In the first post of this series, I outlined five concerns with Peterson’s “translation” philosophy behind The Message.

In post #2 and post #3, I presented eight illustrations of how Peterson’s “translation” functions more like a theological commentary by posting specific problem passages.

In this final post, I want to show in detail how Peterson fails to properly deal with the Greek term for “spirit.”

 9. Peterson’s gives an inaccurate and misleading translation the Greek term πνεῦμα (spirit).

The Greek word πνεῦμα is used 379 times in the New Testament, and despite Peterson’s assertion that the authors wrote in the “language of the street,” the word “spirit” is often used by the New Testament writers in ways that were foreign to the Greek and Roman culture.


This is especially true as the term “spirit” was used in connection with the Divine presence of God.

…there is as yet no instance of the concept of a πνεῦμα ἅγιον in secular Gk. Here biblical Gk. has coined a new and distinctive expression for the very different, suprasensual, supraterrestrial and in part personal character and content which πνεῦμα has in Judaism and Christianity. An expression of this kind was bound to remain alien to the immanentist thinking of the Greek world.

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-).

Therefore, a good translator will take into consideration the uniqueness of “spirit” within the revelation of the Scripture.  Peterson’s inability to recognize this counter-cultural term results in a translation that is more “relevant” to his readers but distorts the biblical theology of “spirit.”

To help establish this point, I have examined all 379 NT occurrences of πνεῦμα, and found 110 passages that illustrate what I believe to be the most egregious errors in Peterson’s “translation” philosophy. The seven categories for these 110 verses are as follows:

  1. The Human “spirit” is removed by Peterson.
  2. Peterson diminishes the importance of Spirit-empowered community.
  3. Peterson inserts “spirit” when “πνεῦμα” is not in the original text.
  4. Demonic possession is underplayed.
  5. Satan, spiritual beings, and Spiritual Warfare are downplayed in the lives of the Saints.
  6. The “Holy Spirit” is removed and/or depersonalized by Peterson.
  7. Peterson improperly translates “πνεῦμα” as “angel.”

Below is a PDF document with all 110 verses listed in both the English Standard Version (ESV) and the Message.  I provide this research document in full so that each reader can discern the veracity of my claims against The Message.

The document is completely free, all I ask is that you send out a link to this page to promote it for others.

Download the PDF HERE

Please feel free to discuss the content, suggest corrections or other topics for study in the comments section below.


My survey of The Message exposes confusing and misleading marketing surrounding Peterson’s work. Had Peterson decided to publish his work as a commentary, I would probably not even bother writing about it. In summary:

  • The Message is neither a translation nor is it a paraphrase taken directly from the Greek and Hebrew.
  • The Message is a commentary; no more reliable and no more authoritative then the commentaries of John Wesley or John Calvin.
  • The Message should never be the primary source for Scripture reading.
  • If you enjoy reading The Message, that is fine.  I am in no way suggesting Peterson’s book is not useful.  However, read The Message with the understanding that despite the slick marketing it does not meet the standard for a reliable translation.
  • Pastors should not use The Message in services as a substitute for reading the Scripture. In many cases, this usage gives the impression that The Message is a viable “translation” alternative.

What makes a good translation?

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

What translation should I buy?

Why you need to read more than one translation of the Bible

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. 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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