Several years ago, I learned about something called “The Word on the Street” which is a take on the Bible whose modernized terms make The Message read like T.S. Elliot. This is how the author, Rob Lacey, tells the story of Peter walking on water (in beautiful, scripturally appropriate italics):
Sometime, three maybe four in the morning, Jesus walks out to them across the waves. Freaked out, they scream, “Ghost!” as one man. Before they’ve time to scream again Jesus shouts, “Whoa! Don’t panic! It’s me.” “If it’s you, Boss,” shouts Pete. “give me a go?!” “Come on, then,” says Jesus. So Pete swings his leg over the boat and tests out the water – and his foot doesn’t go under! The other leg joins it. It takes his weight. Seconds later he’s walking across the lake towards Jesus – on the water! He’s doing fine till a face full of wind slaps him back to normality. He freezes, loses focus and starts going under, screaming, “Grab me, Jesus!” Jesus does and holds Pete there saying, “Chicken! Why’d you bottle it?”
Lacey refers to his own rendition of the story as a paraphrase–saying on the back cover, “This is not THE Bible.” I can appreciate that (though I think it’s a bit of a cop-out). Whereas Lacey takes all kinds of liberties with chopping things up, cutting things out and mixing things around, he never attempts to do anything it shouldn’t by claiming it is something it isn’t. Listen, it’s okay if you were thinking, “Dang, it’s too bad the Bible can’t speak to me the way a friend would at a urinal.” That’s a normal reaction to experiencing something simple; however, despite the striking resemblance the story bares to it’s more widely accepted translations, you’re probably still a little apprehensive about some of the language. What if a chunk of divinity got left out when Lacey switched some of the adverbs around?! Give me a break. If it’s root words you’re worried about, get a Strong’s Concordance or a Greek & Hebrew Bible and go nuts just like you have to do with all the other translations which don’t include any words ending in the suffix, -os.
I’m sure I’m just now joining a debate that’s nearly a decade old, and this isn’t me arguing for The Word on the Street’s inclusion into The Family Christian Bookstore’s Biblical canon (not yet anyway). I just have a hard time believing that a translation like The Message deserves to be treated any differently than ones like the NIV or NASV did when they first came on the scene. It both sickens and comforts me to think there are probably still those who believe the New International Version is merely a paraphrase of the almighty King James Version–commissioned under and named for King James I who was a real tool (in case my holiness audience didn’t know). There’s not an inch of me that believes I’m only getting an abbreviated dose of inspiration when I read The Message. The story is what it is. We’re all kidding ourselves if we think anything we read that doesn’t come in a scroll is anywhere close to accurate. That doesn’t worry me. The Council of Nicaea worries me. If Rob Lacey decided to ever write a Street version that didn’t leave anything out or include personal commentary, I’d read that thing like it was infallible too, and I wouldn’t apologize for it.
My musical friends always rag me for not accepting the gospel of Jack White. They say the guy is worthy of being counted among the ranks of guitar greats despite his age and length of time spent in the sphere. I say different. I say old Jacko hasn’t paid his dues, and therefore, doesn’t deserve to be showered with praise and glory just yet (regardless of his undeniable skill)–sharing DVD features with dudes like Kieth Richards and “The Edge” (that pompous tool). It’s this way of thinking that leads people to believe that a translation like The Message hasn’t earned it’s place amongst the pews. Anyone still go to a church with pews? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Sorry for the outdated imagery. It hasn’t paid it’s dues yet, so it doesn’t deserve to be counted with the rest, right?. It’s like that pocket New Testament Message came dribbling along back in ’93 or whenever, and all the other Bibles were like, “Woah there, LeBron! Not so fast. We know you’re a star, but we’re still going to bench you for a few seasons, just so you know your place.”
I think we’re all just being a little too nice and a little too respectful of some elusive crowd of traditionalists that we abdicated from a long time ago. Jesus spoke in simple terms–teaching through the vehicles of farming and fishing because of the application value. I don’t think there’s a diagram that shows acceptable Bibles and unacceptable Bibles. It’s more like a gradual time-line where the difference is never the content but the context. It would be one thing if Rob Bell came out with a version where Mary wasn’t a virgin or eternal Hell wasn’t a circumstance…oh wait.