Please Don’t Do This When Preaching

Do you have any preaching pet peeves?

Maybe it’s something that preachers say that for whatever reason is like nails on a chalkboard for you. Or maybe it is something that preachers do that just drives you crazy.

Today I just need to get one off my chest. Do you mind if I vent a little here?


Photo Credit: Olivier cc

I hear it all the time. And I heard it again recently.

If you use the Message version of the Bible in a sermon, please STOP CALLING THE MESSAGE A “TRANSLATION!”

Thanks. It felt good to get that out.

Seriously, though, stop it. Stop calling the Message a translation.

The Message is not a translation, it is a paraphrase. Big difference.

Each time something is translated, or paraphrased, it loses a little something. The original meaning of the text fades.

As we all know, the original Greek or Hebrew is the primary source. If you can read the original source, that is best.

But since most of us (and probably all the people in our churches) are not fluent in Greek and Hebrew, we use English translations of the original language. These are secondary sources. Not as good as the primary source, but still pretty good.

The Message, however, is not a direct translation from the original languages. It is one man’s paraphrase of an English translation. It is a tertiary source. The worst kind of source. (Unless, God forbid, someone paraphrased the Message. And then I have no idea what we would even call that. A forthiary source?).

Now, I am not going to be so legalistic to say that you cannot ever preach from the Message. Although I will say that it is not my favorite.

What I am saying is do not call the Message what it is not. It is not a translation. It is not on the same level as the ESV, NLT, NIV, NKJV or any other translation out there.

The Message is a paraphrase. Eugene Peterson rewrote the Bible in his own words hoping to make it more understandable.

It carries about the same weight as if I were sitting with you in a coffee shop and from the top of my head summarized Genesis 1.

It might be helpful. I would get most of the details right. I might even be able to directly quote a lot of it. But it is not the best.

If you really want to know what Genesis 1 has to say, would you rather me tell it, or open a Bible and read it for yourself?

So if you use the message in a sermon, please stop the madness. Just call it “The Message paraphrase” or “The Message.” Please don’t call it “The Message translation.”

Thank you.

Am I alone or does this bother anyone else? What are some of your preaching pet peeves?


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By | 2017-01-04T00:15:45+00:00 July 23rd, 2013|


  1. Adam Tisdale 07/27/2013 at

    It is a translation of sorts as it comes from the original, but I get your point. It is misleading to call it a translation.

    • Brandon 07/27/2013 at

      Thanks Adam. That’s what I was trying to get at. It needs a third category of its own. I guess calling it a “paraphrase” did not sit well with some people. But putting it on an equal level as other translations doesn’t feel right either.

  2. J.T. 07/23/2013 at

    “The Message is a contemporary rendering of the Bible from the original languages, crafted to present its tone, rhythm, events and ideas in everyday language.”
    From the very first page of the book!

    Peterson was a Greek and Hebrew professor at a Seminary. He started translating to contemporary language when he preached to his congregation and was approached to do the the whole Bible that way.
    “Out of necessity, I became a translator, daily standing on the border between two worlds, getting the language of the Bible that God uses… into the language of Today…”
    In the “Introduction to the Books of Moses” he leaves a “note on translating the name of God” about the Hebrew word “I have translated as GOD.” In the introductions to the sections, he makes several mentions of translation decisions he made.

    Why are people continuing to say that The Message is not a translation?
    Is what he has done that much different from what Tyndale did?

    • Brandon 07/23/2013 at

      JT, I appreciate your response. I was not aware that Eugene Peterson used the original language for the Message. Thanks for pointing that out.

      But even using the original language, you cannot call the Message a translation. At best, he translated the original text to English and then paraphrased it. It is still a paraphrase. Many phrases are omitted, and many are added that aren’t in the original text. It doesn’t stay true to the original language.

      If it is a direct translation, then it is a very poor one at best. (A good article showing differences can be found here )

      The goal of this article is not to discredit the Message. I am not that legalistic to say that nobody can use it. I just don’t believe you can rightfully call it a translation.

      • J.T. 07/23/2013 at

        Kudos for acknowledging that you didn’t know.
        EVERY translation is necessarily an interpretation. And they don’t all agree. That’s why we have more than one. But we don’t compare word counts. There are charts out there like the one you linked that do the same thing for the King James and NIV versions of the Bible.
        (Do you really think that Eugene Peterson has some dark magick agenda he is subtly trying to push? REALLY?)

        I’m not saying I use it. I’m not saying it’s a good translation. But it IS a translation. It’s fine if you don’t prefer it, but give credit where credit is due. Peterson worked hard for many years to produce it. The Message has enhanced worship for some people, and gotten people back to the Bible for whom it had seemed to become old, stale, hard-to-understand.

        • Brandon 07/23/2013 at

          I think we may have to agree to disagree here. Just to be clear, I have nothing against Eugene Peterson. I don’t think he had evil intentions. I just don’t think the message can be called a true translation.

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