When I first started out as a Christian, I was greatly helped by Eugene Peterson's The Message. The first time I read through the NT was on an old copy of The Message. The church I was in quoted The Message all the time. Everyone seemed to love The Message. As I moved away from the charismatic church in favour of Sydney evangelicalism, I moved away from The Message. In my circles people would occasionally mock it's wierd colloquialisms - it did sound like the writer was a particular age from a particular part of America. More seriously, some would question the strength of it's interpretive decisions. Some appeared to be quite serious weaknesses. I would ask people every now and then: "Why doesn't someone make a new The Message?" Although I could see the weaknesses that people spoke of, I still felt that the idea was strong. Really strong.
Once when I was in Bible college, I asked a lecturer "why doesn't someone make a new The Message?" and they shot back "I don't know. Why don't you?" To which I didn't have an answer. "Maybe I should then!" I said, then I didn't.
During my first appointment as an assistant minister, I was working with Internationals and I really wanted to help them to understand the Bible. So I had a go at fleshing out a colloquial sounding alternative to The Message. But I realised my understanding of the text was so basic, as to be irrelevant. I mean I could barely understand the Greek, let alone manipulate it with any sense of finesse. Very quickly I came across a nasty verse that required some expertise. So I opened up a Bible commentary to find out what a genious thought it meant.
... and then it struck me, I don't have to be an expert. All I have to do is convey what an expert thinks the Bible is saying.
And a project was born. I would make it my ambition to teach however many interested people a deep and powerful reading of the Scriptures by conveying what a leading expert thinks of the text in layman's speak. I would read Bible commentaries and once I believe that I have understood clearly what the commentator thinks. I take all his recommendations for interpretation, write them all down and begin crafting a text that conveys all the various necessary nuances to give a crystal clear understanding of the text that strongly conveys authorial intention. It would read like a Bible, but I haven't really felt comfortable calling it a translation. So that's where it became boiled down Bible commentary.
All this actually trumps The Message's (seemingly) ad hoc methodology, by grounding all exegetical choices in the findings of established scholars. Also, by carefully selecting each commentary to boil down, a ready resource and transition point to academic thinking on the scriptures can be directly consulted by interested readers (i.e. they just buy the commentary that I boiled down). New Christians can quickly gain the understanding of seasoned Christians on any given passage, seasoned Christains can clarify their opinions against leading experts - without demanding that amateur Bible readers wade through endless arguments and counter arguments.
Also, being an English teacher, I'm very sensitive to speaking in as much of a universally 'normal' manner as possible. That means simple grammar, minimal jargon and no crazy idioms are also features of this text.
I know that it won't be everyone's cup of tea, that's fine. I honestly don't mind if you like it or not. I'm certain there will be a couple of people who will, and that is enough.
For James and 1 Corinthians, click here.