Thursday, October 23, 2008

Got The Message?

Lately I've been using some additional Bible translations to help get a supplemental understanding of phrases that are complex or archaic in the King James Version (the official English translation used by the Mormon church). This is a trick I learned at BYU when a professor required us to read at least one additional translation of Isaiah to give us another perspective on difficult passages.

The most interesting Bible I've come across in these studies is The Message, translated by Eugene Peterson. Originally employed as a teacher of Hebrew and Greek in a theological seminary, Peterson took a job as a pastor and, in his words, "I was now plunged into quite a different world. The first noticeable difference was that nobody seemed to care much about the Bible, which so recently people had been paying me to teach them." (All quotes are from the The Message Preface.)

Peterson realized that he had a gift for conveying the message of the Bible in everyday, conversational language:

"I lived in two language worlds, the world of the Bible and the world of Today. I had always assumed they were the same world. But these people didn't see it that way. So out of necessity I became a translator..."

Peterson's interpretations of "the Bible in the language of Today and the language of Today in the language of the Bible" caught the interest of an editor, who convinced him to work on a complete translation, or paraphrase, of the Bible. This became The Message.

You can get a good taste of what The Message is like by reading the Ten Commandments story in Exodus 20 (link is from You can fly through a chapter in a minute or two. I find this useful for getting a quick overview of a story or an alternate view of one of those occasional "Say what?" verses in the writings of Paul or Isaiah.

Peterson states that his intent with The Message was just to get people reading the Bible. "It is not intended to replace the excellent study Bibles that are available."

For me that excellent study Bible is the King James Version published by the LDS church, which contains the Topical Guide, Bible Dictionary, and excerpts from the Joseph Smith Translation. But when I've got five extra minutes to hang out in the kids' room while they fall asleep, The Message makes for a very nice inspirational read.

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