Have you ever been at a Bible study where everyone reads aloud, one verse at a time, going around the room? It's a little hard to follow if everyone has a different translation, but they're all mostly the same. Except "The Message" Bible. When that one was pulled out, you could expect the Bible study to devolve into an argument about whether the translation was accurate or inspired. I'm not here to debate that. I'm here to tell you it's the cringiest "what's up, fellow kids" attempt in the history of white Christianity.
Honestly, most of the prose sections of The Message aren't excruciatingly grating, but let me show you some of the poetry! I understand the purpose behind this translation - to make the old way of speech something familiar to modern readers. But when we read the poetry we see what this translation has really done: take the fresh and living words and turn them into cliches, flattening out the rich imagery with stock phrases. Were these passages really so hard to understand on their own? Just to make it fair I'll comapre The Message to the ESV translation, which is designed to be plain-English, word-for-word translation. This means I am not deliberately selecting a "poetic" version to compare with The Message. I am comparing a plain-English translation that values accuracy and a plain-English translation that's trying too hard to be cool.
Psalm 1:1, 6 (ESV)
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
...for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
Psalm 1:1, 6 (MSG)
How well God must like you -
you don't hang out at Sin Saloon,
you don't slink along Dead-End Road,
you don't go to Smart-Mouth College.
God charts the road you take.
The road they take is Skid Row.
Psalm 2:7-9 (ESV)
I will proclaim the Lord's decree:
He said to me, "You are my son,
today I have become your father.
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron;
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.
Psalm 2:7-9 (MSG)
Let me tell you what God said next.
He said, "You're my son,
And today is your birthday.
What do you want? Name it:
Nations as a present? Continents as a prize?
You can command them all to dance for you,
Or throw them out with tomorrow's trash.
Psalm 20:6 (ESV)
Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Psalm 20:6 (MSG)
That clinches it - help's coming,
an answer's on the way,
everything's going to work out.
Psalm 119:70, 155 (ESV)
Their hearts are callous and unfeeling,
but I delight in your law.
Salvation is far from the wicked,
for they do not seek out your decrees.
Psalm 119:70, 155 (MSG)
They're bland as a bucket of lard,
while I dance to the tune of your revelation.
"Salvation" is only gibberish to the wicked
because they've never looked it up in your dictionary.
Psalm 145:6 (ESV)
They tell of the power of your awesome works -
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
Psalm 145:6 (MSG)
Your marvelous doings are headline news;
I could write a book full of the details of your greatness.
Job 3:6 (ESV)
That night - may thick darkness seize it;
may it not be included among the days of the year
nor be entered in any of the months.
Job 3:6 (MSG)
And the night of my conception - the devil take it!
Rip the date off the calendar,
delete it from the almanac.
Job 20:1-3 (ESV)
Then Zophar the Naamathite replied:
"My troubled thoughts prompt me to answer
because I am greatly disturbed.
I hear a rebuke that dishonors me,
and my understanding inspires me to reply."
Job 20:1-3 (MSG)
Zophar from Naamath again took his turn:
"I can't believe what I'm hearing!
You've put my teeth on edge, my stomach in a knot.
How dare you insult my intelligence like this!
Well, here's a piece of my mind!"
Job 30:1 (ESV)
But now they mock me,
men younger than I,
whose fathers I would have disdained
to put with my sheep dogs.
Job 30:1 (MSG)
But no longer. Now I'm the butt of their jokes -
young ruffians! whippersnappers!
Job 40:3-5 (ESV)
Then Job answered the Lord:
"I am unworthy - how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer -
twice, but I will say no more."
Job 40:3-5 (MSG)
"I'm speechless, in awe - words fail me.
I should never have opened my mouth!
I've talked too much, way too much.
I'm ready to shut up and listen."
Ecclesiastes 1 (ESV)
The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless."
What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
"Look! This is something new"?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.
I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
What is crooked cannot be straightened,
what is lacking cannot be counted.
I said to myself, "Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge." Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.
For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief.
Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 (MSG)
These are the words of the Quester, David's son and king in Jerusalem.
[Michael's note: the original translations leave it ambiguous whether the "king in Jerusalem" is meant to be referring to anyone in David's lineage or specifically to Solomon. The Message just goes right on ahead and affirms that Solomon wrote these even though we have no other evidence. Just wanted to point out that not only is this translation cringey as fuck but it doesn't really care about truth. Moving on.]
Smoke, nothing but smoke. (That's what the Quester says.)
There's nothing to anything - it's all smoke.
What's there to show for a lifetime of work,
a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone?
One generation goes its way, the next one arrives,
but nothing changes - it's business as usual for old planet earth.
The sun comes up and the sun goes down,
then does it again, and again - the same old round.
The wind blows south, the wind blows north.
Around and around and around it blows,
blowing this way, then that - the whirling, erratic wind.
All the rivers flow into the sea,
but the sea never fills up.
The rivers keep flowing to the same old place,
and then start all over and do it again.
Everything's boring, utterly boring -
no one can find any meaning in it.
Boring to the eye,
boring to the ear.
What was will be again,
what happened will happen again.
There's nothing new on this earth.
Year after year it's the same old thing.
Does someone call out, "Hey, this is new"?
Don't get excited - it's the same old story.
Nobody remembers what happened yesterday.
And the things that will happen tomorrow?
Nobody'll remember them either.
Don't count on being remembered.
Call me "the Quester." I've been king over Israel in Jerusalem. I looked most carefully into everything, searched out all that is done on this earth. And let me tell you, there's not much to write home about. God hasn't made it easy for us. I've seen it all and it's nothing but smoke - smoke, and spitting into the wind.
Life's a corkscrew that can't be straightened,
A minus that won't add up.
I said to myself, "I know more and I'm wiser than anyone before me in Jerusalem. I've stockpiled wisdom and knowledge." What I've finally concluded is that so-called wisdom and knowledge are mindless and witless - nothing but spitting into the wind.
Much learning earns you much trouble.
The more you know, the more you hurt.