Is The Message a good Bible translation for personal study?
In our view the book The Message is not a valid translation of the Bible. At best, it is a commentary on the Bible, yet unfortunately one masquerading as scripture itself, and no commentary is a suitable substitute for scripture.
The book's author, Eugene Peterson, claims he was seeking to make the BIble more understandable. In the process, he reworded the text of scripture (to fit his own understanding) to such an extent that we believe it is unfair and irresponsible to label the product of that work a translation of scripture. If a student relies exclusively on The Message as if it were a Bible, that student will not experience the light of God's word in an accurate and unfiltered way. Therefore, we do not call The Message a Bible and neither should its publisher.
Peterson was motivated to make a Bible translation that was more “readable” (presumably for himself), but trying to make scripture more accessible by modifying its meaning is an attempt to solve a problem that doesn't actually exist.
First, before The Message, the world already had access to many, good English translations of the Bible that are easy to read and use modern vernacular without distorting the meaning of scripture. Some examples include the NKJV, the NASB, the HCSB, the NET and even the NIV, which has its detractors.
Secondly, the Bible itself says that if scripture is too difficult for someone to understand, it isn't because the language is obtuse. Instead, the Bible says it's because the student does not have the Holy Spirit working in him to reveal the meaning:
2Cor. 4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,
2Cor. 4:4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
1Cor. 1:18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
In reality, the Lord doesn’t need men to make His words more "readable." The Spirit is more than capable of bringing an understanding to anyone as the Lord wills and as we devote ourselves to study of it. This is why we have been given the Spirit, as Jesus said:
John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
We can't "dumb down" the text of scripture hoping to take a shortcut to an understanding of things that only God can reveal according to His sovereign will and timing. We must be prepared to study the Bible over our lifetime, so that the Lord can deliver the full sense of the text to our hearts when He desires. Meanwhile, we will be growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, which is the point of our study. Making an investment to a lifetime process of personal Bible study is more important than any particular understanding gleened from a moment of study.
For personal study, we recommend using the New American Standard Bible or the New English Translation (www.bible.org) or any other accurate translation of the original texts. These translations best preserve the words as God delivered them, so then the Holy Spirit may explain the meaning as God intended.