Eugene Peterson’s The Message

Hello all!

I’m attempting to research The Message by Eugene Peterson (The Bible in Contemporary Language).  I know I’m a few years behind, but I have yet to research The Message for myself and see if it is really a trustworthy translation of Scripture or if it’s something a little more sinister.  My friends, mentors, and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are all torn on this issue, so I feel it’s important to discuss.

It’s become clear to me that The Message is becoming a standard part of the Christian experience.  Many churches and Bible studies quote The Message and call it God’s Word.  The effective marketing around The Message aims it toward young adults and “the average person”, presumably one who is not familiar with Christian lingo.  This means that this version has permeated popular culture.  The Message is not going away any time soon.  

Despite Eugene Peterson’s personal statement that The Message should be considered a “reading Bible” and not a “study Bible”, people seem to be treating this version as THE Bible, and claiming that those who don’t trust it are at best close-minded and at worst legalistic.

Now, I’ve seen great teachers argue over the slightest word change in the more standard Bible versions.  It seems that those who have studied the ancient text know the subtleties of the language and the danger a misrepresentation could pose.  Most of the Bible versions I have read have an entire committee of scholars, pastors, and editors that have spent endless hours pouring over every individual word of the text so that these discrepancies do not occur.  These scholars have a reverence about their work; they are accountable for their translation.  They seem to believe that there is no difference between a “reading Bible” and a “study Bible”.  God’s Word is life or death and is not to be taken lightly.

So the most nagging question in my mind is, why does Eugene Peterson claim to have the education and skills to translate the entire Bible on his own, and dramatically different from everyone else?  But the most important question is: can believers and unbelievers alike take from The Message and know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior?

There are three main arguments I can see about The Message, and they are mutually exclusive.  If one is true, the others cannot be true simultaneously:
1) The Message is a trustworthy and divinely-appointed translation of Scripture.  The paraphrases do not take away from essential doctrine.
2) The Message is at best a human book inspired by Scripture.  Its purpose is to lead people to Truth, and encourage them to read the real Bible.
3) The Message is a deceptive version of Scripture that is infesting our youth and our churches.  It will eventually be accepted as a standard Biblical version, and doctrine will be based on it because it is accepted as a Bible by publishers and pastors alike.

I intend to research these questions and arguments to the best of my ability.  I imagine I will learn a lot about other versions of the Bible along the way.  During my initial stages of research, I have seen some pretty severe claims against The Message.  What disappoints me is that most of the propaganda against The Message appears to be wildly biased and some claims against the character of Eugene Peterson are unsubstantiated.  The propaganda I’ve seen so far supporting The Message is based on Peterson’s accurate translation of the ancient text, quotes from popular and trusted Christian superstars supporting this version, and some very clever marketing.

At this point in time, I do not fall into any of these 3 camps above.  I am researching, and I pray that my quest will be untainted by bias.  I have no agenda; I simply seek truth.   I hope that what I find can help others as well.

If you have questions or arguments as well, please do not hesitate to leave a comment or email me at


About Nicole Cragin Davis

Mostly I'm good at inspiring the beauty in chaos to prevail. Also I really like pancakes.

Posted on June 22, 2012, in Book Review, Commentary on the Church and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’ve enjoyed reading the Message as it ‘wakes up the ears’ and gets the message of scripture away from the sound and language of scripture which can be rather flowery when read in the King James.

    Working in Christian Retail, I can tell you that people have been hotly divided over the different translations of the Bible for decades in the states; and when you trace back the KJV itself you run into even more controversy.

    It was a divisive translation of its time and faced criticisms much harsher than anything ever leveled at the Message. It’s funny that seems to happen whenever anyone attempts to make the message of the Gospel accessible.

    As far as I understand it, the Message is intended to take the place of the New Living Bible which was a paraphrase done in the 1970’s. It is intended to mimic the visceral sound of the Aramaic and Greek language that comprises the New Testament.

    This Koine (common) Greek and Aramaic, according to Dr. Steven Meyer, is the equivalent of street-English. It wasn’t the language of the educated, but of shopping lists and graffiti. So that’s what Peterson mimics in his translation. I can tell you from experience reading Romans in the Message is an experience not to be missed. I felt like I was listening to D.L. Moody preach on a street corner. It was definitely eye-opening.

    I don’t use it for study, as it is a paraphrase. I use my NKJV or my ESV for study but I have a soft spot for the Message in my heart because it was instrumental in helping my great aunt accept Christ as her Lord and Savior.

    I highly recommend checking out a copy from the library and reading it next to your own study Bible. I hope you’ll have as much fun reading it as I did.

  2. Thank you for the info! I have been reading bits and pieces on Biblegateway, and some of it I find extremely beautiful. It’s always jarring when I read a verse I have memorized in the NIV/NASB/KJV version, and I don’t recognize it at all in the Message! I suppose that’s half the point, right? The new perspective is what makes it such a valuable experience. I’m going to continue researching it and probably pick up a paper copy sometime soon. Thanks for the encouragement!

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