This is the last of the blog posts unearthing my interview with Eugene Peterson
. Much thanks to him for his time and his wonderful attitude. It was a great, great honor to speak with him and learn from him.
Lots of the questions seem to swirl around Dr. Peterson’s creation of The Message
bible, especially with the scholarly theological types. I was intrigued to see what brought about his work in crafting it as well as his perspective concerning rather it was a translation from the original languages or not.
Rick: Thousands upon thousands of lives have been touched by The Message. I think we’d all like to know what was going on in your life during the time you were writing it. Where were you, what were you doing, etc…?
Dr. Peterson: When planting a church… we met for three years in my basement. They were mostly non-Christians or half-Christians. I was going to teach them the Bible. After a couple of years of that I realized they weren’t getting it. I listened to them and gradually learned to live in their language world instead of getting them to live in my language world. As I did that I would translate something just for one person. The thing I did mostly was translate the Psalms into their language. I knew one of my main jobs was to teach people to pray. I would translate a Psalm and ask them to pray this. Let this shape your imagination. I did that for several years and some of them got published in magazines or journals. I wasn’t writing them to be published.
Someone at NavPress asked me to do the New Testament. I tried to do the gospels and it just wasn’t working. In my frustration I focused on the beatitudes. I took them to my wife to read. After this I knew I had found my voice.
Rick: How long did it take for you to complete The Message?
Dr. Peterson: About twelve years. I resigned my congregation and was a pastor/writer in residence. I did the New Testament in 18 months. I was astonished that it sold the way it did. I thought NavPress was out of their mind to ask me to do this. It took me ten more years to do the Old Testament.
Rick: Some have questioned The Message saying that it is not a translation from the original languages. How would you describe The Message?
Dr. Peterson: I always thought of it as a translation. People who say this normally know only one language, their mother tongue. People who know two or three languages know you can’t translate literally. I started paying attention to translations and found that the best translations were not at all literal. They were adapting the Greek to the British or American readers. They were trying to get the original language into the people’s language.
I had a safety net. I had a group of evangelical scholars who had written commentaries. I had one for every book of the Bible. I passed my stuff through them. They were able to review what I had written. Amazingly they did very little changing.