Dangers of the Message Bible

“Encounter the Healing Love and Power of the risen Jesus Christ.”


By Bill Subritzky

Bill Subritzky’s Comments and Concerns on the Translation of The New Testament Called: “The Message”

Bill Subritzky examines ‘The Message’ translation. In this critique Bill says, ‘The Message’ is one man’s translation of the Bible unlike the New King James Version which was produced by 130 top Biblical scholars. Bill Subritzky says, we must understand that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and great care must be taken that all translations are accurate and reflect exactly what the Holy Spirit is saying.

This is a comparison between one man’s translation of the New Testament (The Message) and with the New King James Version produced by one hundred and thirty top Biblical scholars from a broad cross-section of evangelical Christendom.


1. We must understand that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and great care must be taken that all translations are accurate and reflect exactly what the Holy Spirit is saying.

2. At the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the work of the Cross. As we know, Christ became our sin-bearer and delivered all those who believed from the power of sin and gave them the gift of eternal life. Before He went on to the Cross Jesus Christ promised that the Helper, the Holy Spirit would come and that He would convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. This is His most important work.

3. In the world today there are many that are calling evil good and the good evil. This is the work of the enemy.

4. One of the ways in which the enemy seeks to defeat the work of the Holy Spirit is to say that sin does not exist, or to cause confusion as to what is sin. For example, the way God calls homosexuality an abomination (Leviticus 18:22). Many churches are embracing homosexuality as normal and are ordaining homosexuals. Again “living together” without marriage is becoming the norm in many societies. God calls this fornication for which the penalty is spiritual death.

Thus the plan of the enemy is to create ignorance as to what sin really is. On the other hand, the Scriptures are very clear and define sin exactly.

5. It is therefore extremely sad to see that a work such as “The Message” omits much of what the Scripture calls sin and there is gross error on such matters as holiness. So far as our Christian walk is concerned these are basic issues. If sin is going to be dispensed with, or at the very least minimised, then the work of the Cross is nullified.

It is for these reasons that I now make the following comments concerning “The Message”.

6. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

(NKJV): “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, [10] nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”

(a) (The Message) “Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom.”

(b) Comment:
In “The Message” the work of the Holy Spirit is limited by omitting the words: “fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, sodomites, thieves, covetous, drunkenness, revilers, extortioners”. Thus ten categories of sinners who will not inherit the Kingdom of God is reduced to a group who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it!”

This infers that as long as sex is not used or abused then it is okay. The fact that the person may be having sex outside of marriage, or be an adulterer or a homosexual or a sodomite, does not matter so long as they are not using or abusing sex or using or abusing each other. Thus the Word of God is completely changed to make it say exactly the opposite to its original meaning.

We note the use of the words “use and abuse the earth and everything in it”. This is shades of New Age and Environmentalism and is a complete departure from the Word of God. The point is made that we must be concerned for the earth but all reference to sinners such as fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, etc. is completely omitted. Surely every danger signal is now triggered. Concern for the earth is placed ahead of concern for people who belong to those categories which are omitted. They are left out while concern for the earth is included!

(c) According to John’s Gospel, chapter 16, verses 8 through 11 we read:
“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment, of sin because they do not believe in Me; [10] of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; [11] of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

(d) How can the Holy Spirit convict of sin when it is taken out of the Word of God? This particularly relates to sexual immorality which is the only sin to affect a person’s own body.

7. 1 Corinthians 6:18-19

(NKJV): “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. [19] Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”

(a) (The Message) “Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy leaving us more lonely than ever – the kind of sex that can never “become one”.”

(b) Comment:
Sexual immorality is reduced to “the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy”. Obviously sex that has commitment and intimacy is in order, whether or not it is within marriage or outside of marriage or whether it is heterosexual or homosexual.

8. 1 Corinthians 3:17

(NKJV): “If anyone defiles the temple of God I will destroy him. The temple of God is holy, which temple you are.”

(The Message) “You realise, don’t you that you are the temple of God and God Himself is present in you. No one will get by with vandalising God’s temple, you can be sure of that. God’s temple is sacred and you remember, are the temple.”

(a) The Scriptural warning that if anyone defiles the Temple of God, God will destroy him, is reduced to the words: “no one will get by with vandalising God’s Temple, you can be sure of that.”

