Eugene Peterson's Message: Part 1 (My 1994 Warning)
By Warren B. Smith (8-29-11)
(View Warren B. Smith Books & Articles)
Excerpted from Deceived On Purpose, pp. 23-27
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
(2 Timothy 3:5)
I first became aware of Eugene Peterson’s “paraphrase” of the Bible in 1994 when I was doing a weekly segment on a syndicated radio show based on the East coast. The producer of the show entitled my weekly spot “Keeping Our Eye on the Enemy.” It was based on a scripture from the First Book of Peter where he warned:
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. (I Peter 5:8)
From my perspective of having been involved in New Age teachings, I would comment on best-selling New Age books and other issues that had New Age implications for the Church. On one program I expressed concern about author Eugene Peterson’s new paraphrase of the Bible entitled The Message.
On the first page of The Message, the book is described as “a contemporary rendering of the Bible from the original languages, crafted to present its tone, rhythm, events, and ideas in everyday language.” In other words, Peterson took the carefully translated words of the Holy Bible and put them into his own chosen words and idioms.
I expressed deep concern about The Message on my radio show. Anyone reading The Message should be able to quickly see how verses from Scripture often had their otherwise clear meanings obscured or even altered. Important details were sometimes omitted, while misleading words and phrases were often added. For example, when the disciples asked Jesus about His second coming and the end of the world, His reply in the Bible was very straightforward and clear:
And Jesus answered and said unto them. Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. (Matthew 24:4-5)
These important Bible verses had opened my eyes to truth back when I was involved in the New Age. A Course in Miracles and my other New Age teachings had taught me that love is all there is. Everything else is “fear” and “illusion.” I had been told that because God is love, God is therefore in everyone and everything. There is no separation between God and His creation. Because everything is love and everything is “God,” we are naturally “at One” with God and Christ and all creation. Lesson 124 in A Course in Miracles taught us to affirm, “Let me remember I am one with God.”1 When the “Jesus” of A Course in Miracles was asked if he was the Christ, he answered, “O yes, along with you.”2 According to A Course in Miracles and my other New Age teachings, all of humanity is divine. We are all “God” and we are all “Christ” and we are all “One.”
I remember the day when I read Matthew 24:4-5 and fully grasped what Jesus was saying. Thanks, in part, to that scripture I suddenly understood how deceived I had been. I wasn’t Christ, or a part of Christ, at all. Jesus is the one and only Christ—there is no other. In my book The Light that was Dark, I described the importance of that scripture and its personal significance to me:
Those of us who had believed the Course’s Jesus—that he was the Christ and that we were too—were deceived...But in believing the Course and my other spiritual teachers, I had unwittingly become the very person that the real Jesus warned me to watch out for. “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.”3
It was very sobering for me to realize that I was one of the people that Jesus was warning His followers to watch out for. This scripture enabled me to understand that my New Age belief that I was Christ was a definite false teaching. Because of that important scripture, I had been made to realize that Jesus’ warning applied to the whole New Age movement that included my wife and me. This particular scripture helped to save my life. It gave me godly insight into the dynamics of the deception I had been a part of. But not so with Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this same scripture. It fails to communicate what Jesus was really saying. When the disciples asked about Jesus’ second coming and the end of the world, Peterson’s paraphrase reads as follows:
Jesus said, “Watch out for doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities, claiming, ‘I am Christ, the Messiah.’ They will deceive a lot of people.”4
By omitting the warning to let “no man” deceive you and paraphrasing it with only a general caution about “doomsday deceivers” and “leaders with forged identities,” Peterson’s paraphrase completely missed exposing all of us who were in the New Age believing we were Christ. It also allowed false Christs who portray themselves as “peace loving,” and not as “doomsday deceivers,” to slip under the scriptural radar. Jesus was not limiting His comments about false Christs to “doomsday deceivers.” In fact, He wasn’t specifying “doomsday deceivers” at all. His warning was all-encompassing. He said, “Take heed that no man deceive you.” He was warning about anyone who says “I am Christ.”
My wife and I were not “doomsday deceivers.” We were not “leaders with forged identities.” If we had been looking only at Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase when we were unbelievers, we would have never seen ourselves and the whole New Age movement in that prophetic passage of Scripture. But thanks to a real Bible, we were clearly shown that we were the subjects of Jesus’ warning. Coming into the faith we had learned first-hand how the precision of a properly translated Bible can be the difference between truth and deception.
A verse in Hebrews beautifully conveys what we had learned and what I was trying to communicate to the radio audience about the difference between a poorly translated Bible and the true Word of God.
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
I was amazed that Peterson’s book was being sold in Christian bookstores. I was concerned that if it ever became popular it could mislead a lot of people. I wondered how Peterson could just add, and subtract, and change God’s Holy Word and not fear for his life. It seemed so obvious to me that part of the Bible’s admonition to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) meant that we were not to “manhandle” the Word of God. In the Book of Revelation, God warns:
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation 22: 18- 19)
However, when Peterson’s book first came out there was no reason to think that it would one day be quoted as the Word of God. Back in 1994, The Message seemed to be just another strange sidelight in an already all too undiscerning Christian marketplace. No one that I was aware of was taking it seriously, much less referencing it, as authoritative Scripture. But now here it was again—Rick Warren was quoting from Peterson’s paraphrase as if it were the Word of God.
Excerpted from Deceived On Purpose, pp. 23-27
Continued in Eugene Peterson's Message: Part 2 (As Above, So Below)
1. Foundation for Inner Peace, A Course in Miracles: Combined Volume (Workbook),
2. Ibid., (Teachers Manual), p. 87.
3. Warren Smith, The Light That Was Dark: A Spiritual Journey, p. 144.
4. Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The New Testament in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, Colorado: NavPress, 1993, 2003), p. 60.