Write Your Own Message Bible

What do I mean write your own Message Bible? First, The Message Bible is a paraphrase Bible written by Eugene Peterson.  I’ve often found myself gently saying, “It’s not a translation it’s a paraphrase” when references to The Message would come up.

Many folks like The Message.  To a point that’s fine if it’s used for what it is, a paraphrase.  People have told me that it’s great to use during devotions though I wouldn’t recommend it for deep Bible study.  Actually, I don’t think you need to use The Message at all.  Let me explain.

Let’s look at why Peterson wrote The Message.

“While I was teaching a class on Galatians, I began to realize that the adults in my class weren’t feeling the vitality and directness that I sensed as I read and studied the New Testament in its original Greek. Writing straight from the original text, I began to attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original language. I knew that the early readers of the New Testament were captured and engaged by these writings and I wanted my congregation to be impacted in the same way. I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat.'” (Source)

He wanted his adult students to feel in English what he did from New Testament Greek. More life and connection. I understand that and it’s a good motive. But why rely on someone else’s paraphrase?  We have some pretty very good Bible translations available today. Good in the sense of translation from Greek to English. Good in the sense of being fairly easy to read. So here’s my challenge to forgo The Message.

There are many challenges in life. Learning the Bible so we can know God better is no exception to life’s challenges. Some passages in Scripture require harder work to understand than others. People are different and have different levels of understanding. This doesn’t stop all of us from working hard at other areas in life. Pick your category of hard work: family, marriage, parenting, friendships, career, crafts, hobbies, sports, etc.

Take your passion and focus it towards knowing God. Depending on where you are in your understanding it may be wise to first go to your pastor(s) and get guidance. Instead of The Message, study the Bible yourself to better understand the meanings of words and phrases. Take that understanding through prayer and journal your own paraphrase of the verses you choose. Don’t we all paraphrase Scripture at one time or another during conversation? You may also grab a book to help you understand more of how to understand what you’re reading. How about a break down of suggestions?

Suggestions for Study

Of course, there are many more resources, especially, as you advance in knowledge.  These suggestions are just a start.  Of course, my message isn’t as much about The Message as it is about encouraging Bible study to experience the richness of Scripture as you grow and know God better.  So study, learn and make your own paraphrase. Who knows, you might even take up Greek and Hebrew next!

Work hard, it’s worth it…


Let's connect!

tagged as in Culture,theology

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Will Adair July 14, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Okay just have to say this for posterity sake.

I think the The Message Bible should have the following warning label: warning slightly watered down for easy consumption, may cause gas.

or maybe a tag line:
The Message: paraphrasing the divine away with witty man made one liners today. Holy Spirit optional.

As for your book suggestions I really recommend adding Mark Dever’s Promises Made and Promises Kept. Dever is the pastor over at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I would say the text is well worth adding to any Christians library.
.-= Will Adair´s last blog ..100th post! time for a blues song =-.

2 Mark|HereIBlog July 14, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I actually thought about Dever’s two books, but forgot as I was typing. I’ve added those two excellent books.

Thanks Will.

3 Wayne Leman July 14, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Important post, Will. Thanks for expressing these helpful ideas. I have just linked to your post from the Better Bibles Blog.
.-= Wayne Leman´s last blog ..Why Cal Wants a Gender Neutral Bible Translation =-.

4 Aaron July 16, 2009 at 7:35 am

I think it’d be great if it actually was labeled “Paraphrase” rather than being passed off as a translation. That said, God in his mercy saved me while reading the Message paraphrase’s gospel accounts (it was the first Bible I read).

Great suggestions for study, Mark. Hope you’re having a swell day.
.-= Aaron´s last blog ..Everyday Theology: Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child =-.

5 Wayne Leman July 16, 2009 at 11:15 am

I think it’d be great if it actually was labeled “Paraphrase” rather than being passed off as a translation.