9. Galatians 5:19

(NKJV): “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness,”

(a) (The Message) “It is obvious what kind of life develops of trying to get your own way all the time. Repetitive, loveless, cheap sex, a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage, frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness.”

(b) Comment:
A foundational truth dealing with immorality which includes a married person having sex outside of marriage, or any person having sex outside of marriage is reduced to “repetitive, loveless, cheap sex”. A young person reading the Scripture could therefore say that so long as their sex was not repetitive, not loveless and not cheap it was in order, no matter with whom it was conducted. This therefore gives everyone a licence to have sex so long as it does not fall into this category. There is no inference concerning marriage and the need for it, and in fact it promotes the attitude so prevalent to the world that it is no longer necessary to be married to have sex.

(c) The word “uncleanness” in the New King James Version describes all kinds of sexual defilement. The word “lasciviousness” means :”lewd, lustful, exciting sensual emotions”. In “The Message” these words have become “a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage.”

10. Following is a comparison between The New King James Version and “The Message” of the words used in Galatians 5:19-21:

  1. New King James – The Message
  2. Idolatry –  Trinket gods
  3. Sorcery –  Magic show religion
  4. Hatred  – Paranoid loneliness
  5. Contentions or strife  – Cut-throat competition
  6. Jealousies  – All-consuming yet never satisfied wants
  7. Outbursts of wrath  – Brutal temper
  8. Selfish ambitions  – An impotence to love or be loved
  9. Dissensions  – Divided homes and divided lives
  10. Heresies  – Small-minded and lopsided pursuits
  11. Envy  – The vicious habit of depersonalising everybody into a rival
  12. Drunkenness  – Uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions
  13. Revelries  – Ugly parodies of community

(b) Comment:
To say that idolatry is “trinket gods” totally limits its definition. It is obvious that many of the words used in “The Message” are a poor, or even misleading translation. For example to call sorcery “magic show religion” in no way defines it. Similarly, to refer to hatred as “paranoid loneliness” or jealousies “all-consuming yet never satisfied wants” or “selfish ambitions” as “an impotence to love or be loved” in no way directly defines these words. Similarly, to say heresies are: “small minded and lopsided pursuits” and that envy is “the vicious habit of depersonalising everybody into a rival” in no way does justice to these words. Or saying that revelries or wild parties are “ugly parodies of community” again, no way defines this sin.

11. Ephesians 5:5

(NKJV): “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

(a) (The Message) “You can be sure that using people or religion or things just for what you can get out of them – the usual variations on idolatry – will get you nowhere and certainly nowhere near the Kingdom of Christ, the Kingdom of God.”

(b) Comment:
This translation again completely leaves out any reference to fornication and uncleanness.

12. Romans 1:27

(NKJV): “Likewise the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men, committing what is shameful and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due”

(a) (The Message) “Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either – women didn’t know how to be women, men didn’t know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men – all lust, no love.”

(b) Comment:
The words, “committing what is shameful” have been replaced by the words, “all lust, no love”. It is not a question of them being shameful, it is simply a question of not doing sexual acts which have lust and no love. What a word to give to young Christians!

The other major issue is that “receiving in themselves the penalty of the error which was due” has been omitted. The Aids plague first broke out in the homosexual community in the late 1980s and became very widespread in the early 1990s. Many Christians believe that this is part of the penalty referred to in Scripture. Why were these words omitted? Was it political correctness?

13. 1 Timothy 2:12-14

(NKJV): “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. [13] For Adam was formed first, then Eve. [14] And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”

(a) (The Message) I don’t let women take over and tell men what to do. They should study to be quiet and obedient, along with everyone else. Adam was first, then Eve. Woman was deceived first – our pioneer in sin – with Adam right on her heels.

(b) Comment:
This infers that Adam was deceived whereas the Scripture clearly says he was not deceived.

14. Titus 2:5

(NKJV): “to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.”

(a) (The Message) “By looking at them the younger women will know how to love their husbands and children, be virtuous and pure and keep a house, be good wives.”

(b) Comment:
No mention of obedience to their own husbands!

15. 1 Peter 3:1

(NKJV): “Likewise you wives be submissive to your own husbands”.

