9 Important Facts About the Message [Bible Translation]

“The Message,” crafted by Eugene Peterson, offers a fresh voice to ancient scriptures. Combining modern vernacular with timeless truths, it seeks to bridge the millennia-wide gap.

This article explores nine pivotal aspects of this unique Bible translation, shedding light on its origins, perspective, reception, and lasting impact on Christianity.

1. The Origin and Inspiration of The Message

“The Message” was birthed from Eugene Peterson’s pastoral experiences, particularly during his tenure as a minister in Bel Air, Maryland.

While teaching a Bible study class, he noticed a problem. Many found traditional translations hard to relate to.

They felt these versions were distant from their daily lives. This inspired Peterson.

He began translating the Book of Galatians into contemporary English. His goal was to capture the text’s raw, narrative essence.

His goal was not just to provide another translation, but to reintroduce the Bible’s stories and teachings in a language that felt fresh, immediate, and relatable to the modern reader.

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How accurate is The Message? See below

2. The Translation Philosophy of The Message

Eugene Peterson approached “The Message” with a distinct methodology.

Instead of a direct translation, he opted for a paraphrased rendition, translating thought-for-thought rather than word-for-word.

Drawing from the original Hebrew and Greek texts, he infused contemporary, colloquial language while preserving the essence and emotion of the scriptures.

Peterson’s intent was to recapture the immediate, vibrant voice of the Bible, making it resonate with 21st-century readers.

This approach sought to rejuvenate familiar passages, allowing readers to experience them as if for the first time, and ensuring the Bible’s narratives felt alive, accessible, and deeply personal.

3. How Long Did Eugene Peterson Take to Write It?

Eugene Peterson’s work on “The Message” spanned over a decade.

Beginning with his paraphrase of the book of Galatians in 1993, its warm reception spurred him to tackle the New Testament, completed by 1993.

Recognizing the hunger for a contemporary voice in other biblical books, Peterson expanded his project.

The Psalms followed in 1994, and Proverbs in 1998. By 2002, the entirety of “The Message,” covering both the Old and New Testaments, was available to the public.

This gradual unveiling allowed readers to engage with and anticipate each installment, marking distinct milestones in Peterson’s monumental endeavor.

4. The Language and Style of the Translation

Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” is characterized by its vibrant, conversational tone.

Opting for the everyday vernacular, Peterson transforms ancient texts into phrases and idioms familiar to the modern ear.

This casual style, infused with contemporary references and a touch of humor, seeks to dismantle barriers between ancient scripture and today’s reader.

Peterson’s goal was clear: to have the Bible speak directly to individuals as if it were written in their time and context.

While some purists have raised eyebrows at its informality, many find its refreshing voice a poignant reminder that God’s Word is timeless, transcending eras and cultures.

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5. The Translation’s Primary Audience

“The Message” was crafted primarily for those who found traditional Bible translations difficult to relate to or understand.

Whether newcomers to the faith, younger generations, or long-time believers seeking a fresh perspective, its audience is broad.

Peterson’s desire was to reach those who felt disconnected from scripture due to archaic language or cultural barriers.

By using the modern vernacular, he aimed to make the Bible more accessible and relevant, ensuring its teachings resonated in the heart of contemporary society.

This translation particularly appeals to individuals looking for an intimate, personal reading experience, where ancient truths meet modern life head-on.

6. Reception and Critiques from Christians and Churches

Upon its release, “The Message” garnered both acclaim and criticism.

Many appreciated its refreshing, contemporary voice, praising its ability to make the Bible feel alive and personal.

Churches and study groups adopted it to engage younger members and those unfamiliar with scripture.

However, purists and some theologians expressed concerns over its paraphrased approach, fearing it might stray from its original meanings.

Critics also pointed to its informal tone as potentially diminishing the reverence of the text.

Despite the polarized reception, its widespread use is undeniable, testifying to its resonance with a significant portion of the Christian community.

7. Eugene Peterson’s Theological Background

Eugene Peterson was not just a translator but a devoted pastor and scholar.

Born in 1932, he cultivated a deep love for scripture from a young age. His pastoral journey began in Bel Air, Maryland, where he served for 29 years.

This intimate relationship with his congregation profoundly influenced his approach to “The Message.”

Holding a Master’s in Semitic languages and a Doctorate in Hebrew, Peterson combined academic rigor with pastoral sensitivity.

His unique background positioned him perfectly to bridge the gap between the ancient text and the contemporary reader, infusing “The Message” with authenticity and heart.

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8. Comparisons with Traditional Bible Translations

When juxtaposed with traditional translations like the King James Version (KJV) or New International Version (NIV), “The Message” stands apart in its approach.

While classic versions often prioritize word-for-word accuracy or balanced equivalency, Peterson’s work is a free-flowing paraphrase.

Traditional translations maintain a formality, echoing the linguistic style of their respective eras.

In contrast, “The Message” embraces modern idioms and conversational tones.

This divergence sometimes leads to distinct interpretations of the same verse.

While some readers treasure the familiarity of traditional renditions, others value the fresh, immediate voice that Peterson brings to the biblical narrative.

9. The Message’s Legacy and Influence

Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” undeniably left an indelible mark on contemporary Christian literature.

Its fresh approach spurred a renewed interest in scripture reading, especially among those previously daunted by traditional translations.

Peterson’s work has inspired subsequent authors and translators to explore innovative ways of making the Bible relatable to newer generations.

Moreover, “The Message” frequently finds itself in modern worship settings, Bible study groups, and Christian literary discussions.

While not without its critics, its widespread acceptance is a testament to its transformative power, reiterating the timeless relevance of biblical teachings in ever-changing linguistic landscapes.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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