Every English Bible had to have come from somewhere; that is, they had to be translated from something since the Bible was Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin long before it was English. The opening pages of each Bible will tell the potential reader where this translation drew from.
For example, translation like the KJV, NKJV, and NASV are literal translations from the textus receptus, meaning that they are literal word for word translations from Greek to English, Hebrew to English, etc. Translations like the NIV are dynamic equivalents from English Bibles, meaning they took someone’s English Bible and simply updated words. There is no literal word for word translation, just taking the general idea and tinkering with it. I have long been critical of this line of translating, and I do not trust any dynamic equivalent.
But which method did The Message (TM) use? Its publisher, NavPress, isn’t really sure. Their description and advertising material begins: “For the first time, all sixty-six books of the Bible are now available in one book!”
Not to sound picky, but I’m pretty sure all 66 books of the Bible have been together in one book for quite some time. This handy all in one version of the Bible is called The Bible.
But the description continues: “Translated directly from the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts…” So it must be a literal translation, right? But the problem is two-fold. First, it doesn’t tell us which texts, which can mean literally anything, including Gnostic texts. Second, it doesn’t claim to just be a literal translation. The publisher’s description invites the reader to “join the millions of readers who have been drawn to God through Eugene Peterson’s…paraphrase.” In one paragraph the publisher says it is both a literal translation and a paraphrase.
This might sound like small potatoes (sorry The Message gets me the mood for some idioms), but this is a big deal. There is no Scriptural authority or support for anything found in TM. The Publisher knows better; they are aware that Bibles are judged by their cover, or inside cover, for that important information. They cleverly chose to slip both methods into this one. This information sets the tone for the rest of this review, because it shows that Peterson isn’t giving us any way to check his facts. We are just relying on the fact that he is smart, most people don’t read Greek or Hebrew, and he used ancient texts.
One of the loudest criticisms for this book is that the Bible tells us not to add to or take away from its pages. Verses like Proverbs 30:5-6 warn against this: “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him. Add thou not unto His words...” Look how Peterson conveniently side stepped this warning:
“Every promise of God proves true…so don’t second guess him.”
Instead of “every word of God is true” Peterson tells us every promise of God is true. Don’t add to His words becomes “don’t second guess him” There is a huge difference here. And unfortunately for Mr. Peterson, he is not the only one who reads Greek and Hebrew. The word used for words in these verses actually means “utterance, speech, or word,” not promise. Likewise, the command to not add to the Bible also means exactly what the Bible said it meant.
He also leaves out part of the exchange between Jesus and Satan in Luke 4:4. The Bible says, “It is written that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” Peterson rendered this passage this way: “It takes more than bread to really live.” The problem is that Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy verbatim, and Peterson left out the command to live by every word.
So with the groundwork laid (unclear origin and no command against altering the Word), Peterson is now free to write whatever he wants.
There are weird insertions, like characters named Madame Day and Professor Night in Psalm 19:2, and a person named Syzgus to Philippians 4:3. These are both bizarre because nothing in Scripture indicates that these characters should appear here. There are also a host of alleged omissions, but these cannot really be confirmed, because again, Peterson doesn’t tell us which texts he directly translated his paraphrase from.
Peterson’s book changes God’s plan of salvation. John 3 is a great passage to show the need to change one’s life for salvation, that we must be born again. In the 17th verse of that chapter, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “For God sent not His Son into the word to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” But Peterson uses this verse to say that Jesus “came to help, to put the world right again.”
Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again; Peterson is telling him that Jesus will just set things right. This is universalism, not biblical salvation. It is also Gnosticism.
Gnostics believe that we are all gods at the core of who we are, and by enlightenment we will come to recognize our true selves. We don’t have to do anything to be saved except to realize who we already are. His rendering of John 17 is in keeping with that idea.
So is his translation of Matthew 5:45 and John 1:12. The Mathew verse tells us that we can become the children of God (ginomai in Greek, which means to instantly become). TM says that if we love our enemies, instead of becoming the children of God, you are “working out of your true selves.”
The John verse says that “as many as received [Jesus], to them [God] gave the power to become (ginomai) the sons of God.” TM says that these people who said they would believe in God, God made them “to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.”
These references to true selves are not just some cool terminology from the man who didn’t want people to be bored with the Bible; this is central to Gnostic theology.
Peterson’s seeming obsession with the word luck is also Gnostic. As Christians, we commonly say that we don’t believe in luck or coincidence, but it is clear that Peterson believes in luck. TM uses the word luck in 31 verses and lucky in 32 verses. He uses the phrase “bad luck” in 11 verses, and luckless or unlucky in 13 verses. 27 times he replaces “blessed” with “fortunate” or “fortune.” An example of this is in Psalm 25:22 and 73:14 where the discipline of God is referred to as “a run of bad luck.” (Footnote #1)
In Luke 23:29, speaking of the end times, Jesus said, “For, behold, the days are coming, in which they shall say, blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.” Peterson’s version uses the word lucky three times in this verse.
This is important because anyone familiar with Gnostic literature would see what he is doing. The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (v.79) says, “A woman in the crowd said to him, Lucky are the womb that bore you and the breasts that fed you." He said to [her], "Lucky are those who have heard the word of the Father and have truly kept it. For there will be days when you will say, ‘Lucky are the womb that has not conceived and the breasts that have not given milk.’” Peterson altered the Gospel by directly quoting a Gnostic gospel!
In further Gnostic style, Peterson reduces the deity of Jesus. Instead of having Jesus say that He and the Father are one (John 10:30), he has Jesus say “My Father and I are of one heart and mind.” He also has Jesus say that the Father “is his goal (John 14:28).”
He has clearly reduced Jesus into something less than God. He has presented Him as a child of God, no different than everyone else, according to the Gnostics. This is further evidenced by his descriptions of Jesus. TM never uses titles such as Lord Jesus, Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, or Our Savior Jesus Christ, despite the fact that those titles are used over a hundred times in the Bible. More shocking, while the Bible uses Lord or Jehovah almost 8,000 times, those words appear a total of 62 times in TM, and not all of those even refer to Jesus (Footnote #2).
We also see Gnosticism in other places. The model prayer begins Hallowed be thy name in Matthew 6:9, but Peterson begins it with “Reveal who you are (enlightenment).” “Lead us not into temptation” in that prayer is changed to “keep us safe (because we aren’t sinful),” and his use of the term “as above, so below” is more Gnostic theology.
Peterson himself had something very interesting to say about Gnostics in his 1991 book Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer. On page 76 he says that for Gnostics “metaphor is an affront to their gossamer immaterialities and inner-ring whispers, a loud fart in the salon of spirituality. Metaphor is the psalmic antidote to the dematerializing venom of the Gnostic.” While his language is harsh on Gnostics in 1991, he points out that their weapon is their pen and their ammunition is their use of the metaphor. And his Message, which is heavily Gnostic, is teeming with metaphors. If he isn’t a Gnostic, he has certainly taken a page out of their playbook.
I could go on with more offenses he has committed against the Word of God, but I believe the point has been made. Peterson wanted to create a bible that wasn’t boring, one that was easy to read with “no distracting verse numbers.” Which I appreciate, because we all know how distracting those pesky verse numbers can be. But what he created was a Gnostic’s version of the Holy Bible. To prove my point, the book’s publisher has a single review posted on their website. It says:
"After all the time I spent reading the Bible, nothing has enlightened me more than The Message. I now feel I am worth something to God."
Did you catch the word enlighten there? I’d say Mr. Peterson has accomplished his mission.
I don’t believe The Message by Eugene Peterson is the Word of God, but the message of Eugene Peterson.