved from the water by the water. 21 The waters of baptism do that for you, not by washing away dirt from your skin but by presenting you through Jesus’ resurrection before God with a clear conscience.

b. He inserts words, phrases, and entire concepts that change the meaning of the passage. See especially v. 35 where the concept of “sin” is added and changes the teaching of this verse.

Romans 8:35–36 (ESV)

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

Romans 8:35–36 (NIV11)

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

Romans 8:35–36 (The Message)

35 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: 36 They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

c. He replaces the theology of eternal life with the psychology of satisfying life.

John 3:16 (ESV)

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (ESV)

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (The Message)

16 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life

d. The hope of “crossing over” into eternal life has been replaced by Peterson’s “giant step” toward life.

John 5:24 (ESV)

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5:24 (NIV11)

24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.

John 5:24 (The Message)

24 “It’s urgent that you listen carefully to this: Anyone here who believes what I am saying right now and aligns himself with the Father, who has in fact put me in charge, has at this very moment the real, lasting life and is no longer condemned to be an outsider. This person has taken a giant step from the world of the dead to the world of the living.

e. And, all too often, Peterson replaces the hope of salvation with the promise of self-actualization.

Acts 16:31 (ESV)

31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Acts 16:31 (NIV11)

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

Acts 16:31 (The Message)

31 They said, “Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you’ll live as you were meant to live—and everyone in your house included!”

2. Peterson neglects the person of the Holy Spirit.

Peterson often removes mention of the Spirit for no reason, depersonalizes Him, and erodes the foundation for Trinitarian theology (NOTE: this point will be expanded in the final post of the series).

Matthew 12:38 (ESV)

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”

Matthew 12:38 (NIV11)

38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

Matthew 12:38 (The Message)

38 Later a few religion scholars and Pharisees got on him. “Teacher, we want to see your credentials. Give us some hard evidence that God is in this. How about a miracle?”

and

Acts 20:22 (ESV)

22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,

Acts 20:22 (NIV11)

22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.

Acts 20:22 (The Message)

22 “But there is another urgency before me now. I feel compelled to go to Jerusalem. I’m completely in the dark about what will happen when I get there.

and

1 Corinthians 2:11–13 (ESV)

11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

1 Corinthians 2:11–13 (NIV11)

11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

1 Corinthians 2:11–13 (The Message)

11 Who ever knows what you’re thinking and planning except you yourself? The same with God—except that he not only knows what he’s thinking, 12 but he lets us in on it. God offers a full report on the gifts of life and salvation that he is giving us. 13 We don’t have to rely on the world’s guesses and opinions. We didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God, who taught us person-to-person through Jesus, and we’re passing it on to you in the same firsthand, personal way.

and

Galatians 3:2–4 (ESV)

2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?

Galatians 3:2–4 (NIV11)

2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? 4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain?

Galatians 3:2–4 (The Message)

2 Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? 3 Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? 4 Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!

This includes his obfuscation of the relationship between the Father and Son.

John 14:28 (ESV)

28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

John 14:28 (NIV11)

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

John 14:28 (The Message)

28 “You’ve heard me tell you, ‘I’m going away, and I’m coming back.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I’m on my way to the Father because the Father is the goal and purpose of my life.

and

Colossians 2:9 (ESV)

9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,

Colossians 2:9 (NIV11)

9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,

Colossians 2:9 (The Message)

9 Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him.

That is enough for now. Study these a bit and explore some others through your own study of The Message. Keep an eye out for my next entry which will feature points 3 through 9.

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Read my suggestions for what it takes to make a good quality Bible.

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Dr. Joe Miller (aka JR) is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. In addition, he is a church planter and coach for emerging leaders. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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