The “Message Bible” is Not a Fan of Paul the Apostle.
I have a theory on why pastors use the “Message Bible” when preaching and teaching. My contention is that this particular bible words things in a way that the pastor finds compelling and gripping and in which he thinks the congregation will get a kick out of. The congregants go along with that because it has ceased being important for a translation to accurately reflect what was being said. It has ceased being important that Jesus’ words, meaning, and intent-without additions or interpolations- are immortalized with perspicuity.
It has become wholly acceptable to abuse and molest the original meaning because for some people, the intent isn’t to know what the original meaning is, but rather to develop an emotional response. They don’t read the Bible to know with precision what God actually said, but rather they choose it and use it for how it makes them feel when they read it.
And as long as that emotional response is brought on by something remotely bibley, they can interpret their feelings as a spiritual encounter, which is the source of their security, affirmation and joy. The Pastors quoting these paraphrases from the pulpit are not doing it so that it will have a cerebral or intellectual impact, but rather an emotive one. It’s not for piercing clarity, but for vague etherealities. Its not for maximum accuracy, but for maximum sentiment. That’s the thrust of the appeal- because warm fuzzies are an easier sell than rigorous faithfulness to the text.
So what does it means to faithfully represent what was written by the apostles? We believe that the Scriptures are given by inspiration of God and are theopneustos. That is, God-breathed. Some Bibles seek to get as close as they can to the original texts, with our best scholars who painstakingly pore over every nuance so that they can give us a product that represents the best and most accurate and most faithful rendering of the originals we have. The Message bible is not one of those bibles..
When doing a critical scholarship of all the manuscripts that we have, our problem isn’t that we don’t have enough of the original, but that we have too much of what came after. We don’t have 95% of the originals, but rather we have 120% of them. To paraphrase [har har] something I heard from James White once, it’s like we have a puzzle with 20 extra pieces, and by doing textual and source criticism we can weed out the extra pieces, the variants, the transcription errors, the scribal interplorations, etc.” The ultimate objective of the textual critic’s work is the production of a “critical edition” containing a text most closely approximating the original.
The Message bible is wholly unconcerned with trying to figure out what was actually said or trying to minimize the excess. I think this is seen well in Romans 9. In the ESV translation, there are 734 words. The NIV has 738. In Romans chapter 9, the Message bible has 836. In many ways the Message bible is similar to Codex Bezae- a codex infamous for its many strange and bizarre renderings, as well as gratuitous flourishes and additions. The horrific gluttonous additions to the Message are bad, but it actually gets worse than that. Not only are there many places in the Message bible where it’s incredibly bloated with whole sentences added in, there are other places where there are whole sentences missing! There are concepts missing. There are important details missing. There are important statements about God’s character missing. There are important details about God’s purposes missing. In short- it’s just not there.
Here is just one example:
21-Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? ESV
21-Isn’t it obvious that a potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans? Mb
22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, ESV
23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—ESV
23 and 24. If God needs one style of pottery especially designed to show his angry displeasure and another style carefully crafted to show his glorious goodness, isn’t that all right? Mb
In verse 21, there is no mention of honorable use or dishonorable use in the MB. Instead we see merely a utilitarian difference . In verse 22 and 23, I actually can’t even figure out which verse is what. But look how much is being left out in three verses from the Message bible.
1. There is no mention that God has a desire to show his wrath.
2.There is no mentioned that God is enduring the vessels of wrath.
3.There is no mention that God is showing patience while doing so.
4. There is no mention that these lumps of dishonorable use, these “pots for cooking beans” ‘are vessels of wrath.
5. There is no mention that these vessels were intended for destruction.
6. “Glorious goodness” is not the same as “the riches of his glory.”
7. There is no mention that the wrath of God towards his vessels of destruction was to show his glory to the vessels of mercy.
8. There is no mention this this was prepared by God beforehand.
9. There is no mention that this was prepared by God for the purpose of glory.
10. There is no mention that the eternal state of the Vessels of mercy is glory.
It amazes me at how much is missing, and how much we are being robbed from knowing by following this so-called paraphrase. And again, evidently its not important that we know these things. I would also recommend checking out verses 30-32 in both translations. In the case of the Mb, it is shocking bad and inadequate.
The point is this; the Message bible isn’t a neutral, clever paraphrase. It doesn’t merely “re-word” things, but it adds whole sentences and it removes whole sentences. It actively seeks to distort what God said through his Son and through the writers of the scriptures. In the case of Paul and Romans 9, it doesn’t care what Paul said. The important thing in not that we have an accurate record of what the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, and that we relay that to people, but rather its more important to tell people how one person remixes and reinterprets the words of Paul. And so when someone reads from the Message bible from the pulpit, purporting it to be some kind of bible, it is very hard for me not to lose respect for them. Ultimately what they are telling me that its not important to know what God inspired the Apostles to wrote. That it’s not important to know what Jesus actually said. That its not important to share the actual revelation of God.
[Written by Dustin Germain]