The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language

Religion in the News
Associated Press, Aug. 3, 2002

HELENA, Mont. – In the Rev. Eugene H. Peterson’s retelling of the Bible, when Jesus raises a young girl from the dead, he first has to work his way through neighbors bringing casseroles to the grieving family’s home.

The poetic “valley of the shadow of death” from Psalm 23 becomes simply “Death Valley.” And when God prepares to flood the earth, he decides to spare Noah because “Noah was different. God liked what he saw in Noah.”

Those folksy touches are part of the appeal of Peterson’s “The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language,” published by NavPress of Colorado Springs, Colo.

The 2,265-page volume is a compilation of biblical paraphrases that Peterson has written for 20 years.

Released in July, NavPress sold 320,000 copies in advance and ordered an initial print run of 500,000, the largest it has ever had for a Bible, NavPress spokeswoman Kathleen Campbell said.

Peterson’s New Testament, published in 1993, sold 2.5 million copies, and his other “Message products” – more than 20 in all – have sold 4.5 million.

In addition to good sales, Peterson’s work has enjoyed gentle treatment from other biblical scholars.

Vern Poythress, a New Testament professor at Westminister Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pa., says he and fellow conservatives may quibble with many of Peterson’s renderings but have leveled few attacks because “The Message” isn’t a Bible and isn’t presented as such.

He sees it as useful for evangelism among people who know nothing about the Bible, so long as they realize it’s merely one writer’s interpretation of the biblical message. He says Peterson’s work “is at the far end of the spectrum, not only in paraphrasing but cultural updating.”

Peterson translated the Bible directly from the Greek and Hebrew and avoided earlier English translations. His purpose was to capture the earthy, vigorous tone of the originals.

“My intent was to provide something for people who had never read the Bible before, or didn’t think they could read it,” he said.

In “The Message,” Paul the Apostle is that “jailbird preacher.” In the Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” becomes “God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.”

Nobody “begets” anybody in “The Message.” They have babies.

“I’ve been reading the Bible since I was a little kid, but I found myself, when I first cracked it open – I was on an airplane – and I found myself laughing out loud or crying,” recalled Brad Rauch, a friend of Peterson’s and general manager of Christian radio station KALS in Kalispell.

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