(a) (The Message) “Be good wives to your husbands”.

(b) Comment:
Thus there is no mention of submission.

16. Matthew 18:21-35, in verse 35

(NKJV): “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

(a) (The Message) “And that’s exactly what My Father in Heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”

(b) Comment:
What right has the translator to desecrate the Word of God in this way by adding the words: “anyone who asks for mercy?”

(c) As believers, the Scripture clearly calls upon us to unconditionally forgive others just as God has unconditionally forgiven us. To say that we must only forgive those who ask for mercy is a complete departure from Scripture and is a denial of the work of the Cross in our own lives.

17. Galatians 5:22

(NKJV): “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,”

(a) (The Message) “He brings gifts into our lives much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a worldliness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.

(b) Comment:
The love referred to in Galatians 5:22 is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. This is clearly God’s agape love, seen in the gift of His Son and is not the result of any goodness in us (Romans 5:8). It does not always run with the natural inclinations and is not an impulse from the feelings. It seeks the welfare of all, works no ill to anybody and seeks an opportunity to do good to all men. It expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect God towards unworthy objects.

“The Message” changes this wonderful love of God to ‘things like affection for others’. This reduces the fruit of the Holy Spirit to a mere form of natural love which anybody, saved or unsaved, can have towards others. This is heresy.

Similarly the word “goodness”, which is a fruit of the Spirit is reduced to: “a conviction that basic holiness permeates things and people”. This is a basic contradiction of Scripture containing as it does, the inference in the flesh there can be holiness apart from God. As Scripture says, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.” Romans 7:18. Similarly Romans 3:23 tells us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

18. Hebrews 12:14

(NKJV): “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:”

(a) (The Message) “Working at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you will never so much as get a glimpse of God.”

(b) Comment:
In other words holiness is getting along with each other and with God! Surely this is total corruption of the Word.

19. Hebrews 10:31

(NKJV): “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

(a) (The Message) “nobody’s getting by with anything, believe me.”

(b) Comment:
Thus dire warning in the Word of God that: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” is watered down to: “nobody’s getting away with anything, believe me.”

20. 1 Peter 4:18

(NKJV): Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

(a) (The Message) “If good people barely make it, what’s in store for the bad?”

(b) Comment:
This equates being righteous with being good. This is heresy.


I have only highlighted some of the discrepancies between “The Message” and the true Word of God.

When Jesus was tempted by the devil He responded to the devil on three occasions by saying: “It is written”. That shows the importance that Jesus Himself placed on the exact Word of God. In the case of “The Message” we find that the Word of God has been drastically altered, thus reducing it, or in some cases eliminating its authority or changing its meaning completely.

All Scripture is inspired. 2 Timothy 3:16. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,”

By altering its meaning so drastically in so many cases the author of “The Message” has attacked its very inspiration.

At best “The Message” is an aberration. At worst it is a corruption of the word of God. The fact that it is entitled: “The New Testament in contemporary English” will lead many young and innocent Christians to believe it is the true Word of God. As can be seen from the above they will have no true understanding of the meaning of sin and any other issues such as holiness. These are fundamental aspects of the true faith.

Pastors who use this translation are in grave danger of misleading their flocks. In no way can this work be commended for Bible study for use in churches. In fact it can be used as a potent instrument against those who seek to preach true righteousness, conviction of sin and of the day of judgement. In other words it can hinder the work of the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of many, thus causing them to stumble.

Jesus said: Mark 9:42
“And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”

I tremble for those who promote or use “The Message”.

Compiled by Bill Subritzky and produced by Dove Ministries www.doveministries.com

What kind of message is THE MESSAGE?

Written by Berit Kjos, a respected researcher and author.
Source: http://www.crossroad.to/Bible_studies/Message.html

The Message DELETES the reference to God’s holy name, adds requests not voiced by Jesus, and changes the meaning of other verses. Follow the link and learn more about the phrase, “As above, so below.”

Matthew 6:9-13 (NKJV)
“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”

The Message:
“Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best –
As above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you
and forgiving others.
Keep us safe
from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!”

The Message distorts the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son:

John 10:30: “I and the Father are one.”

John 14:28: “…The Father is greater than I.”

The Message: “I and the Father are one heart and mind.”

