It’s time we stopped reading, buying, and recommending The Message. We who hold to a high view of Scripture—that the Bible is the very word of God, inspired by God, inerrant in all it affirms—need to carefully reconsider our use of The Message. There actually wouldn’t be a problem at all if The Message were sold and treated as an interpretation of the Bible, or an expansive reading of the Bible. But as long as The Message continues to be marketed and used by preachers and teachers as a Bible translation, it is imperative that we ask the question of whether it is an accurate translation or not. I believe that the answer to this question is: The Message is not an accurate translation of what the original authors wrote.
I expect to receive some pushback from some at this point. “But The Message ‘speaks’ to me! I understand it in a way I don’t any other translation!” That’s fine…as long as you are treating The Message as one person’s interpretation of the Bible, similar to the way you would treat a commentary. But as long as you’re reading The Message as though it were a Bible translation, you have a substantial problem.
What is the problem? The problem is that The Message imports thousands of “meanings” into the biblical text that don’t exist in the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic originals as well as frequently dropping meanings that are actually in the text. This is what makes it different from any of the other English Bible translations on the market, even the “freer” translations. All the other major translations are attempting a meaning-for-meaning translation of the biblical text. The Message is only translating meaning-for-meaning if you reduce the meaning of the phrase “meaning-for-meaning” to its lowest conceivable meaning. (You might need to re-read that sentence…)
Let’s back up. How do you evaluate whether a translation is a good translation? You ask whether meaning has been added, and whether meaning has been lost. Every time a spoken word or text is translated from one language to another, there is at least a little bit of meaning lost or a little bit of meaning added. Ask any friend who is fluent in two languages whether or not this is the case. Your bilingual friend will confirm that no translation from one language to another is identical in every way. There is always at least a little bit of meaning added and a little bit of meaning lost.
The best translation is the translation that loses the least amount of meaning and at the same time adds the least amount of meaning. The goal of a good translation is to match the propositional, functional, and affective meanings of the source text as closely as possible. The aim of a faithful translator must be to add as little meaning as possible and lose as little as possible.
This is especially important for the Bible. We are talking about God’s Word after all…God’s inspired Word…the book God breathed into existence...
That’s why we should cease our use of The Message, at least as long as it is being sold and treated like a Bible translation. Thousands upon thousands of meanings that never crossed the minds of the biblical authors who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit have been imported into a text many of us treat as though it were a translation of The Bible, and almost as many meanings that are actually in the biblical text have been left out. This is intolerable if we truly believe that no one has a right to add anything to or subtract anything from God’s Holy Word. As long as The Message is viewed and used as a Bible translation, I recommend that we stop quoting from it, preaching from it, or even reading it.
(Note: After I wrote this post, my friend Gary Manning posted on the Good Book Blog five example passages where The Message either adds or loses meaning--or does both. Click here to read Manning's excellent post.)