I’m not much on birthdays (or any holidays, for that matter). I do remember the birthdays of all those in my family of origin, of three of my grandparents, and of my own, little nuclear family. That’s about where it ends. I only know birthdays for one niece, one nephew, one aunt, so I probably ought to be embarrassed that I do remember the birthday of my childhood baseball hero every year. That guy is a year younger than my father, but let’s just say Dad’s character and life patterns are infinitely more admirable than the former Major Leaguer’s. I have once again not mentioned the baseball player’s name on his birthday, because I don’t want to call any more attention to him.
April 30, though, is a birthday anniversary of something I will call attention to: the initial invitation for Eugene Peterson to write The Message.
Portions of The Message were published serially for a period of about ten years, starting in 1993, and I intentionally purchased each new volume until the whole was at last published in 2002. It was difficult for me to divest myself of the separate volumes such as The Pentateuch and The Prophets, but it didn’t make sense to keep them all. I now have only a complete hardback edition, a separate hardback copy of The Wisdom Books, a paperback Psalms, and a full electronic, versified edition.
Speaking of “versification,” one helpful-yet-annoying feature of the original work is that it does not contain traditional “verses.” I say “helpful” because not having those little numbers can guard against the breaking up of thoughts as one reads longer passages. I say “annoying” because the lack of verse numbers makes it difficult to find a particular spot and to compare with other versions. There is a place for both, so I’m glad to have non-versified editions in print but also glad that my Logos software contains a versified version for easier pinpoint access.
I could not presume to add what so many others have said in praise of the translation, and I don’t care to expend effort refuting or responding to its judgmental detractors. (No translation is above criticism, and I’d rather be more granular in my approach to this one and all others.) Rather, I just want to recognize this milestone. Here, I’ll allow Peterson’s own introductory words to speak for themselves. He tells of the time in which the seed of The Message took root:
I lived in two language worlds, the world of the Bible in the world of Today. I had always assumed they were the same world. But these people didn’t see it that way. So out of necessity I became a “translator,” . . . daily standing 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, sings songs and talk to our children.
And all the time those old Biblical languages, those powerful and vivid Hebrew and Greek originals, kept working their way underground in my speech, giving energy and sharpness to words and phrases, expanding the imagination of the people with whom I was working to hear the language of the Bible in the language of Today and the language of Today in the language of the Bible. . . .
The Message is a reading Bible. It is not intended to replace the excellent study Bibles that are available. My intent here . . . is simply to get people reading who don’t know that the Bible is read-able at all, at least by them, and to get people who long ago lost interest in the Bible to read it again. . . So at some point along the way, soon or late, it will be important to get a standard study Bible to facilitate further study. Meanwhile, read in order to live, praying as you read, “God, let it be with me just as you say.”
– Eugene Peterson, Preface to The Message, 2002, © Eugene Peterson, published by NavPress
Now, especially if you have never read from The Message, you might try it once in a while. Try it for a change. Try it for a perk. Try it for a comparison. Try reading long passages. You might be surprised at how quickly one of Paul’s letters goes, or how marvelously new one of the gospels or the books of Hebrew history sounds. Whether or not you get into The Message, read, consider, and study the message by any helpful means.
Happy creative birthday to Eugene Peterson for his distinctive accomplishment in The Message, with thanks to the editor who wrote the invitation letter received more than a quarter-century ago on April 30, 1990. No translation is perfect, but this one went a long way in making scripture come alive for readers.
For more Bible Anniversary reading . . . another translation of note, now more than four hundred years old, celebrated a birthday in 2011. The KJV was a massive achievement in its time and was deserving of celebration and praise for 200-300 hundred years, I figure. Read my anniversary farewell wishes to the Authorized Version (KJV) here.