The Bible is the foundation of the Christian faith, providing wisdom, guidance, and truth for believers. However, not all Bible translations accurately convey the meaning of the original texts. One controversial modern translation is The Message, which aims to make the Bible more accessible through contemporary language.
But does simplifying Scripture come at a cost? Let’s examine the problems with The Message and why it may be dangerous for Christians.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The Message Bible takes too many liberties with the original meaning, omits key theological concepts, and includes unorthodox renderings. This can mislead readers and distort essential doctrines.
It Prioritizes Readability Over Accuracy
Uses Paraphrase Instead of Translation
The Message Bible was created by Eugene Peterson with the goal of making the Bible more accessible and understandable to modern readers. To do this, Peterson took a paraphrasing approach rather than a strict word-for-word translation.
While this may increase readability, it often comes at the expense of accuracy.
Paraphrases like The Message try to convey ideas thought-for-thought rather than word-for-word. This leads to an interpretation rather than a translation. The meaning can get obscured or altered in an effort to make the text simpler.
Key theological terms are replaced with common words that fail to capture the full meaning. Subtle nuances are lost. By paraphrasing rather than translating, The Message compromises accuracy for readability.
Loses Nuances of Meaning
Since The Message is focused on making the Bible understandable, it sometimes oversimplifies complex theological concepts. Nuanced meanings can get lost in the process. For example, in 1 Corinthians 13:12, the Greek word for “mirror” is changed to “reflection” in The Message.
While similar in meaning, the original term carried connotations of seeing indirectly or indistinctly, which are missing from the paraphrased version.
The Message also condenses certain passages for clarity at the expense of detail. For instance, Ephesians 1:3-14, a dense Greek paragraph, is reduced to just three sentences. This makes it more readable but less precise.
Many scholars argue that accuracy should not be sacrificed in translation, even if it affects readability.
Obscures Theological Depth
Since The Message was designed for contemporary readers, it often reframes theologically rich ideas in common language. However, this can result in oversimplifying profound spiritual concepts.
For example, “sanctification” becomes “changed from the inside” and “redemption” becomes “he saved us.” Such substitutions use everyday terms but fail to convey the full theological meaning. The paraphrased text loses some of the dignity, gravity, and mystery built into the ancient Scriptures.
This depth and nuance is an essential part of understanding the Bible’s spiritual truths.
It Omits Key Theological Concepts
Downplays Sin and Judgment
One of the most concerning aspects of The Message is that it significantly downplays the seriousness of sin and the reality of God’s judgment. By using casual, everyday language, The Message often waters down important biblical truths about sin, repentance, and the wrath of God.
For example, in Romans 6:23, the apostle Paul states: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (ESV). However, The Message renders this verse as: “Work is a gift our work connects us with others and in building real relationships we find life.”
This completely changes the meaning and omits the important warning about the deadly consequences of sin.
Likewise, in passages about hell and judgment, The Message weakens the tone and urgency. References to “eternal fire” become “huge bonfire” (Mt 18:8) and “eternal punishment” becomes “a long, long punishment” (Mt 25:46).
Such renderings fail to convey the sobering reality of God’s righteous wrath against sin.
Minimizes Christ’s Divine Nature
Another alarming issue with The Message is its subtle undermining of Christ’s divine nature and eternal existence. The clear statements in Scripture about Christ being eternal God are obscured by Peterson’s over-simplified renderings.
For example, John 1:1 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (ESV). But The Message says, “The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word.” This deprives the reader of John’s clear declaration of Christ’s deity.
In another instance, Colossians 1:16 states that “by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth…all things were created through him and for him” (ESV). However, The Message entirely omits the crucial phrase “all things were created through him and for him.”
Sadly, these kinds of omissions regarding Christ’s divine nature are found throughout The Message and serve to undermine essential Christian doctrine about who Jesus is.
Eliminates References to Blood Atonement
One of the most disturbing aspects of The Message is the complete elimination of important references to the blood of Christ and blood atonement. In the Bible, the blood of Christ is central to Christ’s atoning work on the cross.
But in The Message, “blood” is mentioned only six times and never in connection with Christ’s death on our behalf.
For example, Colossians 1:20 says “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (ESV). The Message renders this as: “Then, reconciling all things to himself, everything in heaven and on earth, he made peace with us through his death on the cross.”
All references to “the blood of his cross” are completely omitted.
