ViewpointNew Bible translation – The Message – is a notable achievement

Recently, I completed a 30-day Ignatian retreat in Los Angeles (I hope you are all impressed!). The central feature of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises is intensive reading of key scripture passages on Jesus’ life a number of times a day. I must say that I often found the exercise hard going for the reason that I already knew the scripture passages almost by heart and could not find much new material for reflection.

I told my retreat director about this, and he gave me a copy of a Bible translation entitled The Message, a new version in modern language that seeks to render the scriptures in a fresh and striking manner.  He said I should use it alongside the New American Bible I was using for the retreat.

At first I was skeptical of a Bible version with the title The Message, never having been a fan of modern popular versions such as the Good News Bible.  But, I was won over. Reading the fresh and popular language of The Message, alongside the more formal style of the New American Bible, enabled me to find much food for thought.

For example, this is how Psalm 23 is translated:

God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.

     You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from.

     True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.

     Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.

The Message is not well known among Catholics, as it was produced by Eugene H. Peterson, a respected Protestant scripture scholar and pastor, with the assistance of an impressive list of expert advisors. As expected, it lacks the additional books found in the Catholic Bible.

However, a Catholic version has now been published, called The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition. This edition takes Peterson’s translation and adds the Catholic books missing from the Protestant Bible (including Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Baruch, Wisdom, Sirach, and additions to Esther and Daniel).

The translator of the additional books is William Griffin, a Catholic friend of Peterson’s. Griffin said he used the New Latin Vulgate (the official Latin translation). As a Latinist, the Vulgate posed no difficulty for him; the challenge was in finding contemporary English words, expression, and idioms to complete the work.

The Message has not been without its critics. Some have judged it watered down, distorted, and misleading--sometimes using language guaranteed to shock. Blogger J.R. Miller is highly critical: “By updating the Scriptures in modern street language, Peterson removes the historical and religious content, resulting in a book far removed from the day and culture in which it was written.”

Peterson does not reject such criticism out of hand, but states that his purpose was to overcome his frustration as a pastor in trying to communicate the message of the Bible in language familiar to his readers, However, he told Robert McClory of the National Catholic Reporter:  “I do not recommend . . . [that]  passages from The Message  be read at church services, and I feel uneasy when I hear it’s been used in that way.”

I recommend highly The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition, and find it very helpful for reading alongside The New American Bible, with which we are familiar from the liturgy. This edition is available from Acta Publications; the hardcover costs $28.87 and the paperback is $24.59.

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