in a foreign land

When I lived in Glasgow the hunt for children’s resources, or guarded optimism, or even (once) a rain storm would occasionally drive me through the glossy glass doors of Wesley Owen. This was usually a frustrating experience. They wouldn’t have what I wanted. They would try hard to sell me things I didn’t want. And everywhere, there was the burble of eager young Christians being nice to each other. I feel somewhat guilty about this, but I have to confess: I always found it oppressive. After 15 minutes of being bombarded with niceness, I had to flee — grabbing whatever books I hadn’t had time to realise I didn’t want.

But one day, it was quiet, and I lingered a bit longer. I stayed long enough to look at what I though was a lovely new display of filofaxes — better and brighter than any I’d seen. To match any mood, any set of vestments, any handbag. But on closer inspection, I found they were not filofaxes, but bibles — of a sort. Row after row of beautifully bound books called The Message — a bible paraphrase that has been wildly successful in some circles.

Another confession: I haven’t actually read The Message yet. I have meant to. So many people have found it a helpful tool, and so many people are buying it in place of more formal translations, that I suspect it would be worth asking why.

So I was totally caught off guard when I read a version of the 73rd psalm on Gadgetvicar’s blog today. Take a look at it. Then read the 73rd psalm in the NRSV.

What do you think?

Is the version in The Message helpful? Shocking? Inaccurate? Refreshing?

And those of you who know more about this than I do: can any one comment on how people actually use The Message? Is it a ‘starter bible’ — with the idea that the paraphrase is read alongside other translations later. Or is there a whole new generation of Christians out there who think of The Message as their bible in the same way that so many think that it’s King James or nothing? And if so, how will it shape the church?

6 thoughts on “in a foreign land”

  1. For what it’s worth: I find – on a swift perusal – the contemporary version one-dimensional and limited. When I look at the more traditional version, I feel it holds the riches of possibility – because it’s not stuck in the (ephemeral) language of now. The modern version seems very approachable, but carries with it the dangers of approachability: facile understanding, lack of nuance and so on.

    But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

  2. Hmm, I agree Chris…I also think there’s more humility and understanding of human frailty in the traditional version. (For what it’s worth).

  3. I sometimes use it when we have a family service – our 7 year olds do the readings on that day. I have also used the Corinthians ‘love’ passage at a few weddings of unchurched folk. I show them both versions and that’s the one they go for. And I once used it on a retreat just because that passage was thought provoking (can’t remember which one) as a different translation can sometimes be. Quite a few folk came and asked me where it was from and went out and bought a copy on the strength of that. (And they were oldies!)

  4. While I usually use the NRSV, and from sheer familiarity (among other things) prefer the US BCP version of the psalms, I find it very helpful to have a different translation, especially one that startles me into thinking about it differently, when I’m on retreat. The director of my last 8-day retreat lent me a paraphrased Psalms that I just loved for that reason – and in that setting. I wouldn’t consider using “The Message” as my primary Bible, but it might be interesting to look at once in a while in prayer just to catch a different voice.

  5. (Hi from Romania by the way!) I have a copy of the Message NT and, whilst I’d never use it as my primary bible, and often get annoyed at its cheesiness, sometimes I’ve really been stopped short and challenged by the freshness of a phrase in it. I’ve also occasionally used it to figure out what on earth Paul (or whoever) might actually be saying, if I can’t make head nor tail of it in any other version.

  6. I, too, find the Message refreshing, when visited occasionally. It does challenge one to look again at familiar passages, and perhaps discover new angles. But it loses the poetry of the original (as all translations do, but this one more than most), and thereby loses the memorability of verses which can be recalled as life-guides at moments of flagging faith, e.g.,

    ‘You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterwards you will receive me with honour.’


    ‘God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.’

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