The Message: “The Father is the goal and purpose of my life.”

The Message distorts the nature of God:

Romans 15:13: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power (His sovereign power and authority) of the Holy Spirit.”

The Message: “Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!”

Riding a spreading tide of publicity and enthusiasm, Eugene Peterson’s The Message is sweeping into Christian bookstores, homes and churches from coast to coast. In the first four months after its mid-July lease, 100,000 copies of this “New Testament in contemporary English” were printed by NavPress. Seventy thousand books were sold. Thousands were either donated or distributed at reduced prices to youth leaders, Young Life staff, and pastors who could share Peterson’s message with their followers. Apparently, most readers were delighted. “The Message is so good it leaves me breathless,” writes popular author Madeleine L’Engle [1] in her endorsement.

Considering this ground-swell of acceptance, we do well to ponder the question: What is Peterson’s Message?
“The Message is the boldest and most provocative rendering of the New Testament I’ve ever read,” writes Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe, general director of “Back to the Bible” broadcast and former pastor of Moody Bible Church. “The Message is certainly destined to become a devotional classic – not to mention a powerful pastoral tool,” adds Pastor Jack W. Hayford.

What does Eugene Peterson himself say? In his introduction to The Message, he tells us that “This version of the New Testament in a contemporary idiom keeps the language of the Message and fresh and understandable in the same language in which we do our shopping, talk with our friends, worry about world affairs, and teach our children their table manners….”

This sounds like a good idea, but what if essential Biblical concepts are not part of our everyday conversation? Should we then rewrite God’s holy Scriptures to fit today’s more shallow and worldly communications?

Remember, we are dealing with God’s holy unchangeable Word – not an ordinary book. God owns His message, we don’t. Only His own, well-guarded words can be presented as absolute truth. Yet, readers who trust NavPress and the endorsement of Christian leaders such Warren Wiersbe and J. I. Packer view this book as an authentic translation of the Bible rather than as Peterson’s personal, politically correct interpretation.

Throughout both Old and New Testaments, God forbids us to distort His Word. Additions and deletions are strictly forbidden in Scriptures like Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32, Proverbs 30:6, Galatians 1:8-9 and Revelation 22:19. Acts 17:11 exhorts us to learn from the Bereans who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Eugene Peterson would probably agree. His own interpretation of 2 Corinthians 4:2 holds him accountable to this timeless standard:
“We don’t manoeuvre and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.”

While the above verse corresponds to the original Greek, many other passages do just what The Message promises not to do: they “twist God’s word to suit” human inclinations. In fact, the very next sentence (verses 3-4), fails the test. It does not “keep… the whole truth on display.” Instead, it deletes the original references both to “those who are perishing” and to the glory of “Christ, who is the image of God.”

It doesn’t take a Greek scholar to recognise the appalling distortions of God’s holy Word. Any Bible student willing to compare Peterson’s Message with a Greek/English Interlinear Lexicon and take time to look up key words in a credible New Testament Bible dictionary will discover alarming deletions, distortions and additions to the original text. If Peterson is right, then all our other Bibles – the KJV, NASV, NIV, Greek-English interlinear Bibles – are false.

See for yourself. We have compared quotes from The Message with corresponding Scriptures in Bible version generally considered “authoritative.” Most of the time, we have used the New International Version — not because we like the NIV or use it ourselves (we don’t), but because, in all fairness, we wanted to choose a standard version that would come closest to Eugene Peterson goal of an “understandable” language. Please check the difference yourself by comparing the passages below from The Message with your own Bible.

To emphasise differences, corresponding words and phrases are underlined. Please pray for discernment as you check the following additions and deletions:

* DELETES words that imply occult spirituality. SUBSTITUTES more finite, human influences:

1 Timothy 4:1 “…in later times some will abandon the faith and follow seducing spirits and doctrines of demons.” (KJV)

The Message: “…as time goes on, some are going to give up on the faith and chase after demonic illusions put forth by professional liars.”
[We’re not just dealing with illusions. Deceiving spirits and the timeless doctrines of demons are far more effective in deceiving people than illusions and professional liars.]

* DELETES reference to “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” and “sinful nature” (the “flesh”):
Ephesians 2:1-3: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature [2] and following its desires and thoughts.”

The Message: “It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat.”

