Coffee, Whiskey, and the Bible

There are three things that I take neat. Coffee, which is best when it is freshly made, hot, strong, and served black with no sugar. Whiskey, which is best when it is single malt, at least 12 years old, and served neat. Bible translations which are literal, getting as close to the Word of God as we can in English.

The common thread? I don’t like things that are watered down or adulterated. Now, I’m not a purist. On rare occasion, I’ll have some cream and sugar with my coffee. I’ll even have a drop or two of water in my whiskey to bring out the flavor. On still rarer occasions, I’ll read something other than a trustworthy word-for-word translation of the Bible (ESV being my current favorite) or the sturdiest thought-for-thought in my opinion, the NIV.

Imagine my shock when our pastor preached, on 1 John, from a Bible version that sounds like it should star Keanu Reeves: The Message Remix, subtitled, “Bible in Contemporary Language.” I listened politely, trying to get past my initial discomfort at not hearing something from the NASB, or, even, the normitive (for my Baptist church) NIV.

Our pastor is, in fact, a seminary graduate, and has a doctorate in Old Testament studies. He knows his onions, as they say. He’s also a brilliant preacher, and does not soft-pedal the Gospel. To my surprise, the Message didn’t, either. At least not in this writing of the evangelist John. It simply presented some of John’s difficult message in contemporary language.

Elsewhere, however, the Message can read like, to be gentle, a self-help pamphlet, God’s little twelve-step program. For instance, consider the Beatitudes of Matthew 5. First, from the ESV, Matthew 5:1-3:

1Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

2And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

3″Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The Message dumbs this down to this:

1When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down 2and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

3″You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“Climbing companions?” “…at the end of your rope?” Give. Me. A. Break. This is a ridiculous extrapolation and misses the fundamental point of those who are seemingly without God in their lives. The unthinking one who reads this might come away with a literal picture of a mountain climber who’s run out of rope.

But, in this day and age of hundreds of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to…”, I suppose I shouldn’t quibble about a Bible translation that’s been dumbed down to the Kindergarten level.

I know, I know. If even a crappy translation can bring a soul to Christ, it will be worth it. But my overall reaction remains this: people are smart enough to deal with the truth. Give it to them, don’t pre-digest it for them.

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One comment

  1. Great post!

    After seeing numerous side by side comparisons of The Message to other translations, I found that it just plain creeped me out! I specifically remember the scene (one of my most treasured Scripture portions) of Jesus at Gethsemane, and the wording was changed so drastically, if I recall correctly, Jesus’ sweating drops of blood wasn’t even mentioned? yipes!

    Anyways, I agree with you… give the Spirit Himself some credit, and the readers. I think the NIV or NKJV, etc. is plenty readable, and contemporary.

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