Feb 16, 2011 David Lang

Overcoming Blind Spots: The Convex Mirror Bible

For the past couple posts, I've been discussing how we can overcome our blind spots when it comes to reading the Bible. By "blind spots," I mean those things we gloss over or simply fail to see because of our preconceptions about what the text says. In my last post I discussed how reading and comparing multiple translations can help to alert us to aspects of the text we might have missed. Today, I want to talk about one particular translation which can help us overcome our blind spots.

On many cars these days, the driver side rearview mirror will include a small convex mirror. This convex mirror gives a distorted image, but it enables the driver to see things which would otherwise be in his blind spot. The translation I'm referring to is a bit like that convex mirror: it doesn't always give the most accurate look at the text, but it can for that very reason help us to see past our blind spots.

The translation I'm referring to is The Message, and if you're not familiar with it, it is an extremely "free" and idiomatic translation. For example, here's a verse chosen pretty much at random, in The Message and the ESV:


The Message takes some liberties with the text here. The Greek says that the disciples "wondered" or "marveled" at the fact that Jesus was talking with a woman, but The Message embellishes this by saying that they were "shocked" and that they "couldn't believe" he was talking with "that kind of a woman." Likewise, the Greek says that none of the disciples questioned Jesus, but says nothing about their faces showing their surprise.

Because The Message goes beyond the original texts like this, some people absolutely detest it. Others love it because it tries to communicate the emotional impact and drama which its original audience would have felt. It's certainly hard to deny that The Message's rendering of this verse grabs your attention more than that of most other translations.

Personally, I think The Message has its place, as long as it's not the only translation you read. Because of its idiosyncrasies, I tend to cringe when I hear it read in corporate worship services. I would prefer that a "more accurate" translation be used. Yet every time I read it or hear it read I find myself asking, "Wow, does it really say that?" I then feel compelled to examine that verse in other translations and in the original to see if The Message's rendering is legitimate or if I think it has gone too far.

This is exactly the kind of reaction The Message is designed to provoke. It is intentionally free and idiomatic in order to shake us out of the lethargy which results from our familiarity with the text. Like a convex mirror, it gives us a picture of the text which is not always completely straight, but it bends our gaze so that we can see around our blind spots.

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Archived Comments

Robert Johnson

February 16, 2011 11:12 AM

I am one of those people that absolutely love it.  I love it for the reason you ended your blog post with.  I will come across something and say to myself, that isn't what it says is it?  Which always leads me into a deeper study and review of the text at hand.

Reading unfamilar translations can do that too, I just find that the Message makes me do that a lot. ;-)

Rick Mansfield

February 16, 2011 2:55 PM

I love how the Message often captures the "spirit" of the text in the way that a more traditional translation simply cannot. 

I have a woman in the Sunday School class I teach who reads exclusively from the Message. Now, if she had come to me to recommend a translation, I would never have suggested the Message alone. Nevertheless, I would also never say anything to her now about it because this is the Bible from where she hears God's voice most clear.

Very often in our class, if I've had the time in my preparation to take a look at our passage in the Message ahead of time, I'll ask her to read a particular verse out of the Message because very often there is a clever turn of phrase or "just right" wording that really drives a point in Scripture home. 

Eugene Peterson is one of my favorite Christian writers because he can so easily combine theology and church life together. Granted, these two should never be separated anyway, but it seems that they usually are. Since Peterson translated the Message directly from the original languages, to me, it's put on a level different from that of earlier paraphrases such as the original Living Bible. Sometimes, when I question a rendering in the Message, I will dig into the original language text and come away understanding exactly where Peterson was coming from. The man knows his stuff.