* MINIMISES occult dangers, DELETES consequences:
Thessalonians 2:9: “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”

The Message: “The Anarchist’s [3] coming is all Satan’s work. All his power and signs and miracles are fake, evil sleight of hand that plays to the gallery of those who hate the truth that could save them. And since they’re so obsessed with evil, God rubs their noses in it – gives them what they want. Since they refuse to trust truth, they’re banished to their chosen world of lies and illusions.”
[Peterson’s tendency to delete the supernatural and minimise the consequences of sin reminds me of Rom. 1:18 – “The wrath of God is being revealed…against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth…”]

* DELETES references to sinful nature and occult practices, minimising Satan’s power:
Galatians 5:19-21: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”

The Message: “It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religions; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved…. ugly parodies of community. I could go on.”
[Idolatry and witchcraft are not the same as trinket gods and magic-show religions! We’re dealing with spiritual forces far greater than magical illusions.]

*SOUNDS like the song “Awaiting You All” by George Harrison (Beatles) through “chanting the names of the Lord:”
“You don’t need a horoscope or a microscope to see the mess that you’re in
If you open up your heart You will know what I mean…
Now here’s a way for you to get clean
By chanting the names of the lord and you’ll be free
The lord is awaiting on you all to awaken and see.”

Colossians 2:10: “…and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.”

The Message: “You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realise the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him…”

* DELETES words like adulterers and homosexual which identify specific sins and ADDS a politically correct reference to environmentalism.
(Recall the environmental terminology in Eph. 2:1-3, “filled your lungs with polluted unbelief…”)

1 Corinthians 6:9-11: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders [sodomites] nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…”

The Message: “Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom. A number of you know from experience what I’m talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you’ve been cleaned up and given a fresh start….”

* DELETES reference to obedience and to the grace of our Lord:
Romans 16:19-21. “Everyone has heard about your obedience [the Greek word consistently refers to obedience or obeying] [4], so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”

The Message: “And so while there has never been any question about your honesty in this matters – I couldn’t be more proud of you! – I want you also to be smart, making sure every “good” thing is the real thing. Don’t be gullible in regard to smooth-talking evil. Stay alert like this, and before you know it the God of peace will come down on Satan with both feet, stomping him into the dirt. Enjoy the best of Jesus!”

* DELETES “sexual immorality.” ADDS “avoids commitment and intimacy:”

1 Corinthians 6:18-20: “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.”

The Message: “There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much a spiritual mystery as a physical fact. As written in Scripture, ‘The two become one.’ Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever – the kind of sex that can never ‘become one.’ ….In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for ‘becoming one’ with another.”[5]
[One could conclude that “commitment and intimacy” or “becoming one”, not marriage, set the boundaries for acceptable sex.]

* ADDS words that qualify homosexuality, providing a loophole for committed homosexuals who “love” each other. DELETES “God gave them over…”:
Romans 1:26-27: “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”

The Message: “Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either – women didn’t know how to be women, men didn’t know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men – all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it – emptied of God and love, Godless and loveless wretcheds.”

[This strange wording leaves a loophole for homosexuality to be permitted if it was an expression of love, not lust – which many gay couples claim today. In other words, lust becomes the sin, not the choice of a same-sex partner. The consequences of disobedience, “due penalty” seems broader than “emptied of God and love…” Historically it includes sexually transmitted diseases as well as spiritual death. That politically incorrect possibility is deleted here.]

* DISTORTS truth with a contemporary bias:
Romans 3:19-20. “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law, rather through the law we become conscious of sin.

The Message: “This makes it clear, doesn’t it, that whatever is written in these Scriptures is not what God says about others but to us to whom these Scriptures were addressed in the first place! and it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everyone else? Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.”
[This interpretation endorses today’s false standard of tolerance: Don’t expose or criticise another person; just deal with your own sin. It defies God’s guidelines concerning counseling, correction, restoration and accountability – and supports today’s tendency to condone sin. See Romans 1:32 – but not in The Message. It deletes this important point.]

* DELETES “spiritual” – spiritual readiness to receive God’s resources for ministry. [6] SUBSTITUTES “live creatively,” usually a reference to human resources, not God’s:
Galatians 6:1-2: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

The Message: “Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out.”

