Of Bible Translations and Heresy

Maybe you have heard the news, maybe you haven't:  Eugune Peterson, the author of the Message Bible, has recently endorsed same sex marriage, and even said that if given the opportunity, he would perform a same sex marriage
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...And it is sending a ripple effect through the Christian world.  LifeWay Christian Stores will be discontinuing the sale of the Message and Peterson's books upon confirmation of the statements made from his interview with Jonathan Merritt.  Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote a response to this news worth reading.

Many pastors have been captivated by Peterson's writings.  Some use the Message "translation" as either a primary Biblical text or supplemental text to Bible reading.  His book "A Long Obedience In The Same Direction" is one that I had in my library, as I believed the title perfectly described what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus.  Many pastors have used the writings of his books for personal edification, as well as, a discipleship tool for those growing in their faith in Christ.

Peterson's seeming departure from Biblical orthodoxy (he has since recanted) is a natural consequence of a direction taken long ago when his "translation" of the Bible was released.  (In truth, it may have begun long before that, but only manifested itself through the paraphrased biblical book).  And it represents somewhat of a watershed moment in Christendom.  

I recently did a sermon on Bible translations focused around the text of Psalm 8 called "Hidden Majesty" (To hear the sermon, click on this link and type in "Hidden Majesty" in the sermon title section).  In it I reference a number of different translations, among them the Message, emphasizing the importance of a literal translation so that the message of Christ that is proclaimed from Genesis to Revelation isn't hidden from the reader's eyes.  Translations such as the New Living Translation (NLT), the Good News Bible (GNB), the Message and the current New International Version (NIV) all fall short of this standard and in effect hide Jesus in parts of the Bible in an effort to make the translation more "readable" or more "politically correct".  

The effect of such translations through these changes to make the Bible more readable or palatable in our current cultural climate actually ends up doing more harm than good.  Clear references to Christ prophetically proclaimed throughout the Old Testament are now hidden from the reader's eyes, as New Testament references of these Old Testament passages in these newer "translations" don't match up, giving the reader the impression that the Biblical text is malleable, able to be form fitted to any message the reader desires.

Doctrines essential to the Christian faith, such as, "repentance from dead works" (Heb 6:1 ESV, NASB, NKJV) become "turning your back on 'salvation by self-help'" (Heb 6:1 MSG) and do not clearly define the Biblical message.  This ambiguity threatens to distort terms such as "repentance", "sin", "judgment" and "salvation", all essential doctrines of the Christian faith that, without a Biblical definition, distort the message of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, nullifying its meaning, because God hasn't been allowed to speak for Himself.  The reader runs the risk of having "a God without wrath [that] brought men without sin to a kingdom without judgment through the ministration of a Christ without a cross" (Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America, 193).

It is a watershed moment because Christians in our culture through people like Peterson draw large swaths of followers because of their writings or teachings.  But some people become so enamored with the public figures, that they end up following them instead of Christ.  We forget the Biblical command to "take captive every thought to obey Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5 ESV) and to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1 ESV) and end up holding in higher regard men (and women) who have taught us about God than God Himself, who sent His Son for our redemption and provided His Word "which [is] able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15 ESV).

Some Christian artists, Christian conference speakers, Christian writers and Christian pastors (in this case, I am using the word Christian in a marketable sense, not a biblical one) with large followings are straying from Christ and Biblical truth, in important areas, such as, abortion, living together, same sex marriage, transgenderism, love, hypocrisy, equality, repentance, sin and judgment.  As their views have publicly "evolved", their fans are forced to engage in these issues, often falling on the side of the public figure for either lack of knowledge of the written Word or lack of willingness to be on an unpopular side of a controversial cultural issue.

As a Christian people, we are to be ever on our guard for those wolves in sheep's clothing that have infiltrated our flock, who have fellowship with us, but when given the opportunity will stray from the teaching of Christ that could save them and their hearers (Mat. 7:15-23; 1 John 2:18-19; 1 Tim. 4:9-16).  No matter how much we may have benefited from such people in the past, our allegiance must always be to Christ first.  It may mean breaking with artists, pastors and writers that we have loved in the past.  It may mean having to live in conflict with family members, not walking in the truth (Mat. 10:32-39).  But following Jesus, rather than man or the culture, has always come with a cost (Luke 9:23-26).

Let Eugene Peterson be a lesson to us all that obscuring the clear revelation of Scripture has consequences that can (and many times does) lead one down the path toward heresy.

          


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