I. Hate. The Message.
I don't know how to say this without being too offensive, but this book is offensive. It literally sickens me.
God's says what He means. God doesn't pull any punches. The Holy Spirit inspired many men to write precisely what He meant to say. These men wrote these things precisely as the Holy Spirit inspired them to, and sometimes the things that were recorded sound pretty harsh. Remember when God blatantly said, "Jacob I have loved, Esau I have hated"? Remember when He said, "For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous, has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God"? Remember when Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me"?
See, it's not that God is heartless and cruel. It's simply that He is Holy. Holy meaning set apart and perfect and unable to withstand sin. Because God is Holy, He cannot look upon sinful man with acceptance. This is why God sent His Son Jesus to earth, to be the propitiation for our sin. Those who are in His Son are now justified and made pure in the sight of God. God is able to look at man through His Son and see him as redeemed. But this conversely means that those who are not in His Son are not pure and justified, and God cannot look at him as redeemed. So God spoke plainly to us in His Scripture so we would be sure to understand - if we are a part of Him, we will remain with Him. If we are not a part of Him, we will not remain with Him.
The Message completely wipes away all clarity on the matter. In an effort to simplify the Word of God and translate it into every day language, the author Eugene Peterson has completely obliterated a vast majority of Truth. In an effort to make the Bible more "palatable", he's made it less true. And a Bible that is less true is as good as a Bible that is not true at all.
Take the following passages for instance:
1 Corinthians 5:1-5 -Immorality Rebuked
It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. [NASB]
The Mystery of Sex
I also received a report of scandalous sex within your church family, a kind that wouldn't be tolerated even outside the church: One of your men is sleeping with his stepmother. And you're so above it all that it doesn't even faze you! Shouldn't this break your hearts? Shouldn't it bring you to your knees in tears? Shouldn't this person and his conduct be confronted and dealt with? I'll tell you what I would do. Even though I'm not there in person, consider me right there with you, because I can fully see what's going on. I'm telling you that this is wrong. You must not simply look the other way and hope it goes away on its own. Bring it out in the open and deal with it in the authority of Jesus our Master. Assemble the community--I'll be present in spirit with you and our Master Jesus will be present in power. Hold this man's conduct up to public scrutiny. Let him defend it if he can! But if he can't, then out with him! It will be totally devastating to him, of course, and embarrassing to you. But better devastation and embarrassment than damnation. You want him on his feet and forgiven before the Master on the Day of Judgment.[The Message]
Upon first read, there is little difference. A bit of monologuing going on in The Message, a bit of over-simplifying, but nothing strikingly heretical. And it is for this reason that this book has made it into Christian bookshops, homes and churches.
But let's look closely at what has been added/omitted which actually make the two passages say different things.
It begins as simply as the "title" of the passage. (Note: I do not know if titles were used in the Greek or not, so this is just an introduction. Greek students may be able to give an answer in my comments to where the titles are picked up.) The New American Standard, a very reliable translation which comes directly from the Greek, calls it "Immorality Rebuked". The New King James Version calls it "Immorality Defiles the Church/ Immorality in the Church Must Be Judged". The Message calls it, masterfully, "The Mystery of Sex." What? Hold the boat. How is sexual immorality comparable to the Mystery of Sex? Already, we are entering this passage with the idea that it is about the wonderful "mystery of sex" as opposed to a passage dealing with church discipline.
Both passages then explain what has occurred. Someone has been with his father's mother, which due to the strange wording implies a stepmother. Then, the NASB immediately strikes straight to the heart of the matter- "You have become arrogant and have not mourned." Ouch. Immediate reprimand. No beating around the bush. One may have expected Paul to first rant about how awful that is, but he instead looks at the church with a rebuke. The Message, however, goes about it in a different way. Considering that it hurts worse when your mother tells you she's "disappointed in you", the author assumes that this same method is what Paul really should of used. "And you're so above it all that it doesn't even faze you! Shouldn't this break your hearts? Shouldn't it bring you to your knees in tears?" This translation kindly tells the church they are "above it all". Nice euphemism for "arrogant". Shouldn't this upset you, guys? Guys, come on, this is bad! Guys, why aren't you in tears? I'm very disappointed in you. The congregation hang their heads in shame.
Now, what should be done? The NASB states clearly that "... the one who had done this deed would [should] be removed from your midst." He doesn't really leave any room for you to argue with him. He's basically said what should happen, case closed. No questions, this is what should be done. The Message isn't quite so decisive, so hurried to be sure it knows best. "Shouldn't this person and his conduct be confronted and dealt with?" Probably, yeah, he probably should be. Paul: "I'll tell you what I would do...."