* DELETES references to submission. ADDS marital equality:
1 Peter 3:1, 7: “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands…
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life…”
The Message: “The same goes for you wives: Be good wives to your husbands, responsive to their needs…
The same goes for you husbands: Be good husbands to your wives. Honor them, delight in them. As women they lack some of your advantages. But in the new life of God’s grace, you’re equals. Treat your wives, then, as equals….”

* DELETES references to sexual immorality, repentance, tolerating sin, the God who searches hearts and minds…
Revelation 2:22: “I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. so I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds…”

The Message: “But why do you let that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet mislead my dear servants into Cross-denying, self-indulging religion? I gave her a chance to change her ways, but she has not intention of giving up a career in the god-business. I’m about to lay her low, along with her partners, as they play their sex-and-religion games. The bastard offspring of their idol-whoring I’ll kill. Then every church will know that appearances don’t impress me.”

* MISLEADING emphasis:
Romans 15:4-5. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God…”

The Message: “Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterise us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir… our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God…”

[No mention of endurance and hope – which implies triumph in the midst of suffering, as we remain confident that God will do all He has promised. In light of Peterson’s tendency to minimise the disciplining side of God, his emphasis on a warm, feel-good God seems to distort God’s revelation of Himself. Notice, “follow Christ Jesus” is replaced by a Jesus who “gets along with us.”]

* REPLACES “reconciliation” (a spiritual work based on the cross) with “friend.” ADDS “drop their differences” (Could he be promoting a PC form of unity?):

2 Corinthians 5:20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

The Message: “We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.”

* ADDS a promise not found in the original Greek:
Romans 8:35-37: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”

The Message: “Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:”

The last passage seems consistent with Peterson’s refusal to mention those “worst sins” in the various New Testament lists of fleshly expressions. It also helps explain his commendation of medieval mystic Julian of Norwich, whose teachings – often quoted by controversial priest Matthew Fox, founder of Creation Spirituality – fueled the fourteenth-century flowering of pantheistic mysticism. In his article titled “Spirit Quest” [7] (Christianity Today, 11-8-93), Peterson wrote, “Single-minded, persevering faithfulness confirms the authenticity of our spirituality. The ancestors we look to for encouragement in this business – Augustine of Hippo and Julian of Norwich, John Calvin…. Teresa of Avila – didn’t flit. They stayed.”

Since Julian of Norwich is a spiritual model to the man who has interpreted God’s Word for today, let’s take a look at what she believed. Indeed, her teachings seem to echo some of the cultural biases that thread through The Message. They also fit today’s uncritical search for experiential, feeling-centered spirituality. In his book, Soul Friend, Kenneth Leech describes some of her convictions:

“Because she held strongly this belief in the closeness of man and God, Julian has an optimistic assessment of man and the universe, and a belief that sin is relatively unimportant… Moreover she claims that ‘God showed me that sin need be no shame to man but can even be worthwhile.’ She seems to mean by this that sins are disguised virtues, for ‘in heaven what sin typifies is turned into a thing of honor.’ [8]

In Julian’s theology, we find the fullest expression of the concept of the femininity of God. ‘God is really our Mother as he is Father,’ she says. ‘Our precious Mother Jesus brings us to supernatural birth, nourishes and cherishes us by dying for us, giving us the sacrament…. Her mysticism brings tenderness and ‘homeliness’ to the understanding of God our Mother. [9] (Emphasis added)

The same article introduces another spiritual model. Peterson writes that “Baron Friedrich von Hugel, a Roman Catholic layperson, was one of the most respected spiritual directors in England in the early years of this century.” He devotes an entire paragraph to this leader whom the Encyclopedia Britannica [10] describes as “the precursor of the realist revival in philosophy and of the theological study of religious feeling.” [11]

Like the culture around us, many churches today seem to emphasise good feelings and subjective experience rather than uncompromising faith based on God’s revealed truth – the only foundation for a mature relationship with God. Peterson’s definition for spirituality in his article seems to reflect this drift from solid rock to shifting sand – along with an alarming focus on self rather than God:

