I hate arguing for argument’s sake, but I do feel that the use of “The Message” in a church setting is impactful enough for my critiques to be heard.
The issue at hand isn’t one translation versus another. This issue is the philosophy behind the translation process. “The Message” is a colloquial paraphrase of the Bible, written by Eugene Peterson, a professor emeritus at Regent College in Vancouver, BC. The translation philosophy behind “The Message” is the idea that the words of the ancient authors were written in an informal, colloqiual language, and therefore, we as English speakers should have the benefit of reading Scripture in an informal colloquial version.
Conversely, other Bible translations, such as the English Standard Version, hold the philosophy that the original words of the ancient authors were inspired by God, and should be conveyed in any language as closely to the original as possible. The ESV is considered an “essentially literal” translation, attempting to be transparent to the original text. It isn’t
word-for-word as the NASB, but takes into account the differences between English and Greek in syntax, grammar and idiom. For tradition’s sake, the ESV carries the lineage of the original Reformation Tyndale-King James line of translations. In my own experience, I find the text highly readable, understandable, and applicable. It also carries a more conservative view than other modern translations in regards to gender-neutral language and looseness of style.
Consider the passage of the Lord’s Prayer:
Matthew 6:9-13, The Message:
With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s bestâ€” as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Matthew 6:9-13, English Standard Version:
Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
The phrase “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.” in verse 13 didn’t appear in the majority of original manuscripts available, so it is only available as a footnote in the ESV. But you can see the paraphrased “You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes.” does appear in The Message without any contextual footnote.
The ESV provides an essentially literal English translation of this passage (with which I’m sure you are familiar), and doesn’t attempt to interpret the meaning of the text. In Eugene’s version, he is interpreting the ideas for the reader. A reader of The Message will see “Keep us alive with three square meals” and will only see Eugene’s interpretation that the Greek “artos” (which literally means “bread”) means physical nourishment. (How else can one read into the phrase “three square meals?”). However, the ESV text is direct, and in this case actually gives a closer image of the original metaphorical meaning of the text. See John Wesley’s notes on 6:11:
“Give us – O Father (for we claim nothing of right, but only of thy free mercy) this day – (for we take no thought for the morrow) our daily bread – All things needful for our souls and bodies: not only the meat that perisheth, but the sacramental bread, and thy grace, the food which endureth to everlasting life.”
In the words of Martin Luther, from his 1529 Small Catechism,
“daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”
I ask again, could a reader really have come to that simple theological conclusion from the colloquial phrase “Keep us alive with three square meals?”
John Piper (I assume he needs no introduction) taught a series of sermons during a collegiate retreat that has since been the most impactful, powerful, soul-wrenching, thought-provoking message I’ve ever heard. The series didn’t have anything to do with ESV (it didn’t exist at the time), but because of that retreat, I do have a deep respect for his theological bearings. I was surprised and excited when I found an article he wrote: “Good English With Minimal Interpretation: Why Bethlehem Uses the ESV.”