Review: The Message 100

Just a few years ago, I was not a fan of The Message, Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible. I could never put my finger on it. Perhaps I found its vocabulary a bit too colorful. Perhaps I thought one man surely couldn’t “write the Bible.” I’m not sure. I just knew I didn’t like it.

But then I met Eugene Peterson.

I didn’t meet him in person. I met him watching an old pastor share stories in YouTube interviews. I met him at the gym on my iPod in seminary guest lectures. I met him on vacations and on cold, dark mornings in books on pastoral ministry and prayer. I easily noticed that he always exalted Jesus, never failed to remind me of the earthiness of Scripture (it’s a raw, honest, messy place), and imaginatively articulated that God is always up to something in the world.

I started reading The Message. And I came to see that it was produced by the hands of a blue-collar pastor. No, not a guy who also swung a hammer for a living, but a faithful minister who worked hard to get the message of the Bible into the hands and hearts of his congregation. As a pastor myself, I identified with this. Is there anything more important? Peterson’s solution was to produce a translation that fit the language of the world in which his congregation lived. He became a bridge-builder between two worlds, the world of the Bible and the world of today.

The Message 100 is Peterson’s latest effort to get the Bible into the hands and hearts of God’s people. In the preface, he writes about his translation process as a pastor:

Out of necessity I became a ‘translator’ (although I wouldn’t have called it that then), on the border between two worlds, getting the language of the Bible that God uses to create and save us, heal and bless us, judge and rule over us, into the language of Today that we use to gossip and tell stories, give directions and do business, sing songs and talk to our children (A8).

Peterson calls his translation a “reading Bible.” It’s not mainly a Bible to study (though Peterson admits that is important and his work does not replace other versions). Instead The Message is designed to get you lost in the text so that you are awakened to God and his story.

And that’s where The Message 100 is especially helpful.  It is the entire text of Peterson’s The Message divided into 100 readings—100 chronological sequences—of God’s story. Each reading covers anywhere from a few to several chapters of the Bible. The readings are chronological according to when they were written (so, for example, Readings 1-4 consist of Genesis; Readings 5-8 covers Job; the Apostle John readings round things out in Readings 97-100 ).

The Message 100 will help you experience the Bible the way it was intended to be experienced—it’s more like reading a novel than a series of propositional truths or Aesop’s Fables. The Bible is the “unfolding story of God revealing himself to the people he dearly loves” (A15).  The Message 100 will help you see this with minimal distractions (chapter and verse numbers are in small print in the margin). The readings are divided up and sectioned-off based on author’s intent and literary contextual clues. You could easily work through the entire Bible in 100 days by reading through this work.

Let me add one more thing you might like to know.. While Peterson himself wrote The Message, he isn’t accountability-free. In the forward, U2 frontman Bono writes, “Peterson is upfront with us in saying that his own translation…is a paraphrase. That we should receive it as through the filter of his own life as a pastor” (A5). That’s important and encouraging. But more than that, page A13 lists twenty translation consultants from respected seminaries, colleges, and universities who have reviewed Peterson’s work to ensure that it is accurate and faithful to the original languages. There are times when Peterson appears to do more interpreting than translating (e.g. Genesis 3:16). But there is never a major doctrine in question and it happens too infrequently for me to throw the whole Message baby out with the linguistic bath water. Besides, Peterson began as a biblical language scholar. With academic accountability, a reverent approach to Scripture, and a pastor’s heart, Peterson is someone I can trust.

I heartily commend The Message 100 to you. If you are skeptical, then read it with a standard Bible version close by. But read The Message and get lost on that bridge Peterson has kindly built for us, the bridge between the language of then and now. Find yourself in between the two worlds of the Bible and Today. While you are there, hear the God of the universe (and the bridge) speak, and discover his world, his plan, his beauty, his salvation. And enjoy him there.