Within the last week, Eugene Peterson, the engine behind “The Message” Bible (a so-called “paraphrase” of the Bible), made headlines with his wavering position on biblical marriage (see here and here). Some will say his error isn’t about gay weddings. Others wonder if we should still read him in light of what has happened.
What do I think, you ask? I say let’s take a look at “The Message” itself. After all, that holds bigger stakes than Peterson’s position on marriage. This is so because no less than ten MILLION people either read or endorse “The Message” translation (including some of the more well-known people out there such as Billy Graham, Joyce Meyer, Hillsong’s Brian Houston, etc.). That is a lot of people reading or endorsing a translation that is supposedly a “paraphrase” of God’s Word, which is living, active, sharper than any two-edged sword, completely breathed out by God [who cannot lie—Numbers 23:19), the same yesterday, today and forever, and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (Hebrews 4:12; 13:8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Unfortunately, this paraphrase is not breathed out by God. Instead, it is breathed out by man. Moreover, it is not a paraphrase as many claim.
“The Message” translation is a herephrase.
What is a herephrase, you ask? It’s a word I found from listening to a program known as Pirate Christian Radio (a SOLID Bible discernment program dedicated to comparing stuff said in the name of God to the Word of God). A herephrase is a “paraphrase of the Bible that is heretical.” Heresy in itself, according to Merriam-Webster (2004), is “an opinion or doctrine contrary to church dogma.” Therefore, if a paraphrase of the Bible ends up contradicting what God’s Word says, it most certainly is a herephrase.
The next logical question to ask is, “How is The Message translation a herephrase?” According to Lance Goodall in his book “Hellsong”, the Word “Lord” appears no less than 7,970 times in the King James version of the Bible. “The Message” uses it 71 times. That is a huge difference. In fact, the ratio of usage between the two translations is 112:1.
Furthermore, in the New Testament, “The Message” NEVER directly honors Christ as Lord. “The Lord Jesus” occurs 118 times in the King James version. “The Lord Jesus Christ” appears 84 times, but neither phrase (NEITHER) appears in “The Message.” Apparently no other translation makes such an omission. Powell goes on to say that Judas Iscariot (the one who betrayed Jesus) never referred to Jesus as Lord either (ouch), but that’s for another day.
What’s the big deal about omitting “The Lord Jesus” and “The Lord Jesus Christ”, you ask? Well, salvation is found in nobody else but Jesus (Acts 4:12). Because we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standard, we cannot save ourselves and inherit the free gift of heaven (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; Matthew 5:48). God had to solve the sin problem because He is a merciful loving God but also a just, holy God who must punish sin (1 John 4:8; Exodus 34:7). He solved that problem by sending Jesus Christ, the infinite God-man, to die on the cross and rise from the dead to pay the penalty for our sins and purchase a place in heaven for us (John 1:1, 14; Isaiah 53:6; 1 Timothy 1:15). According to Blue Letter Bible, the word “Lord” comes from the Greek word “kyrios” (from the root word kuros), which means, “he to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has power of deciding; master, lord.” When we trust in Christ alone for salvation, Christ becomes our Lord (Romans 10:9). To omit that title from Him is tantamount to contradicting what God’s Word says about him, which by definition is heretical.
Other authors have noticed other differences between “The Message” and other translations. These differences include those in orthodoxy, sin, and everlasting life, among other things. I wanted to do some comparative work in looking at the alleged “The Lord Jesus” and “The Lord Jesus Christ” omissions. I won’t look at every one of them (that would warrant an exhaustive list, a book, even), but I do want to look at a few in an effort to show how “The Message” is a herephrase instead of a paraphrase. I show this by comparing “The Message” to the NASB (New American Standard Bible) and NKJV (New King James Version) versions of the Bible.
First passage: Romans 5:1-2
- NASB: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”
- NKJV: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
- The Message: “By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”
As you can see, the NASB and NKJV versions use the phrase “Lord Jesus Christ.” “The Message”, however, simply calls him “Master Jesus.” Furthermore, Peterson changes the meaning of the passage by not referring to Christ in the rest of the passage. The other versions, however, state it is through Him also we rejoice/exult “…in hope of the glory of God.” Peterson simply calls Jesus “Master” and does nothing more (well, except make those two verses a lot wordier than what they really are). That is an absolute changing/contradicting of what God’s Word says about Him.
Second passage: 2 Thessalonians 2:15-17
- NASB: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.”
- NKJV: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.”
- The Message: “So, friends, take a firm stand, feet on the ground and head high. Keep a tight grip on what you were taught, whether in personal conversation or by our letter. May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech.”
Once again, Peterson makes the passage wordier and, more importantly, removes the words “Lord” and “Christ.” Paul uses the Greek word “Christos” (from the root word chrio) for “Christ” in that passage. Blue Letter Bible states that “Christos” means “anointed…the Messiah, the Son of God.” Peterson has essentially reduced Christ’s role to that of man, stripping Him of His Lordship and holiness. This, like the first example, changes God’s Word.
Final passage: Jude 1:17-19
- NASB: “But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.”
- NKJV: “But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk accordingly to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.”
- The Message: But remember, dear friends, that the apostles of our Master, Jesus Christ, told us this would happen: “In the last days there will be people who don’t take these things seriously anymore. They’ll treat them like a joke, and make a religion of their own whims and lusts.” These are the ones who split churches, thinking only of themselves. There’s nothing to them, no sign of the Spirit!”
Once again, Peterson removes “Lord” and replaces it with “Master.” While this isn’t as gross a changing as the other two references since he does not remove “Christ”, it is a changing nonetheless because it removes the all-important word “Lord” from Jesus’ title. Jesus is more than just a “Master”; He is also Lord (see 2 Peter).
As mentioned, this is not an exhaustive list. One can easily find other omissions at the beginning of the apostle Paul’s letters (1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, etc.). The reality is that Peterson clearly does not give proper honor to Christ with his blatant omission of the phrases “The Lord Jesus” and “The Lord Jesus Christ.” He essentially reduces Christ to that of a man or any ordinary master (but Christ is more than that; He is the Savior of the world). By doing so, he makes “The Message” translation a herephrase.
I do not personally know Eugene Peterson. I certainly do not write this post to vilify him. However, what he has done with his “Message” translation is dishonor the Lord Jesus Christ. His wavering stance on marriage is not what is causing the most harm; it is his herephrase of a translation that, as mentioned, is unfortunately being read/endorsed by no less than ten million people worldwide, including some of the more well-known pastors/leaders in the world. Christians would do themselves a service by both staying away from “The Message” and praying that Peterson would repent and renounce this herephrase that contradicts God’s Word as it pertains to the Lord Jesus Christ.