Eugene H. Peterson, seminary teacher and Presbyterian pastor, spent a decade working from Greek and Hebrew texts to produce the Message, a Bible paraphrase in contemporary English. Long an advocate of what he calls “spiritual theology,” Peterson has taken excerpts from his sermons and devotional writings, added them in appropriate places in the Message, and published the result as “Conversations: The Message Bible with Its Translator” ($39.99 in hardcover from Navpress).
The conversations, he writes, “are more casual than formal. . . . We’ll travel a lot of terrain together, some of it breathtakingly scenic, some of its ploddingly plain, and some of it precariously uncertain. Here and there along the way I’ll point out details in the biblical landscape, drawing attention to a particular word, pointing out a pertinent piece of historical background, pausing a moment to talk with you and to lead you in prayer.” This is not a study Bible, though; it is a reading Bible, and Peterson’s turns of phrase can sometimes be sharp and startling. Familiar passages are made fresh and shake the reader awake.
Mary’s Magnificat in Luke’s Christmas story is street-wise: “I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened—I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! . . . His mercy flows in wave and after wave on those who are in awe before him. . . . The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold.”
The first chapter of John’s gospel speaks of the Incarnation: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Peterson’s comments are set off from the biblical text by a different type face; at this point he asks, “Do you want to see God present among you? Do you want to come into the presence of God and worship him? Here he’s making himself at home among you: Jesus—pitching his tent, building his home, and moving into the neighborhood. Your neighborhood.”
Two thousand years ago, “there were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood.” The second chapter of Luke’s gospel goes on to say, in Peterson’s paraphrase, “Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. . . .’”