The removal of blood atonement from the Bible is deeply troubling. By avoiding these details of Christ’s sacrifice, The Message misses a core truth that we are forgiven and saved from sin by Christ’s blood shed on the cross.
The absence of blood atonement in The Message undermines the gospel by eliminating a vital part of Christ’s work in atoning for our sins. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of The Message and alone is reason enough for Christians to avoid this paraphrase.
It Includes Problematic Renderings
The Message Bible frequently uses gender-neutral language, referring to God and Jesus with terms like “Parent” and “Friend” instead of traditional masculine terms. While the intention may be inclusive, critics argue this is inaccurate and obscures the biblical presentation of God as Father and Jesus as Son (John 14:9).
The Message also often replaces “brothers” with “believers” or “friends.” This may reflect modern sensibilities, but loses historical accuracy and can diminish theological concepts like the fatherhood of God.
New Age Terminology
At points, The Message employs New Age concepts and terminology incongruous with the biblical text. For example, the term “Cosmic Christ” appears in Colossians 1:15-20, rather than the traditional “image of the invisible God.” Such renderings import foreign theological concepts into Scripture.
Critics also point to the substitution of “womb” for “heart” in verses like Romans 10:9, shifting away from biblical anthropology. While likely attempting to speak to today’s culture, many scholars argue these substitute terms distort the meaning.
By design, Eugene Peterson rendered the Bible into very informal contemporary American speech in The Message. However, critics contend that at points this obscures the dignity and authority carried in the original languages.
For example, in Micah 6:8 the familiar “act justly, love mercy, walk humbly” becomes “do justly, love mercy, don’t take yourself too seriously.” Such casual language can diminish the gravitas of Scripture.
Some also argue that the heavy use of idioms and slang makes the meaning unnecessarily opaque for second language readers today. There is certainly merit in accessibility, but not at the cost of misrepresenting God’s inspired Word.
It Lacks Scholarly Oversight and Review
One of the main criticisms of The Message is that it lacks scholarly oversight and review. Most mainstream Bible translations go through a rigorous translation process involving multiple scholars and subject matter experts.
This helps ensure accuracy, consistency, and faithfulness to the original biblical texts.
The Message, on the other hand, was translated entirely by one man – Eugene Peterson. While Peterson studied biblical languages and theology, he did not submit his translation to peer review by other scholars.
This raises concerns about potential biases, inconsistencies, and inaccuracies creeping into the translation.
Translation Methodology Concerns
Related to the lack of scholarly review, experts have raised concerns about Peterson’s translation methodology with The Message. While most translations aim for formal equivalence (word-for-word accuracy) or dynamic equivalence (conveying the meaning), The Message is much more of a paraphrase.
Peterson sought to capture the emotional impact and big ideas rather than precise wording.
For example, Romans 3:23 in formal equivalence translations says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The Message renders it as, “Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners…” While the meaning is similar, the specific wording is quite different.
Paraphrasing can be useful for gaining fresh perspective. However, exclusively using a paraphrased translation means potentially missing nuances communicated through the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
Lack of Transparency About Translation Choices
Most Bible translations explain their translation methodology in their prefaces. They discuss textual basis, translation philosophy, review process, and more. This transparency allows readers to better evaluate strengths and weaknesses.
The Message, however, contains minimal translator notes. Peterson does not thoroughly explain his interpretive choices, word substitutions, and paraphrasing rationale. This makes it difficult for readers to discern where Peterson is conveying the literal meaning versus taking creative license.
Risk of Inaccuracy
The combination of single translator, paraphrase method, and lack of transparency increases the risk of inaccuracy in The Message. There are no checks and balances that other translations have through scholar review and more literal translation philosophies.
While The Message may help some readers engage with biblical concepts, it should not be considered a primary Bible translation for study, preaching, or memorization due to these concerns. Relying solely on The Message could lead to misinterpretation of Scripture.
While The Message set out to make the Bible accessible, it went too far in taking liberties with the text. Key terms and concepts are missing or obscured, theological depth is lost, and questionable renderings abound. For seekers and new believers, The Message may seem to make the Bible relevant.
But more mature Christians should compare it closely with more accurate translations to discern where it deviates. Relying solely on The Message can lead to misunderstanding Scripture and core doctrines. For sound Bible study, it’s wise to use translations that prioritize fidelity over readability.