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.

Rescuing Little Ones with Jesus-like Love

I’m preparing to lead a discussion later this month on abortion as part of our summer Culture & Theology series at Grace Chapel. In my research, I ran across this article on Biblical Ethics in the ESV Study Bible. Here’s a snippet of that article discussing abortion in early Christian literature.

Against the bleak backdrop of Roman culture, the Hebrew “sanctity of human life” ethic provided the moral framework for early Christian condemnation of abortion and infanticide. For instance, the Didache 2.2 (c. a.d. 85–110) commands, “thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born.” Another noncanonical early Christian text, the Letter of Barnabas 19.5 (c. a.d. 130), said: “You shall not abort a child nor, again, commit infanticide.” There are numerous other examples of Christian condemnation of both infanticide and abortion. In fact, some biblical scholars have argued that the silence of the NT on abortion per se is due to the fact that it was simply assumed to be beyond the pale of early Christian practice. Nevertheless, Luke (a physician) points to fetal personhood when he observes that the unborn John the Baptist “leaped for joy” in his mother’s womb when Elizabeth came into the presence of Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus at the time (Luke 1:44).

More than merely condemning abortion and infanticide, however, early Christians provided alternatives by rescuing and adopting children who were abandoned. For instance, Callistus (d. c. a.d. 223) provided refuge to abandoned children by placing them in Christian homes, and Benignus of Dijon (3rd century) offered nourishment and protection to abandoned children, including some with disabilities caused by unsuccessful abortions.

The second paragraph is particularly intriguing to me (and my wife, I’m sure, though she doesn’t know I’m posting this!). What Christians did in the first century was actively seek to provide a better alternative than killing babies. They fostered and adopted abandoned children. As Carly and I anticipate our third child (a boy!) journeying from the waters of the womb to the air of earth, we are beginning to think and pray about how we can be a 21st century Callistus and Benignus. Christians must keep exposing the works of darkness, like abortion, because we know the true Story. But if we truly want to make an impact, we must live the true story by rescuing the most vulnerable among us.

This is not just an individual Christian endeavor—a James Pruch “thing.”. This is an all of us endeavor—a gospel thing. This is an all of us thing because, after all, this is exactly what God, in his mercy, did for all of his children. If you are a Christian, the Apostle Paul writes, you have been adopted through Jesus (Eph. 1:5). God has rescued you from the darkness and into his family of love (Eph. 2:4). Later in that same letter, Paul calls his readers to “imitate God as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1).

How might we imitate God in our cultural context, as it relates to rescuing babies, the most vulnerable among us? What will we do as local churches and as a global church to praise the glorious grace of God for our adoption (Eph. 1:6)? What will you do? Adopt? Foster? Respite care for other foster parents? Disciple women who go into pro-life pregnancy centers? Donate money to people who adopt (adoption is expensive!)? There are an abundance of possibilities!

When we rescue little ones—in any number of ways—we give ourselves up in Jesus-like love. Make no mistake, this is a call to die. But we are not calling little ones to die. It’s a call to die to ourselves. When Christians live like Callistus or Benignus, we are actually living like Christ. We are not saying, “You for me,” like abortion. We are saying, “Me for you,” like Jesus. We are saying, “I’ll give up my comfort, my convenience, my money, my time, my schedule, my reputation, my everything for you.”

Sounds like a better alternative. Doesn’t it?

Calvin on Abortion

From John Calvin’s Commentary on the Last Four Books of Moses:

For the fetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being, and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.

Psalm 88: A Paraphrase

This Sunday I’m preaching from Psalm 88. Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrase of that chapter inspired me to take a deeper look and draw out some of the obscurities of this ancient Hebrew song. Here is my best Petersonian effort at my own paraphrase.

Psalm 88

O Yahweh, you are my savior;
   All day and night I’m praying to you.
Please listen to me;
   Don’t plug your ears!
My life is a wreck,
   And I’m standing in my grave.
I might as well be in hell;
   I am weak and helpless,
like one freed to play on a dead-man’s playground,
   like a rotting corpse in a trash pile,
like those you’ve forgotten,
   because you’ve cut them off like an orphaned child.
You’ve put me in a dungeon,
   in a black hole with no exit.
And it’s because you’re angry with me,
   You’re waterboarding me and I can’t breathe.
You’ve made my friends leave me;
   I make them want to vomit.
I’m like a prisoner in my own body;
   I’m blinded by my tears.
I’m not giving up praying, O Yahweh;
   My hands are pleading with you to answer.
Do dead people marvel at your miracles?
   Do dead people sing your praises?
Is the sound of your never-ending love heard 6-feet under,
   or your faithfulness in the land of doom?
Can people see your works when it’s dark,
   or your perfections in the land of no memory?
But I’m not giving up praying, O Yahweh,
   Every morning I’m confronting you.
Yahweh—why are you pushing me away?
   Why are you hiding from me? Is this a game to you?
My life has been a wreck since I was a kid;
   I’m suffering from your beatings; I can’t stop them.
Your hot anger rips me to shreds like a tornado;
   You’re bomb blitzes are destroying me.
They are drowning me in a raging river all day long;
    I can’t look anywhere without seeing them.
And on top of all this you’ve made my lover and my friends run away from me;
    Darkness is now my only friend.