This is the part that gets me! "I'll tell you what I would do"? Does Paul ever say that in any direct translation from the Greek? Neither the NASB or the ESV, which are extremely faithful versions straight from the Greek have no mention. The King James Version and the New King James Version don't seem to have it, either. No, just The Message. To be blunt, the author is putting words in Paul's mouth. This way, if one feels like it's "really mean" to put someone out of the church, they can refer to The Message and say, "Well, it's only what Paul would've done. It's not a requirement." Now we have a loophole. Instead of going through a painful and difficult and offensive and unpopular church discipline, we can now simply take Paul's "advice", or we can leave it.
"Even though I'm not there in person, consider me right there with you, because I can fully see what's going on. I'm telling you that this is wrong. You must not simply look the other way and hope it goes away on its own. Bring it out in the open and deal with it in the authority of Jesus our Master." Now The Message has provided us with Paul's "advice". If he were there in person, he'd bring it out into the open and deal with it.
The NASB renders this part of the passage quite simply: "For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present." These days we have a huge problem with "judging". We tell everyone we are not meant to judge, and this is true to an extent. Not we, but God, decide a man's fate. However, as Paul later explains in this chapter, we are to judge those that are within the church, but not those outside the church. (1 Corinthians 5:9-13, particularly 12) Interesting. And here, Paul has said with no coat of sugar that even though he's not even there, he's already judged the guy.
The Message would never say something so offensive. It's getting a little away from text in particular, but later in the passage when Paul says we are to judge our own (v. 12), The Message says, "... don't we have some responsibility for those within our community of believers?" Emphasis mine. Once again, we've been let off the hook through the power of semantics.
Back to the main passage. We come to the conclusion of this paragraph. The Message concludes with this: "Assemble the community--I'll be present in spirit with you and our Master Jesus will be present in power. Hold this man's conduct up to public scrutiny. Let him defend it if he can! But if he can't, then out with him! It will be totally devastating to him, of course, and embarrassing to you. But better devastation and embarrassment than damnation. You want him on his feet and forgiven before the Master on the Day of Judgment." Compare that to the simple conclusion of the NASB: "In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."
Wow. What are we to do with this? In one case, we are to put him in front of the people to defend himself. To one not reading carefully, this seems fair. But note that he is told to defend if he can. If he can't, then "out with him". One may think that this is just words; of course he can't defend himself for doing this! But suppose you were using this translation in your church, and this man actually could defend himself? (And I bet he could actually convince many people of some good reasons, i.e. they're in love, they loved each other before she married his father, his father was abusive to her and she just needed someone, etc.) Suddenly we find that we are stuck. Well, he could defend himself, and well, so I suppose it's ok, I mean there's no Biblical precendent now...
Luckily, the NASB (and in reality, the Greek) doesn't leave us with this loophole (or any of the aforementioned loopholes). Paul says he has decided to "deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh" that he may be saved in the end. Once again, the man isn't pulling any punches. The words he uses are harsh. In fact, this phrasing of "deliver[ing] one to Satan" is used in all the other translations I've looked at, including the ESV, NKJV, NIV, even the New Living Translation! The reason for this is clearly stated in all translations (some in more obvious ways than others): So that his sinful nature would be destroyed, and he would be saved. It's a backwards thought to us of how putting someone out of the church will bring him back to Christ. But it does make sense, in that it will bring shame and hopefully conviction (which is where faith in Christ's promises and commandments come in) to the sinner. And regardless if it makes sense, it's commanded in God's Word.
As I said at first, this translation sickens me. Practically all passages of Scripture can be refuted as thoroughly when contrasting The Message with any other translation. If you want to read more contrasts made between The Message and the Bible, click here. This offers many passages of Scripture that have been twisted through The Message to make Scripture more palatable, more modern and less offensive.
When God speaks, we would be wise to listen. God speaks clearly, He does not speak in code (no matter what The Da Vinci Code says), and He always says what He means. The Message by Eugene Peterson does not in any way faithfully represent the true words of God. It instead makes God's Word, and in essence Jesus Christ himself, putty in the hands of men, that may be twisted and molded to the likings and tastes of sinful human beings. Where God once told us what He wanted us to know, we now may pick up a poor translation and find the god that we humans have been looking for - the one who does what exactly what we think is best.