Are you familiar with the Bible translation The Message? What is your opinion of it?
Aaron, Yes, I am familiar with The Message. It is important to understand that The Message is not a translation of the Bible. It is a paraphrase.
What is the difference between a translation and a paraphrase? A translation tries to bring the writings or spoken words of one language into another language as precisely and literally as possible. A paraphrase puts the text into the writer’s own words. A paraphrase often takes a certain amount of liberties with the text. For example, look at John 5:24 from The Message and then compare it to several translations.
“It’s urgent that you listen carefully to this: Anyone here who believes what I am saying right now and aligns himself with the Father, who has in fact put me in charge, has at this very moment the real, lasting life and is no longer condemned to be an outsider. This person has taken a giant step from the world of the dead to the world of the living.” (from THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.)
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” (King James Version)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (New American Standard)
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (New International Version)
It is easy to see from John 5:24 that The Message adds words to the text (it is two lines longer than the translations). This is not necessarily wrong if an author is trying to add clarity, explain a concept, or communicate a cultural idiom from antiquity that is contained in the text. If an author is intentionally distorting the text then he is guilty of the grave error of misleading the reader.
The good news concerning The Message is that the author, Eugene Peterson, is a reputable Christian scholar whose intention is to make the Bible easily readable and understandable. He is a brilliant communicator who thoroughly understands and embraces the historic Christian faith which teaches that Jesus Christ is God’s only Son, the Savior of the world. As far as I know, there is no heresy or deliberate distortions contained in The Message. There is no doctrine of the Christian faith that is called into question through this paraphrase.
Eugene Peterson has a gift when it comes to the use of words. You will benefit from his work. You will be encouraged by it. It will speak to your heart. Use it. Read it.
Having said all of that, I recommend that you read The Message (or any other paraphrase for that matter) alongside a good, solid translation of the Bible. Do not try to prove a theological point using a paraphrase. A translation is necessary for that.
~ Pastor Chris