By Brian Niemiec
I am told that I am an old soul trapped in a young man’s body. Maybe this is why I have an aversion to all things new and different. I approach newness with a hermeneutic (an interpretive lens) of suspicion. So, when I stumbled across an NCR article on the “The Message,” a new translation of the Bible written for Americans with contemporary language and phrasing, I was skeptical.
For a better description of what “The Message” is all about, you should read the article. To give you an example of this translation, the text in Paul’s letter to the Romans reads, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” This is translated to “Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.” Hey! What a clear message!
Then I started thinking, is that the entirety of the message? Critics have already pointed out the difficulty of removing the text from the historical and culture context within which it was written, but I also worry that the message is so direct, that it loses room for the Word of God to speak anew each time it is read. Is the passage from Romans above only about selfishness and a call to not ignore God? I think it’s also about the reality that belonging to the spirit is communal. The passage is about belonging to the body of Christ, the Church!
This new translation is a way to encounter Christ anew. It is a way to excite the new disciples and the older ones who have grown apathetic. It is a great tool which speaks the language of 21st century American culture, and challenges that culture with the words of Christ. Yet it is just that, a tool. It cannot be mistaken for the Word of God. The word is much broader than these necessary and jarring words.
So, yes, this translation has much to offer the Church in America, but it is no substitute for the Word revealed in Sacred Scripture. It is one resource, albeit a good one. Enjoy!