In 2015, I read through the New Testament in The Message. In case you are not aware, The Message is a paraphrase (not a translation) of the Bible, and a creative one at that. I’ve observed such extreme and polarizing reactions to The Message.
Some treat it as “of the devil” and claim it only leads people astray. They throw ridiculous accusations at The Message. To give one such illustration, I saw Eugene Peterson accused of being New Age or into environmental extremism because he used the phrase “green hope” in it. C’mon! The phrase “green hope” is used in Romans 15 – where it makes perfect sense. Paul is referring to Jesus as the Messiah and how he fulfilled Old Testament prophecy about a green shoot springing forth from the tree stump of David. Green hope fits right in with the tenor of this passage.
Some critics also seem to forget it is a paraphrase, and unfairly critique The Message as though it claims to be a translation. They show a list of examples where the wording has been altered in a way that concerns them. Well, duh! It is a paraphrase. You can’t expect precision of meaning.
On the other hand, some use The Message as the primary Bible that they read and study – failing to realize the limitations of a paraphrase. There are definitely concerns and problems with using a paraphrase exclusively. Nuances of meaning get lost, and soteriological words like grace, redemption, and justification are eliminated. Of course, the concept of a word can be explained without using the word itself, but a more accurate translation is needed to truly grasp the meaning of Scripture.
I’ve read the New Testament many times in my life and in various versions. I enjoyed reading it in The Message as it offered a fresh and unique approach to the Scripture. At times I laughed out loud (in a good type of way) at the creative way something was worded. Such as Hebrews 6:1, “So come on, let’s leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ.” – haha! I love it. See the wording in NIV here.
I really liked the book of Acts in The Message. It brought the narrative of the early church to life for me. I also appreciated some of the Gospels and certain personal parts of Paul’s letters. However, I did not care for Romans and more theological parts of Paul’s letters. Something was lost with the elimination of certain theological words, and with certain ideas being paraphrased. The richness and depth of meaning was no longer there for me.
I would recommend The Message to certain people who have not read the Bible before, or for seekers who have tried and found it hard to get through. The fresh, modern rendering may just pull them right in to the story of Jesus and Christianity! I’d also recommend that knowledgeable and well-read Christians give it a chance. If you are studying a certain passage in several translations, check out The Message too. Its unique rendering may bring it to life. But yes, there should be some caution with The Message.