Friday, October 2, 2015

Bible Review: Message 100

The Message 100: The Story of God in Sequence. Eugene H. Peterson. 2015. NavPress. 1600 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Soon after receiving a review copy of The Message 100, I decided to read the whole New Testament and the book of Psalms.

What makes The Message 100 unique? (What makes it different from other Message Bibles? OR  even what makes it different from all other Bibles?)

First. It is in the Message "translation." (It is actually a paraphrase.)

Second. It is "the story of God in sequence." The books, while remaining whole books, are not ordered in the same traditional way. In the New Testament, for example, this is the arrangement:
  • Matthew
  • Mark
  • Luke
  • Acts
  • James
  • Galatians
  • 1 Thessalonians
  • 2 Thessalonians
  • 1 Corinthians
  • 2 Corinthians
  • Romans
  • Colossians
  • Philemon
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians
  • 1 Timothy
  • Titus
  • 2 Timothy
  • 1 Peter
  • 2 Peter
  • Jude
  • Hebrews
  • John
  • 1 John
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
  • Revelation
The Old Testament is also arranged differently. Don't open to the middle of the Bible expecting to find Psalms! Psalms is the last book of the Old Testament in this Bible, placing it directly before Matthew!

Other "chronological" Bibles I've read in don't keep books whole, and, they break up books of the Bible down to chapters and verses in an attempt to make it perfectly chronological--at least according to their best guess. I really appreciate that The Message 100 keeps whole books. Books are meant to be read whole, to rearrange books, in some ways complicates study.

Third. The Bible is broken into 100 readings. They are numbered, but, not dated like some "daily reading" Bibles. There is nothing whatsoever that implies you have to read this Bible for 100 consecutive days! Or even that you have to read all 100 within one year of beginning.

What's a typical reading?

001 -- Genesis 1-16
002 -- Genesis 17-28
003 -- Genesis 29-41
004 -- Genesis 41-50
072 -- Psalm 1-20
073 -- Psalm 21-36
074 -- Psalm 37-51
075 -- Psalm 52-71
076 -- Psalm 72-89
077 -- Psalm 90-109
078 -- Psalm 110-119
079 -- Psalm 120-150
080 -- Matthew 1-11
081 -- Matthew 12-20
082 -- Matthew 21-28
090 -- James, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians
091 -- 1 Corinthians
094 -- Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, Philippians

But isn't that A LOT of text to read in one sitting? in one day? Yes and no. I'll explain.

The Bible is best read in large doses. That is, it is better understood if you read it in sections that make sense, that get you going, and keep you focused on the big picture, and the message of the Bible. As opposed to say, reading one or two chapters per day. Would you approach any other book--fiction or nonfiction--and just read it two pages at a time and think you were doing it justice? Don't you at least aim to read whole chapters of other books? Be those chapters five pages or twenty pages?

I also have found that once you expand your spiritual appetites, once you've started reading large chunks of Scripture, that you can't be satisfied with less. It's not that you feel obligated and duty-bound to keep on reading. No, you DESIRE more, more, more. You have tasted and seen that God is GOOD and you honestly desire MORE of his Word daily. You are finding delight and satisfaction IN the Word and you wouldn't want it any other way. (I expanded my spiritual appetite several years ago with the Bible in 90 days plan, and I haven't been the same ever since.)

 Fourth. Each reading is introduced by a devotion. Here is an excerpt from the devotion for 082.
I want to tell you that God comes to you. And I want to prepare you to recognize and receive him when he does. Come is a gospel verb. The distinctive biblical and Christian message is not that God is but that he comes. And he's going to come again, because that's the very nature of God--to come. That's his basic character--God comes. He's not a professor who delivers ideas to us; he's not a social worker who arranges discussion groups among us to to help us raise our standard of living; he isn't a government agent bringing the latest set of regulations so that we can stay out of jail. He comes. He arrives…. God has been doing this for a long time; the Bible reports his comings. He's still doing it. Jesus Christ is the primary way in which we recognize both that God comes and the way he comes. . . . (1417)

Fifth. It is single column, paragraph format. There are no verse numbers within the paragraph itself. The chapters and verses are in super-tiny print in the margin. So while it isn't technically verse-less like the ESV Reader's Bible (which I recently reviewed), it comes close. This is a good thing in my opinion. There are still headings or subheadings.

What do I think of The Message 100?

If you'd asked me a week or two ago, I would have admitted that I am not a fan of The Message. But I'd probably also admit that I hadn't ever actually read The Message in any real way. That is, while, I'd looked up verses at Bible Gateway, I'd never sat down to read whole books of the Bible in the Message translation. In part, because I would stumble across less than appealing chapters and verses, and make some quick judgements.
First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss. (Genesis 1:1-2)
How well God must like you—
you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon,
you don’t slink along Dead-End Road,
you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College. (Psalm 1:1)
Who is this King-Glory?
he is King-Glory. (Psalm 24:10)
But after spending a week reading it, I must admit that I was too harsh. Sure, there are a handful of verses that still read painfully to me, like nails on a chalkboard. But more often than not, it worked for me just fine. Even refreshing at times.
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. (Matthew 5:3-10)
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. (Matthew 6:1)
“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor. Matthew 7:1-5)
There is something practical about the paraphrase. And by the end of the week, I'd come to appreciate more than I ever thought possible.

In fact, I would encourage skeptics to spend a week with The Message. BUT at the same time, I would encourage those who rely on The Message as their primary Bible to spend a week in another translation as well. Perhaps even the KJV!!! I do believe that dramatic changes can engage you with the text in a new and beneficial ways.

Conclusion: I ended up REALLY enjoying The Message 100. I love the concept of the 100 readings. I like the arrangement of the books. I appreciate that they kept the books whole. If it was available in additional translations, I'd be absolutely thrilled. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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