Peterson has made it clear that The Message is a paraphrase. It is not passed off as a translation.
.-= Wayne Leman´s last blog ..Write your own paraphrase =-.

6 Aaron July 16, 2009 at 11:37 am

Peterson does, the publisher doesn’t. But anyway…
.-= Aaron´s last blog ..Everyday Theology: Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child =-.

7 Dan Smith July 17, 2009 at 11:05 pm

I was skeptical as I read the title to your post, but man you hit it on the mark! I absolutely love the idea of jotting down your own paraphrases as you study. It will help me in my studies and as I help some of the guys on my ship that I’m working with. We’re all learning the Bible as we go, although some are further along than others. Writing our own notes and paraphrases should help us a great deal as we grow with the scriptures.
.-= Dan Smith´s last blog ..Places I’ve been: Hong Kong =-.

8 Mark|HereIBlog July 17, 2009 at 11:53 pm

Wayne, Aaron and Dan, thanks for the encouragement!

Dan, I’m glad the post title did it’s job. (I think) 🙂

9 Dan Smith July 18, 2009 at 12:09 am

Your title did the job perfectly! It got me hooked, and then the rest was in the writeup. Such a joy to read good writing.


10 Chris Roberts July 19, 2009 at 9:04 pm

The Message is actually an odd category. It is a translation. Peterson worked with the original languages to bring the Bible into English. Older paraphrases like The Living Bible are pure paraphrases – taking an English Bible (KJV) and rewording it into “modern lingo”. The Message is a translation of the original languages.

But it is also a paraphrase. He did not try to do a literal translation or any form of dynamic equivalent. He translated the Bible into his own words, his own expression of what he thought the Bible was teaching.

So it is a paraphrase, yes, but it is also a translation.

11 Catherine July 20, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Something that I had found on the subject of Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” bible would make me extremely wary to spend much time reading this paraphrase. Here is a Peterson comment that made me gasp. I’ve seen it several times now..and still does not bode well with me. From Peterson’s book “Eat this Book”, the take-away point is that man is not meant to read the Bible on his own. He makes the statement, “It is not sufficient to place a Bible in a person’s hands with the command, ‘Read It.’ I say why not? The first step to studying the Bible is to read it.

I like John MacArthur’s comment on the second step of interpreting it. “Letting the Holy Spirit be your teacher (1 John 2:27), search the Scripture He has authored, using cross references, comparative passages, concordances, indexes, and other helps. For passages that remain unclear, consult your pastor or godly men who have written on the issues involved.” I think it’s the same thing that you were talking about above Mark, when you said to keep your pastors close.

The other steps to studying God’s Word involves evaluating, applying and correlating and are generally discussed in MacArthur’s short article on the subject here:

I agree with you Mark and think that there are many better translations of the Bible than Peterson’s paraphrased version. The most important thing is spending time daily in God’s Word, in regular prayer time, and in Bible study with qualified Bible teachers. If you are a new believer, it doesn’t get any better than going through an entire year in a one-on-one discipling relationship with a godly mature believer.

12 abclay July 20, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Thank you Mark.


13 Mark|HereIBlog July 20, 2009 at 10:02 pm


Appreciate your thoughts. Bible study isn’t easy and we ought not to be scared of it. Especially, with a good pastor and all of the resources available to us.

14 Mark|HereIBlog July 20, 2009 at 10:04 pm

Chris, sounds like you’re saying that Peterson did what I am suggesting except that he started with the original languages. So, ultimately it’s still a paraphrase. 🙂

15 Mark|HereIBlog July 20, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Anytime brother. I’m just glad that some edification can be found in my writings from time to time.

