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The Message The Message
The Bible in Contemporary Language

Eugene Peterson
ISBN 9781576832899 (1576832899)
NavPress, 2002

Category: Bibles and Bible Guides

At last, the Old Testament too! If you're like me, you'll have been thinking that it was fun to read the Gospels in Peterson's sassy paraphrase, but the burning need was for a way to get through books like 1 Chronicles or the vast outback of Job's interior chapters.

So, does it work? Well, yes it does. I found, however, that the paraphrasing was extremely loose in places, so that you cannot attach any importance whatsoever to details — they may not be in the original text — and it seems likely that some details important to the original writer will have been lost and speculative interpretations are easily confused with the teaching of scripture. Have a look, for instance, at this passage from Proverbs 22:

Do not be a man who strikes hands in a pledge
or puts up security for debts;
If you lack the means to pay,
your very bed will be snatched from under you.

which Peterson renders:

Don't gamble on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,
hocking your house against a lucky chance.
The time will come when you have to pay up;
you'll be left with nothing but the shirt on your back.

The paraphrase, it has to be said, is somewhat uneven, but surprisingly in the difficult and boring books it works all the better for that reason. You find yourself slipping back into Old Testamentish cadences and formal phrases, but then some anacronistic twist of modern speech wakes you back up. Take for instance Nehemiah 2. Where the NIV has the colorless "I had never been sad in [the king's] presence before," Peterson updates it with "I had never been hangdog in his presence before, so he asked me 'Why the long face?'" Not bad. But the chapter begins "At the hour for serving wine I brought it in and gave it to the king." At the hour for serving wine? Why not: "The usual time for the king to have his wine came and I let him have it?"

Sometimes the contrast is so stark you have to believe it's deliberately comic as in the delightful passage in 1 Kings 22, "Just then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah came up and punched Micaiah in the nose."

In an Old Testament world where Jezebel shouts "Go for it, Ahab!" and Solomon prays "Keep it up, God!" you find yourself keeping awake quite easily.

This is a book to be used sparingly — as a cheat. If you tried one of those "Read the Bible in a Year" schemes a few years back and still have your ribbons somewhere slightly west of the installation of the Feast of Tabernacles, give it a try again. Just don't hock your NIV to buy it. You'll find yourself consulting it more frequently than ever... "Is that really what it says?"

Conrad Gempf, November 2002

Dr Conrad Gempf teaches New Testament at London School of Theology. He is the author of Jesus Asked (Zondervan, 2003), Mealtime Habits of the Messiah (Zondervan, 2005) and Christian Life & The Bible (LST, 2006). He writes extensively for various books, journals, magazines and websites; here's his blog: Not Quite Art; Not Quite Living.

Previously published by London School of Theology. Reused here by kind permission.

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