In the world of NT scholarship, the original Hebrew and Greek texts apart, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is the ‘best’ Bible in the sense of being the most accurate. However, to understand the text of God’s Word aright, there is much to be said for consulting not just other translations of the Bible (I like the Good News Bible) but also a paraphrase. In recent years I have particularly enjoyed using The Message by Eugene Peterson – sometimes it just hits the nail on the head in which a more literal translation may not.
By chance the other Sunday I happened to meet Martin Manser, a professional book editor who was the Managing Editor of Oxford University Press’ Anglicised Cross-Reference edition of the Bible. I discovered that he is in the process of writing a British paraphrase of the New Testament, entitled Word Come Alive. He has already published paraphrases of three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark and John), as also 1,2, & 3 John. He gave me a copy Word Come Alive: John’s Gospel (Creative International, Bath 2016: 112pp: £1.50) and asked me to see what I thought of it. It is “an expanded translation (paraphrase) of the Bible; it supplies linking phrases and background information in italics within the text to help make its message more immediately understandable”. It is “primarily for Christians who are so familiar with the language of the Bible that it has little or no impact on them”.
So having received this paraphrase of John’s Gospel, I thought I would do a comparison of three passages of Martin Manser’s paraphrase with Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase.
The Message: The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word.The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.
WCA: Before time began, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, already existed. In fact, he has always existed and has always been in the immediate presence of God the Father. Christ powerfully expresses and reveals God’s thoughts, his mind, just as a word clearly expresses and reveals a person’s thought. Christ himself, fully God, is the Word of God. I cannot say it too often, Christ himself, fully God but distinct from the Father, has always existed from all eternity in the immediate joyful presence of God.
The Message: The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.
WCA: All this leads up to the most dramatic event in the whole of history. The Word of God, Christ himself, took on a real human body. Although we cannot understand it, he was fully God and fully man. He chose to make his home among us, even among the likes of you and me, so identifying himself fully with us and personally affirming our humanity. And we (and I include myself here) have gazed in wonder on his radiant glory. Surely our only fitting response is to pause to worship and adore him. He is the unique Son of the Father. His life was filled with love for those who do not deserve his love. He fully expresses all that the Father is, he is the reality underlying all.
The Message: This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.
WCA: God showed his most overflowing love for humanity by giving his most precious gift of all: his unique Son. This gift was the ultimate sacrifice. God sent his Son into the world so that everyone – whoever they are – who personally trusts in Christ will not perish. They will not face condemnation but will have eternal life. This life is a full, supernatural life, knowing God and enjoying his love, peace and joy for ever. The whole purpose of God sending his Son into the world wasn’t to condemn the world to punishment, but so that the world would be rescued through him. The person who trusts in Christ is not condemned: they have already been declared ‘not guilty’. But the person who rejects Christ by not trusting in him has already been condemned because they have not trusted in the person of God’s unique Son.’
The Message: When he [the Friend] comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.
WCA: When the Mentor comes in fresh power, he will impress on the hearts of those who are hostile to me that they’ve been wrong about sin, about what is right and about judgment. He will do this by impressing on them their sin, because they haven’t believed in me, in who I am and why I’ve come. He will show them that they need me as their Saviour. He will also impress on them what is truly right, because I’m now going back to the Father, where you won’t see me any longer. He will also impress on them that their judgment about Jesus the righteous one has been false, because the prince of this world, Satan, is now condemned in my death and resurrection.
Interestingly, Manser’s paraphrase is significantly longer Peterson’s paraphrase, as he seeks to bring out the significance of the text. I appreciated the way in which Manser uses italics to identify the additional links. While I recognise that every translation inevitably is something of an interpretation, there are times when I felt that Manser is in danger of ensuring Jesus is an Evangelical! Whatever, if Word Come Alive succeeds in its “aims to have a powerful effect on readers, with a fresh, incisive quality that will make readers sit up and think”, then it will have done a good job!