Now, Contending for the Faith. In this regular feature, Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here’s this week’s question: “Dear Dave and T.A., I notice that you have a rather low opinion of The Message, by Eugene Peterson. I was wondering if you feel the same way about The Living Bible by Kenneth Taylor? If not, what’s the difference? If so, don’t you think they have value for young believers who have never read the Bible before?”
Tom: Dave, I don’t know how this happened, but it piggybacks on what we were just addressing, but let’s go first to paraphrases: The Message and The Living Bible. Is there any difference?
Dave: Well, I would say The Living Bible is not as bad as The Message.
Tom: But that’s a relative term.
Dave: Right. I don’t have them in front of me, Tom, and of course, as you know—you knew what these questions were going to be ahead of time. You could have studied up on it. I didn’t get that…
Tom: Dave, my job here is just to file them by you…
Dave: Right. Right. So I would have to try to think back in my mind—I could think of plenty of things in The Message, Tom. The Message twists—it not only twists, it destroys God’s Word, and how this man, Eugene Peterson, could have dared to take the Word of God and trash it as he has, and put his own words in, and change the meaning. And then say what a great honor it was for him to come up with another version of the Bible!
Now, I don’t think, as I recall—it’s years since I’ve read The Living Bible. It’s got a lot of…you know, Ken Taylor’s own ideas in there. It was written originally for his children to help them understand, and of course, I could see how it relates then to the flannel-graph.
Tom: But, Dave, look—both these guys, you have a personal interpretation…this is not a translation of the Bible. This is a personal interpretation of God’s Word. Now you could say, well, it’s kind of like a commentary. But no! It is a…and particularly…both of them, the New Testament, these are claims—the claims are that this is a New Testament translation, but it’s an interpretation, and it’s by one individual. How then can we check these guys out? If my church ends up using The Message as their Bible, or The Living Bible, how can I be a Berean? How can I check them out?
Dave: I think The Living Bible, he said it was a paraphrase. You don’t get that…
Tom: But it’s still used…
Dave: I understand. But you don’t get that honesty, quite, I don’t think, from The Message. But, Tom, you’re exactly right. You put your finger on a very important point. Here we are. We’re going to be going through a few more verses in John’s gospel. We’re going through John’s gospel. You and I are—we’re not paraphrasing it. We’re not saying this is what it says, but we’re giving you our idea; we’re trying to explain and understand, because the Bible has depths—we will never get to the bottom. You will never understand fully. But we always tell someone, “Check it out for yourself.” But now, if we wrote our own “version” of the Bible—let’s say, let’s get a transcript of all of our discussions on the Gospel of John, and we’ll write that out, and we’ll say, “This is what the Gospel of John says,” or “This is a translation of the Gospel of John,” then the person can’t go to the Gospel of John, because they think they have the Gospel of John.
So, as you point out, if your church is…they all are reading The Message or The Living Bible, whatever it is, well, then how are you going to check it out? This becomes the authority. But, as you say, it’s some man’s opinion. He has written that in there, and we want what God said, not what men said.
Tom: Dave, how does that differ from a literal translation of the Bible?
Dave: A literal translation—the translator is trying to go from the Greek or the Hebrew, in which it was originally inspired, and he’s trying to put that…the closest equivalent he can, in English, or Spanish, or Russian, or whatever it may be.
Now, we know there are no exact equivalents in some cases. So he does the best he can. But it is a translation…
Tom: Yeah, and it’s not usually by an individual—it’s by a committee of people who cross check each other.
Dave: Right. Let me put it like this, Tom: I speak in many different countries. We’ll be down in….well, I was just in Germany; we’ll be down in South America—I’ll be in Brazil. They speak Portuguese. I have translators. The translator is supposedly translating what I’m saying in English into French, or German, or Spanish. That’s fine. They do a good job. But if he starts preaching his own sermon, and he is changing the meaning of what I’m saying—I’m not God, but at least they ask me to come and speak, and it’s not fair for him to change what I’m trying to say into his own words, okay?
Translation is different. So that’s the problem with The Message, The Living Bible, these paraphrases.
Now, when it comes to flannel boards or little picture books for children, Paul said, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I thought as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Now you have to deal with a child in a different way. And to give a child some picture—I’m not even sure that that is the right thing to do. Why not give him the Word of God?
“Timothy,” Paul says, “you learned—as a child, you learned the Holy Scriptures that are able to make you wise unto salvation.” So he learned it from his mother and grandmother. No picture books, no flannel boards, nothing like that. Is it necessary? I don’t think it’s necessary. Is it helpful? It could be counterproductive.
All I’m trying to do is make a distinction between a little child that we deal with in a different way than adults.
Tom: Dave, I’m guilty of this. I taught children’s church, and I used to use the Picture Bible, and so on, and…but we found, and people can check it out—that visuals do not…they’re not as valuable as we think they might be. Sesame Street—research on that: yeah, it got children’s attention, but it didn’t help their learning per se; it just moved them into the realm of entertainment, of getting them excited about something, but in terms of actual learning, I don’t think you can prove it was valuable.
Dave: It took them out of the real world into a fantasy world as well, and that’s not helpful.