16 Dave July 30, 2009 at 9:05 am

Hello from the east coast of South Africa. I have been using The Message for two years now. I have a bookshelf full of study bibles in almost every translation available and yet the one that is found next to my bed is you guessed it, The Message aka the un holy bible as my wife calls it. She bought me my first copy after Bono had endorsed it during the U2 elevation tour. I have spent the last thirty five years studying the bible to the point of becoming arrogantly ignorant. I was always trying to be doctrinally correct about everything. The Message changed that for me. I now read it or in most cases listen to it on my i pod, and then try and think how I can simply live it. Surely thats more important then searching the scriptures trying to be right all the time?

17 Mark|HereIBlog July 30, 2009 at 12:56 pm

Dave, I don’t get your comment.

Surely thats more important then searching the scriptures trying to be right all the time?

Where did I advocate searching the Scriptures trying to be right all the time?

I believe you’ve missed the point of my post. But let me try to understand your own statement in context.

I now read it or in most cases listen to it on my i pod, and then try and think how I can simply live it. Surely thats more important then searching the scriptures trying to be right all the time?

If you are not searching Scriptures with the intent of rightly understanding them, what is it exactly that you are thinking on and simply trying to live?

18 Dave July 30, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Hi Mark, you are quite correct. You did not say that in searching the scriptures one has to be right all the time, nor was I implying that you did. If I gave you that impression I apologise. I am simply saying that I had reached a point in my life where I felt all my studying of the scripture from numerous versions of the Bible has led me to realize the more I think I have got it all worked out the less I am living out what I know. Where Petersons paraphrase has helped me is that it is generally kept free of what I have termed Christianese vocab. This has simply helped bring a fresh take to a lot of new testament passages that I have read so many times that I can quote them without them seeming to mean anything anymore. I believe there are two ways to read scripture and both have their place. One is to gain knowledge but the other is to obey. The Message has helped me with the latter. I am not suggesting it is better than any other translation, I am just endorsing that it has been and currently is the “version” of scripture that currently works for me. Hope that clears this up. On that note I have also been dabbling in another translation that is not very well known here in South Africa, that being the HCSB. That also seems to have caught my attention, do you know much about it?

19 Mark|HereIBlog July 30, 2009 at 4:15 pm


Sorry if I took your comment the wrong way. It just seemed a bit off the path of my post since was just offering suggestions. My point is really to do the study like you have done so you can write out the verses for yourself instead of relying on someone elses (The Message) paraphrase.

Funny, I was studying the Puritan’s method last night via Joel Beeke and it seems they would not divorce the study of theology from its practice.

I don’t know much about the HCSB. You might check out: Introduction to the HCSB.

20 Mainstay Ministries April 20, 2011 at 5:05 am

The Message is actually a great read. It has enlightened and taught me a lot.

21 Paul March 5, 2012 at 12:42 am

Deut. 4:2 ‘Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. (KJV)

The “Lord Jesus Christ” appears 81 times in King James Version of the Bible. “Lord Jesus” is mentioned 115 times in the King James Version of the Bible.

The “Lord Jesus Christ” or the “Lord Jesus” is not mentioned, not even one time in the Message.

“Jesus our Lord” appears 7 times in the King James Version of the Bible. “Jesus our Lord” is not mentioned even once in the Message.

Do you think that omitting the “Lord Jesus” and the “Lord Jesus Christ” is an accident?

The Message omits completely Matthew 7:17-20, all 4 verses! Matthew 5:35-37 are also omitted. Why?

22 Julie July 3, 2012 at 6:41 pm

No mention of the occult and new age terminology that “the message” is littered with (and I mean litter in EVERY sense of the word). Interesting, church.

I hope we AS ONE BODY wake up and begin to listen to THE Holy Spirit not just anyone with extra letters after their title.

The message a the white elephant in the room. 🙁

23 Rev.Mark Alan Pendergraft September 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I tell people to Read and Hear God’s Word also Use E-Sword its a Free Study Software.
If you Read anything about The Bible make sure you have your Bible with you so you can check it.

24 Rev.Mark Alan Pendergraft September 22, 2012 at 3:42 pm


Previous post:

Next post: