'I Didn't Want to Be Cute'
Eugene Peterson has worked on The Message, his rendering of the Bible in contemporary language, for 12 years. This year he can celebrate the arrival of The Message as a complete text. Peterson's work has won praise from diverse readers—from the Protestant contemplative Richard J. Foster to football coach Bill McCartney, and from theologian J. I. Packer to rock star Bono. The Message began taking shape when Peterson was leading a Bible study at the church he founded, Christ Our King Presbyterian in Bel Air, Maryland, and he sought to make Galatians more accessible to his class. After John Stine, an editor at NavPress, read Peterson's treatment of Galatians, he suggested that Peterson begin writing similar versions of other New Testament books. Peterson recently spoke by phone with CT associate Douglas LeBlanc on the challenges of writing a paraphrase translation.
Was there a breakthrough moment when you became convinced that you should expand your work from Galatians to the rest of the New Testament?
I was a reluctant participant in this. I really didn't think that I could do it or that it could be done. But I agreed with my editor, John, that I would. In some ways Paul is easy. There's a lot of challenge to Paul, but the gospels are something quite different. There's a kind of clean, lucid clarity to them, and I just didn't think I could do that. But I agreed to do 10 chapters of Matthew and then let John decide whether he thought we could do this. And so it was just as bad as I thought it would be. It was very wooden, and it just wasn't working. I just kind of let go and became playful. And that was when the Sermon on the Mount started. I remember I was down in my basement study, and I did the Beatitudes in about 10 minutes. ...