Saturday, August 22, 2020

Not the Psalms. . .

Not having any familiarity with The Message translation by Eugene Peterson, I was quite surprised when a parishioner dropped off a Sunday bulletin from another Lutheran parish and the Psalmody was drawn from The Message.  I found it more than strange and actually quite peculiar.  Although I am more in favor of timeless translations of Scripture and the liturgy, this is very timely, almost captive to a particular moment in time.  I am not sure of its shelf life but I suppose it might speak to those who love the lingo of this second.

The Psalm was 91 and it read, in part, like this:

You who sit down in the High God’s presence,
    spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow,
Say this: “God, you’re my refuge.
    I trust in you and I’m safe!”
That’s right—he rescues you from hidden traps,
    shields you from deadly hazards.
His huge outstretched arms protect you—
    under them you’re perfectly safe;
    his arms fend off all harm.
Fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night,
    not flying arrows in the day,
Not disease that prowls through the darkness,
    not disaster that erupts at high noon.
Even though others succumb all around,
    drop like flies right and left,
    no harm will even graze you.
You’ll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance,
    watch the wicked turn into corpses.

Well, at first this did not seem so radical.  I did not drop like a fly but figured it might be serviceable enough.  But then I looked at more examples.  Why not hit up the big one first?  The 23rd Psalm:
God, my shepherd!
    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
    you let me catch my breath
    and send me in the right direction.
Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.
You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing.
Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
    for the rest of my life.

Hmmm.  You let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.  Well, it seems close enough but it hardly seems like something that a family would want me to say at a funeral or standing at the cemetery before a hole in the ground.

Then I was perusing the Psalms only to hit Psalm 8.  Now there is a Psalm for the 21st century.
God, brilliant Lord,
    yours is a household name.
Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you;
    toddlers shout the songs
That drown out enemy talk,
    and silence atheist babble.
3-4 I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
    your handmade sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
    Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
    Why take a second look our way?
5-8 Yet we’ve so narrowly missed being gods,
    bright with Eden’s dawn light.
You put us in charge of your handcrafted world,
    repeated to us your Genesis-charge,
Made us lords of sheep and cattle,
    even animals out in the wild,
Birds flying and fish swimming,
    whales singing in the ocean deeps.
God, brilliant Lord,
    your name echoes around the world.

Macro skies and micro self.   Hmmmmm.  Your handmade sky jewelry.   More Hmmmmmms.  And then Yet we've so narrowly missed being gods, bright with Eden's dawn light.  Wow.  I can see it theologically but philologically, well, not so much.  It seems to require unpacking more than the original.  I am not sure what benefit there is in a translation that begs to be explained more than it explains.  

Then there is the Lutheran Psalm, 51, and, well, you tell me:
Generous in love—God, give grace!
    Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
Scrub away my guilt,
    soak out my sins in your laundry.
I know how bad I’ve been;
    my sins are staring me down.
 Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
    scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
    set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
    give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
    shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
    or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
    put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
    so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
    and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
    I’ll let loose with your praise.

Well, I could say more but suffice it to say that I will not let loose with praise for this version.  And I have only hit on a few Psalms -- much less the familiar Lutheran proof texts of the Catechism or the passages almost word for word from Scripture in the liturgy!! 


Jason said...

The Message is absolute garbage. There are formal and dynamic translations, and then there are paraphrases, which are NOT the Word of God but moreso a commentary. One thing I have noticed is the liberal pastors love and use this, even in the context of worship. Similar to how some adore An American Translation by Beck. I personally have a low opinion on Beck's Bible and I think it suffers from similar issues. So I became livid when I saw those who complain about AAT sang high praises for The Massage. The sheer irony if not hypocrisy of such attitudes lowered my respect for those individuals.

That is the problem I find with Beck and Peterson. A single person waxing whimsically about their thoughts on Scripture. But give Beck his due that he was far more serious about trying to figure out how the original Autographs would sound in today's vernacular. Peterson started with street slang and tried to force the Word into it, no matter what was lost in translation.

Anonymous said...

You folks go right ahead. I'll stick with KJV everyday (or with Coverdale in the BCP).

Fr. D+
Continuing Anglican Priest

Joe Ehrich said...

Pastor - Thank you for sharing this. As we are called to be in God's Word, there are inherent dangers posed to a person's faith from translations that are not faithful to the Word. The Message translation of Ephesians 2:7-10, specifically v9, are particularly concerning.

Anonymous said...

It's not worth the effort. The Gospel is almost unrecognizable.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

The versions are troubling and offensive. Given the craziness of the world today, it is no surprise that the contamination of this generation is penetrating the church as well. There may come a time, I fear, when it will be very difficult to find a local church which still uses a coherent version of the Bible, and preaches the Gospel. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Janis Williams said...

MSG is not good for your digestive system; some people are actually allergic to it!

Daniel G. said...

One word: BLEH!

Daniel G. said...

One word:BLEH

William Weedon said...

The older I get, the more I just want to stick to my King James...

Anonymous said...

In light of the coming cashless economy in which the government can control what we buy, and the increasing censorship of what we can view on the Internet, I suggest that Christians purchase now the following items, if they don't own them already:

1. A printed theologically sound Bible
2. A printed prayer book
3. A printed hymnal