Jesus Is More Than a Marriage Ref

When we read Jesus’ teaching on divorce in Matthew 19:1-9 (or Mark 10:1-12), it’s easy to get bogged down in the details of who can get divorced for what reason. I did that extensively once—I wrote a position paper on divorce in seminary. But I think in the context of what Matthew (and Mark, of course) is doing in his Gospel, this passage goes beyond petty details. After all, the major Pharisaical schools of thought liked to quibble over details. That was their speciality.

But Jesus is more than a marriage ref. He is attacking the very heart of Pharisaism. That’s one of Matthew’s goals throughout the gospels. Look at what Jesus does.

After some Pharisees ask about what constitutes a legitimate divorce (v. 3), Jesus starts by saying, “Have you not read?” Jesus challenges them on the authority of the Scriptures. Haven’t you ever read what God said? Of course they’ve read it. They have it memorized. Every word. But Jesus isn’t looking for information. He knows they’ve read it. But do they obey it? Jesus’ question pierces through their me-centered approach to marriage and everything else for that matter. It’s one thing to affirm the Bible is God’s word. It’s another to obey it.

Then Jesus tells them the word they most certainly have read: “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female…” The climax of creation is God making humans “male and female.” It’s not one gender or the other.  God’s creative design was for a man and woman to be joined, not separated. “Can I divorce my wife for any cause?” (see v. 3) shows that the Pharisees get God, creation, image of God, and marriage all wrong.

Then Jesus goes for the jugular. The Pharisees appeal to Moses. Well, why did Moses command men to give divorce certificates to their wives? Jesus answers, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” At the heart of Pharisee belief was not self-sacrifice and forgiveness. It was ruthless justice and self-justification through strict adherence to the law. Moses’ law never commanded divorce, but allowed it and did so to keep vulnerable women safe in a society full of sinful Pharisee-type husbands.

This me-centered theology led to me-centered practice: what is the minimum she can do to me so that I can get out of this? That’s the crux. Jesus does say that divorce is allowable in the case of sexual immorality (v. 9), but his point is not so much to preside over divorce proceedings as it is cutting to the heart of a selfless, religious people who think they are honoring God’s law when, in fact, they are breaking his heart.

What’s going on in the bigger picture? The Pharisees are a microcosm of Israel who left their true Husband, Yahweh. And Jesus is going to show them that he is that true Husband. He’s on his way to Jerusalem, after all (16:21-28; 17:22-23; 20:17-19) to die for his Bride, forgive her (even of grievous sin!), wash her clean, and work mightily for her holiness—not kick her out in the cold. This is what Paul makes clear in Ephesians 5.

To the Pharisees, marriage was not about giving yourself up for the good of your spouse. It was about demanding and taking from your spouse so that you would be served. Jesus flips this on its head and shows that the religious elite truly have hard hearts, not obedient ones. Jesus will give himself up so that we come to see what marriage is all about—one man and one woman joined together before God in a loving, harmonious union of self-giving, forbearance, and forgiveness that points to a greater marriage: God’s with his people (cf. Hosea 1-3; Rev. 21:1-4).

Now the application for us becomes a bit more obvious—even for those of us with good marriages. I have never asked what’s the minimum Carly can do to me so I can send her away. But there’s a slice (sometimes a big one) of Pharisaism in my heart—and probably in yours. I too often make my marriage about me and what I can get out of it rather than about us and what I can give to my wife. I confess that my heart (which is Jesus’ point, after all) is all too ready to “send her away.” Not with divorce papers. But in the subtle, mini-divorces of angered silence, frustrated tones, sarcastic comments, and blame shifting.

If you think Jesus’ teaching about divorce is only for those with a marriage on the rocks you are fooling yourself. While we are asking what’s the minimum our spouse can do so we are justified in our literal divorces or metaphorical mini-ones, Jesus goes the distance to love his Bride by giving himself up for her. He’s saying, “It’s your hard heart that moves you send your spouse away when they wrong you. But I’m moved to run toward you and lay down my life for you, though you have wronged me.”

From the beginning, marriage was meant to be a living drama of God’s love for his people. His “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always, and forever love,” as someone once wrote. That’s the kind of love he has for us. That’s the kind of love he wants in our marriages.