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Eugene Peterson is famous for his (very) loose paraphrase of the New Testament, The Message, first published in 1993. He eventually completed his paraphrase of the entire Bible in 2002.

Now as far as they go, paraphrases are harmless and may even be helpful. Pastors paraphrase Scripture every Sunday when they use their own words to explain the meaning of the text. As long as a paraphrase explains and doesn’t obscure the meaning of the text, it’s fine. But once it is used to substitute the author’s own ideas for God’s, it becomes dangerous. The Scriptures must always serve as our guide, never a paraphrase of the Scriptures.

While the publisher of The Message advertised it as a “translation from the original languages “that “accurately communicates the original Hebrew and Greek” and brings out “the subtleties and nuances of the Hebrew and Greek languages,” it is anything but. It is a free-wheeling paraphrase of Scripture in which Peterson freely and frequently inserts his own interpretation of the text and glosses over any inconvenient truths he finds.

Well over 10 million copies of The Message have been sold, and it frequently appears on top five lists of annual sales of the Bible. It has been endorsed by many evangelical luminaries.

But caveats are in order. For instance, on the controversial subject of homosexuality, compare a literal translation of passages from 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 with The Message:

Literal Translation : 1 Cor 6:9-10. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

The Message : Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom.


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