“Intimacy: we want to experience human love and trust and joy. Transcendence: we want to experience divine love and trust and joy… We hunger for divine meaning, someone who will bless us. And so spirituality, a fusion of intimacy and transcendence, overnight becomes a passion for millions of North Americans…. It is heartening that our continent is experiencing a recovery of desire to embrace intimacies and respond to transcendence….” (Emphasis added) [12]

Peterson rightly points out the need to discriminate “between the true and false” as people “ransack exotic cultures and esoteric groups in a search for wholeness.” [13] But what does he mean when he tells his readers to acquire “a biblical imagination – entering into the vast world of the Bible and getting a feel for the territory, an instinct for reality.” What part did his imagination play in the formation of The Message? (See Shepherds & Prophets who mislead their flock )

The inspired scribes of God’s holy Word documented facts and observations. They were led by the Holy Spirit, not personal imagination. God was the Creator, not man. No one should know this better than J. I. Packer, the beloved author of Knowing God. Yet in his endorsement of The Message, he uses the same questionable terms — words popularised by the New Age quest for personal empowerment and unbiblical energies. “In this crowded world of Bible versions,” writes Packer, “Eugene Peterson’s blend of accurate scholarship and vivid idiom make this rendering both distinctive and distinguished. The Message catches the logical flow, personal energy, and imaginative overtones of the original very well indeed.”

What does Packer mean? Does the Bible really have imaginative overtones?

Peterson’s introduction to Revelation gives that impression. He identifies John as a pastor on Patmos, who “is preeminently concerned with worship” — not sharing God-given visions of end-time events. This first century pastor is also “a poet, fond of metaphor and symbol, image and allusion” who challenges “our intelligence and imagination.”

Historical facts and absolute truth made the Bible unique among the world’s religious documents. Pagan myths, on the other hand, spring from imagination, personal feelings and mystical experiences. Yet, the author of The Message repeatedly stresses the latter. He writes, “We are after what we came for in the first place: intimacy and transcendence, personal friends and a personal God, love and worship.” [14]

It seems paradoxical that someone who desires intimacy with God, would minimise or ignore the main obstacles to that intimacy: our sinful nature, our specific sins and our lack of submission and obedience to God. Could an answer to this paradox lie in the strange spirituality he propounds in his article?

I realise that Peterson’s intent was “to recapture the tone” and subtleties of the Greek language. Whether or not he achieved that (personally I believe that his language reflects neither the heart of Jesus nor His followers’ fiery devotion to a holy sovereign God and the integrity of His Word), this noble goal can never be an excuse for “dumbing-down” [15] Scripture to match our culture’s downward trends. The fact that essential Biblical terms are no longer part of our everyday conversation doesn’t give us license to soften God’s message. Shouldn’t we rather aim to use Scriptures to lift our communications to the level where our language reflects the eternal perspective of God’s revealed truth? That seems to be the exhortation of Deuteronomy 6:4-7 and 2 Timothy 3:16. When we simplify Scripture by removing its mysteries, controversies and exhortations toward God’s highest, we demean our Lord and misinform believers.

Some might ask, “Who are you to question the wisdom and scholarship of respected Church leaders?”
The sad fact is that shepherds and leaders throughout history have turned from truth to embrace “new” teachings. We are all called to “examine Scriptures” and test our leaders as did the Bereans and Ephesians. [16] Our ability to exercise this kind of discernment comes from the Holy Spirit – as God tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:5: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant.” (NASV) Sad to say, Peterson deleted this wonderful promise of God’s sufficiency for any task He assigns us.

“But isn’t most of The Message accurate?” ask some. Probably. So is the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Bible. However, it only takes the distortion of a few key passages to reflect an entirely different message. When any part — even “the smallest letter” — of God’s Word is changed, the integrity of the whole is lost.

If The Message is accepted as Biblical truth, three distortions of New Testament teachings could spread and permeate the Church, conforming “truth” to popular consensus and false unity:
• Since God is love, He wouldn’t be so cruel as to cause someone to suffer, perish or burn in hell. So don’t mention Biblical consequences or punishment.
• Since God forgives, don’t be too concerned about specific sins such as homosexuality or adultery. Jesus wouldn’t want you to offend someone.
• Since God is tolerant, don’t correct others. Be tolerant of all, except those who criticise something you like. (This politically correct attitude censors much-needed rational, objective criticism as a corrective force.)

