The Message (MSG)

The Message Bible is a paraphrased or amplified Bible written by Eugene H. Peterson. He wanted to make an English translation that had more punch and was more obviously relevant to today’s issues. Is it accurate? Answer: No, the goal is to get an emotional impact. It is not a solid Bible translation to use for study.


  • A single person created this translation.
  • This translation is not trying to accurate. It’s goal is to convey the emotional impact he felt when reading the NT in the original Greek.
  • This is a free paraphrase. Mr. Peterson worked to make the text relevant to the people he preaches to.

All you need to know

Mr. Peterson was asked, “do you think The Message will be well suited for reading in worship?” He said no, it was not:

When I’m in a congregation where somebody uses it in the Scripture reading, it makes me a little uneasy. I would never recommend it be used as saying, ‘Hear the Word of God from The Message.’ But it surprises me how many do. You can’t tell people they can’t do it.

So, the author himself doesn’t think it’s good to rely only on this translation. He thinks it’s valuable for Christians because it helps you feel the emotional impact he feels when translating it. But no one should rely on it as their sole translations. Done and done.

The purpose

Why make this translation? Peterson wrote the Message to convey the emotional feeling he gets when reading the New Testament in the original Greek:

While I was teaching a class on Galatians, I began to realize that the adults in my class weren’t feeling the vitality and directness that I sensed as I read and studied the New Testament in its original Greek. Writing straight from the original text, I began to attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original language. I knew that the early readers of the New Testament were captured and engaged by these writings and I wanted my congregation to be impacted in the same way. I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat.’

He wanted to have a little more punch when he was preaching. Most people understand the need to paraphrase a passage or to explain a passage differently than written. That can be useful. But it’s not an accurate translation, it’s a paraphrase. And paraphrases lean even more heavily on the understanding or misunderstanding of the translator. The purpose for this translation is not to be an accurate translation.

One online conservative Bible commentator has very negative criticisms of this translation. This commentator mistakenly thinks that literal word-for-word translations are the best. (They are not.) While he is wrong on the value of literal translations, he summarises the Message well:

Instead, what we have here is a free paraphrase of the text, often very eccentric, with many unlikely renderings, lengthy insertions and omissions, and other problems; but to criticize this work for its many inaccuracies would be to miss the whole purpose of its author. Peterson’s purpose in this is to present something new and provocative at every turn, something vivid and unusual, in order to stir up the dull minds of people who have become bored with their familiar Bibles.

His method is comparable to that of a preacher in the pulpit, who dwells on one thing for a while and then rushes over another, alternatingly serious and jocular, doing whatever he can to maintain the attention of his audience.

The Message is a paraphrase that tries to get across the Mr. Peterson’s understanding of the Bible. It focuses on what he wants it to focus on, and skims what he is less interested in. It shifts in tone like a preacher trying to inspire the people in the pews. Or, trying to just keep their attention.

A paraphrase

Some people have said that this is not a paraphrase. They think that because Mr. Peterson translated directly from the source languages. And I see their point. Usually a paraphrase starts with an English translation of the Bible. Using study notes or devotional notes, they retell the story in their own words. Since Mr. Peterson used his own knowledge of the language it appears he skipped the important step of the paraphrase. He didn’t skip this step, he just did it in his head.

This is a paraphrase. A paraphrase is when you say something using your own words. The Message is Mr. Peterson telling the Bible with his words. That’s why in the above quote he objects to the idea that the Message is God’s words. He knows the translation is not the original words written English, but his own words describing the Bible.

In short, it’s not a very accurate Bible, as professor Mark D. Diven said:

Most troubling is The Message, which I like to abbreviate as the MESS, because that’s what it is from the standpoint of accuracy.

Verse Comparisons

This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: “Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.”
Matthew 1:22 NET

This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term
Matthew 1:22 MSG

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people.
Matthew 5:13 NET

Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
Matthew 5:13 MSG

Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
John 3:5 NET

Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind hovering over the water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom.
John 3:5 MSG

In the same way, wives, be subject to your own husbands. Then, even if some are disobedient to the word, they will be won over without a word by the way you live, when they see your pure and reverent conduct. Let your beauty not be external – the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes – but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God’s sight. For in the same way the holy women who hoped in God long ago adorned themselves by being subject to their husbands, like Sarah who obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You become her children when you do what is good and have no fear in doing so. Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. In this way nothing will hinder your prayers.
1 Peter 3:1-7 NET

The same goes for you wives: Be good wives to your husbands, responsive to their needs. There are husbands who, indifferent as they are to any words about God, will be captivated by your life of holy beauty. What matters is not your outer appearance — the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes — but your inner disposition. Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way, and were good, loyal wives to their husbands. Sarah, for instance, taking care of Abraham, would address him as, “my dear husband.” You’ll be true daughters of Sarah if you do the same, unanxious and unintimidated. 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 so your prayers don’t run aground.
1 Peter 3:1-7 MSG

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Cor 6:9-10 NET

Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining 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.
1 Cor 6:9-10 MSG

Further Reading

  • The Message at Wikipedia
  • The Message at Bible Researcher (warning: Michael D. Marlowe has spent a lot of time combing facts about Bible translations. However, his interpretations of them are based on his values. Values I strenuously object to. His selection of quotes were excellent and I have used them here.)
  • About the MSG at Bible Gateway
  • I Didn’t Want To Be Cute at Christianity Today

All My Translation Notes