Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Reprinting of the always funky Message Bible, but jazzed up even more with a stone-effect cover, chapter numbers in fashion-ready three-digits, and more forward-slashes than The Passion Of The Christ.

I'm sorry, I can't do it, I still can't take this seriously.

Well now that's just not fair. As I may have implied in my earlier review of this paraphranslation, at its worst, the Message is only funny for the wrong reasons. At its best, I think it's the most accessible version out there.

What this printing really has to its credit though are translator Eugene H Peterson's opening commentaries on most of the books. (he combines a few of them)

Here again, my opinions falls into two camps. This review contains six quotes - three critical, three positive.

"But more often than not we become impatiently self-important along the way and decide to improve matters with our two cents' worth. We add on, we supplement, we embellish. But instead of improving on the purity and simplicity of Jesus, we dilute the purity, clutter the simplicity." [p.1763 regarding Hebrews]

Hang on, doesn't that call into question the very existence of these introductions? Well, his opinions can be quite subjective on occasions.

"But this letter, to one member of the Colossian church, he wrote with his own hand." [p.1760 regarding Philemon - I personally think it was just the one verse that Paul wrote himself.]

On others, as so many historians do, he falls victim to believing that history matches his own perception of it.

"It is impossible to overstate either the intensity or the complexity of the suffering that came to a head in the devastation of Jerusalem and then continued on into the seventy years of exile in Babylon." [p.1194 regarding Lamentations]

Surely Peterson's understanding of these millennia-old matters must come from written statements that are similarly lacking?

However this is just the sort of individual voice missing from the introductions in so many other sandpapered presentations of the Bible. If you want to disagree with Peterson, then all you really have to do is read the actual book that he's talking about - it's right there!

This can be a bit hit and miss. In some cases he seems to be casting around to find an angle. In others, such as some of the wisdom books, he appears to already have a stance, and the result can be wonderfully illuminating.

"Ecclesiastes is a John-the-Baptist kind of book. It functions not as a meal but as a bath. It is not nourishment; it is cleansing. It is repentance. It is purging."

And when he has a particular axe to grind about life, well, just listen to him clearly articulate it.

"When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does. Outsiders, on observing this, conclude that there is nothing to this religion business except, perhaps, business - and dishonest business at that. Insiders see it differently. Just as a hospital collects the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the church collects sinners. Many of the people outside the hospital are every bit as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised. It's similar with sinners outside the church.

So Christian churches are not, as a rule, model communities of good behavior."
[p.1780 regarding James]


I didn't want to read the whole translation again, so I've read many of these intros before my reading of the corresponding book in a different version. I'm sure that's probably compromised some moments, but equally it does challenge his opinions to stick to the original text rather than to his own.

At the back is something that I've been looking for for a long time - a list of the books in chronological order, which I'm about to take on board in my reading of most of the epistles in the God's Word.

Finally, sorry to say it, but I find Peterson's own prose to be a bit easier to read than his translation work. Well I suppose that one or the other had to come out as preferable.

In this final quote, Peterson's second sentence roundly sabotages everything that follows it, but if you can hold that in tension, then it's still a sincerely great observation.

"But happiness is not a word we can understand by looking it up in the dictionary. In fact, none of the qualities of the Christian life can be learned out of a book. Something more like apprenticeship is required, being around someone who out of years of devoted discipline shows us, by his or her entire behavior, what it is. Moments of verbal instruction will certainly occur, but mostly an apprentice acquires skill by daily and intimate association with a "master," picking up subtle but absolutely essential things, such as timing and rhythm and "touch."" [p.1724 regarding Philippians]

I like Peterson's writing. The guy's love and perception of God's presence within everything are both affirming and inspiring.

Perhaps he should have called this book the Messages.

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2 comment(s):

At 2:17 pm, Blogger Rhett said...

Hi Steve, cool review.

NIV2011 is still the best ;-).

Just letting you know I was sick yesterday with a cold. I'll be in the office next week, if you want to call again. Tuesday afternoon NZ time would be perfect if you can manage it.



At 2:24 pm, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Thanks mate - I thought it was all about the NLT for you?

Yeah, they told me yesterday you were crook. I think next week will be too late for the work-related reason why I was calling. But hey - text me if I should call you at home.



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