The consequences of twisting God’s holy Word are devastating. [17] Throughout history, whenever God’s people followed distorted teaching and ignored genuine truth, they would compromise with popular culture and drift back to earth-centered spirituality. It’s happening all around us today. The masks for timeless paganism – whether they are Babylonian, Canaanite, Roman or Native American – make little difference. All these polytheistic/pan-theistic/monistic belief systems mocked God and established deadly connection between gullible seekers and demonic spirits. Today’s most seductive masks bear an alarming resemblance to Christianity. History documents the results – both personal and cultural: a tragic blend of plagues, drought, famine and wars. (I document these in Under the Spell of Mother Earth.) Humanism was often an intermediary step (see Psalm 12:4) and continues to provide an effective tool for banishing God until spiritual hunger draws people to all kinds of pagan, earth-centered alternatives. Romans 1 outlines this timeless slide.

The signs of compromise are multiplying – even in God’s churches. Congregations have traded truth for myth and Mother Earth for God our Father. Sunday school curricula teach Native American shamanism and equate the Creator with the Great Spirit. Gay pastors teach spiritual guidelines, and children’s pastors teach Bible “truths” through comical skits that mock God.

What we need is truth – the whole truth and nothing but. Yet Peterson, willing to use words like consecration and antithetical, refuses to use the word sanctification and deletes “holy is your name” from the Lord’s prayer. How can we cry over sin and apostasy when the holiness of God is concealed from His Word?

As we face an explosion of false teachings and spiritual substitutes both in churches and in the world around us, we had better be faithful stewards. It’s time to awaken all God’s people to test, guard and follow the truth our King has committed to us. Therefore,
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ… Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:1-5

[1]Author of Newberry winner A Wrinkle in Time and many other books filled with occult imagery and psychic practices such as kything – a form of mental telepathy and communication between people, trees and any other part of creation. Kything is growing in popularity within God’s churches, especially among women.
[2]Sinful nature, a condition dealt with by the cross, is not the same as “doing what we felt like doing….”
[4]The New Englishman’s Greek Concordance of the New Testament (Wilmington, Delaware: Associated Publishers & Authors, 1972), 772.
[5]This may sound good but makes me uneasy. This sacredness of the body and the goal of “becoming one” fits right into New Age and Neo-pagan views of the physical body and sex. It seems to me the NIV reference to oneness is a warning that we not become one with the wrong person (v. 16) – not a standard for immorality. Nor do commitment and intimacy define the Biblical boundaries for sex. Whether or not Peterson intended to use these terms rather than the NIV’s prostitute to define right or wrong sex, it could be easily be understood that way.
[6]Apparently “spiritual” refers to those who are filled with – and walking in – the spirit, thus ready to allow God to work through him.
[7]Peterson may not have realised that the title of his article, “Spirit Quest,” is the name given to the Native American initiation into adulthood. Indian youth still journey into the wilderness to connect with their guardian spirits or animal spirits. This occult ritual is promoted in classrooms nationwide and spiritual seekers flock to America’s sacred “power places” (Sedona, Mt. Shasta, Alberta…) in search of their personal spirit guide. Today, unlike a decade ago, the demonic personalities respond quickly to the summons – with devastating consequences to the host. Psychologists in Alberta, Canada, face an explosion of tormenting “multiple personalities” among gullible spiritual seekers and testify to acceleration of demonic activity in the area. This is no time to minimise the power of Satan, the destructiveness of sin, or the overcoming power of God.
[8]An Introduction to Christian Mysticism, Lectures given at the Abbey of Gethsemani, MS. (1961), 145. Quoted by Kenneth Leech, Soul Friend (HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), 146.
[9]Roy Bailey and Mike Brake, Radical Social Work (1975), 1. Quoted by Leech, 147.
[10]Encyclopedia Britannica, XI (Chicago: William Benton, 1968), 810.
[11]”Spirit Quest,” 30.
[12]Ibid., 28.
[14]Ibid., 29.
[15]An expression used often to describe what is happening in public education, where teaching is geared to the lowest common denominator.
[16]Acts 17:11, Revelation 2:2
[17]Personal consequences are listed in Scriptures like Gal. 1:8-9; 2 Peter 3:16 and Rev. 22:18-19.

Bill Subritzky

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