Friday, December 02, 2005

Am I the Pot or the Kettle?

Ok, so I know that in my last few posts I have been describing my encounter with KJV Onlyism and I believe that this is an issue that is very divisive and the proponents of this idea are mislead and substituting the translation of the Word for the Word. We must never place our preference of a translation over the Word of God.

That being said...

Have you read the Message or the Message Remix? I have not read the entire bible in either The Message (MSG) or the Message Remix. However, I have come in contact with it a few different times in the last year or so. Each time that I have read a passage, I have been more than concerned.

Before I launch into my explanation of my concerns and conclusion - let me restate something. I believe that none of our current translations (NASB, ESV, KJV, NIV, etc) are totally infallible or inerrant. They are infallible and inerrant insofar as much they completely reflect the exact original inspired writings.

Types of Translations:

When looking at how the bible should be translated, I prefer that the bible be translated in a word for word fashion as much as possible. Translations that used this method are the NASB, NKJV, ESV, KJV and others. Another very good way to translate the bible is a phrase for phrase or thought for thought method. Translations that used this method are the NIV, NLT, and others. The reason that I prefer the first type is that this gets the closest to the exact meanings of the individual words of the inspired text and I find it more useful for teaching and studying. For a visual representation of where the different translations stand, I have included the following chart from the International Bible Society:

Notice that The Message doesn't appear in either of these categories. That is because the Message (as well as The Message Remix) is more of a paraphrase of the word instead of a translation. Maybe a better way to understand it is that it is almost an interpretation of the text instead of a translation. Let me show you two of the examples of this:

Jude 1,2

  • MSG: "I, Jude, am a slave to Jesus Christ and brother to James, writing to those loved by God the Father, called and kept safe by Jesus Christ. 2Relax, everything's going to be all right; rest, everything's coming together; open your hearts, love is on the way!"
  • NASB: "Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ: 2May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you."

First of all, I have issues with the way verse 1 is phrased, and I would (if I were to take up more time) love to go into that, but not today. In any event, the more gross embellishment in this text is in verse 2. When looking at verse 2 in most translations, we see a sort of general greeting of the blessings of knowing the Lord. However, in the Message, the author(s) go further and try to explain what it means by saying "Relax, everything's going to be all right; rest, everything's coming together; open your hearts, love is on the way!" What in the world does "love is on the way" mean? And following that thought, how would I find out what it means? Would I do a cross reference in The Message to find out where the phrase was used elsewhere in the Bible to get a better handle on it? Try it, and you get nothing. That would be absurd. The reason this would not work is that The Message is not written in a way that the same thoughts or phrases of the various authors are expressed in the same way. Also, since there is no Greek phrase saying "love is on the way” it is impossible to come to any understanding other than a "This is what I think it means." or, worse yet, "this is what I feel this passage means."

Ok, so a good place to start to understand what a word or phrase means is to see where else this appears in the Word. Well, when I looked through The Message, I was unable to find one other occurrence of this phrase. When I looked for the phrase that was used in the NASB in the rest of that translation, I found this, “Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” (1 John 3) This seems very similar to the way that Paul greeted the readers of many of his letters (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Php 1:2; Col 1:2).

Look at these verses in the NASB. Do you see how similar, and in many cases identical, these greetings are in the NASB (also see the KJV, NKJV, and ESV). Now, look at these same verses in the MSG. If nothing else, the liberty that the MSG takes when telling us what these passages say is a matter of concern. It is even more concerning when you look at the Greek. Now, even if you know no Greek, compare this (these are the Greek passages of 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Php 1:2):

  • 1 Cor 1:3 χαρις υμιν και ειρηνη απο θεου πατρος ημων και κυριου ιησου χριστου
  • 2 Cor 1:2 χαρις υμιν και ειρηνη απο θεου πατρος ημων και κυριου ιησου χριστου
  • Gal 1:3 χαρις υμιν και ειρηνη απο θεου πατρος και κυριου ημων ιησου χριστου
  • Eph 1:2 χαρις υμιν και ειρηνη απο θεου πατρος ημων και κυριου ιησου χριστου
  • Php 1:2 χαρις υμιν και ειρηνη απο θεου πατρος ημων και κυριου ιησου χριστου

The exact same words are used in the same order (except for Gal 1:3), but the MSG translates them with added phrases like “May all the gifts and benefits” (1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2) or “with the great words” (Gal 1:3) and “poured into our lives by God” (Eph 1:2).

My Concern:

Regardless of the intention of the author(s), editor(s), and others involved with The Message or The Message Remix, we must be very careful what we do with the Word of God. Let me also say this: I assume that the intentions of all those involved with the MSG are all above board and desiring to serve and honor God as well as bring the Word to the world. But intentions - even the best intentions - do not make a bad or troublesome thing better. "The ends don't justify the means."

Let's remember what we're dealing with. We're dealing with the Word of God. The written word of God that He gave to Apostles and Prophets who wrote it down and that He has soveriegnly preserved over thousands of years! So where in any type of thought do we feel that we can "edit" or "embellish" or "enhance" the Word of God?

This may sound just like what I was arguing against when dealing with KJV Onlyism. The difference is that I believe that it is possible to stay true to the inspired text while translating the bible into the language of today where KJV Only believers believe that you cannot and should not.
My Conclusion:

Basically, my conclusion is this. My main concern with The Message is that it is presented as a translation or version of the Bible. I think that it would be best understood as an interpretation or commentary on the Bible. So the fact that it is presented as the Word of God, but inserts ideas or comments into it is a source of great concern.

  1. If you want to use The Message as a commentary - treat it as a commentary that is filled with the author's own ideas and comments and remember that these things are more present in paraphrase versions than are in more literal translations and in the actual Greek texts.
  2. I would not ever use The Message as a primary source for studying, teaching, preaching, or scripture memory.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Eric, I appreciate and share the concerns you have with the "Message" bible. Often, when I have compared this "commentary" with other versions, I've found that Eugene Peterson, the author, arrives at a completely different concept when it comes to the meaning of scripture. I don't have any examples of that handy at the moment, but you don't have to spend much time comparing to see that issue. I have heard several Bible teachers say that they like it, but I can only think that they must not be reading very carefully in order to see the problems with Peterson's paraphrase....I say "toss it."

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