The mangled gospel of The Message, by the late Eugene Petersen

The Bible includes severe warnings against changing its text. It says that if you do change it, then you will never be saved:

Revelation 22:19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

Mr Eugene Petersen, a Presbyterian pastor, set out to change the Bible to be more palatable for profane readers, and recently passed away at the age of 85. He certainly sold a lot of his bible “The MeI’m going to add emphasis to “The Message” ssage” but now he’s dead, and in hell.  In hell?  Yes.  Call me uncharitable, but let’s have a look whether anyone would be saved by the words of his own book by comparing his rendering of the Romans road verses with the actual English Bible.

The quotations from “The Message” are labelled “FAKE”, and I’ve added highlighting.

1. You are a sinner

REAL Romans 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

FAKE Romans 3:10 “Scripture leaves no doubt about it: There’s nobody living right, not even one,”

Right out of the starting gate, “the Message” says that righteousness is equal to right living. This is a poor start. Besides all this, there are plenty of people living an outwardly righteous life, which makes this rendition nonsense.

REAL Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

FAKE Romans 3:23 “Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us”

“The Message” does not say that all have sinned, which is a second escape hatch for the self-righteous outwardly good person. The Bible goes beyond our incapacity to an actual determination that we come short.

What hard preaching does “the Message” teach here? Well, if you’re a not a good person, then you’re living a bad life, and you’re stuck in it.

2. Death and hell

REAL Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

FAKE Romans 6:23 “Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.”

Instead of sin being the transgression of the law, the Fake suggests that you have to sin really hard and for your whole life to be worthy of death. If you believe that, then salvation is simply a matter of moderating your sin. Eternal life is through Jesus Christ our Lord, which agrees with his words, “I am the way”. The fake term “delivered by” is weaker, and suggests a passivity, which is contradicted by the work “Master” which would make us “slaves” – as if salvation is by service.

REAL Revelation 20:14-15 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

FAKE Revelation 20:14-15 “Then Death and Hell were hurled into Lake Fire. This is the second death—Lake Fire. Anyone whose name was not found inscribed in the Book of Life was hurled into Lake Fire.”

Turning “lake of fire” into “Lake Fire”, makes the second death sound like a peaceful mountain lake with a cool name, like Lake Peterson and Lake Eugene. Then there’s the “Book of Life” as opposed to the “book of life” – it’s a title, but as a title, it loses its descriptive value. And then names are “inscribed” instead of “written” … as if the book is made of stone. It makes no sense. These confusing elements take the bite out of this verse.

REAL Revelation 21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

FAKE Revelation 21:8: “But for the rest—the feckless and faithless, degenerates and murderers, sex peddlers and sorcerers, idolaters and all liars—for them it’s Lake Fire and Brimstone. Second death!”

I had to look up feckless – it means lazy. Lazy people go to hell? No! Fearful people! Whoremongers are turned into “sex peddlers” – instead of just sleeping around, “The Message” says you must be really bad – a pimp. The thing missing in the “Message” is “shall have their part”. This tells the reader that the proper and right resting place is hell.  Also the burning of brimstone is gone.

What will we learn from “The Message”? Again: if you are a really bad person, then you deserve to go to hell, but there are many loopholes and uncertainties.

3. The cross

REAL Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

FAKE Romans 5:8: “But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.”

What is missing here? Sinners. “The Message” says you’re not a sinner, you’re just less useful. The truth is that Christ died for sinners, but the confusing concept of being useful to God is substituted. Suddenly God is needy of our help, that we should be useful to him. He’s not simply demonstrating his love any more, but has an ulterior motive to prepare us to be useful for him.  You would think he did it for himself … but the REAL Bible says that Christ died “for us”.  The “for us” is missing in “The Message”.

REAL 1 Peter 2:24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

FAKE 1 Peter 2:23 “He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing.”

“The Message” removes the atonement from the cross, and puts it on the path to the cross. It removes the death of the cross. It suggests sinless perfection is possible. It takes away the completeness of being healed – the past tense “ye were healed” – and substitutes vagueness. It even suggests that Jesus body was of a different quality to our own – a servant body, which he used, like a discarded piece of clothing.

What does “The Message” teach here about the cross? Well, it says that the cross makes us useful, and maybe even perfect. It does not teach that Christ died for sinners. It takes away death and life – it takes away the resurrection from the verse.

4. Salvation by faith

REAL Acts 16:30-31: And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

FAKE Acts 16:30-31: “He led them out of the jail and asked, “Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved, to really live?” They said, “Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you’ll live as you were meant to live—and everyone in your house included!””

I think this is where “The Message” gives itself away. Firstly, its salvation is merely a better life – not to be delivered from deadly peril – that is the question asked, even though the context is all about deadly peril. The answer given is not to believe, but to “put entire trust”. While this is technically correct, it obscures the simplicty of the gospel, which is salvation by faith. It also does not say you will be saved! It says if you do what they’re saying, then you will experience a change of life. Instead of eternal salvation, you are offered warmed up works of righteousness, which is nothing more than a stinking rag.

REAL John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

FAKE John 3:16 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”

“The Message” doesn’t know who Jesus is, because it thinks that “begotten” means “only”.  Actually, it doesn’t even know to keep its capitalisation consistent, and gives us “his Son”, which may be a subtle nod towards modalism.  Yet again, it does not offer eternal life, but worldly wholeness and prosperity. It makes faith a continuous process of “believing”, and takes away salvation as an event in which a man passes from death unto life on account of receiving eternal life!  “The Message” offers a salvation that promises to make you useful in this life, but which deals with your sin as a light matter.

Would someone who had believed the gospel obscure it in this manner?  What kind of person would do this?

REAL Matthew 16:26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

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