(This the second post in a series on Bible versions. You can read the first post about how I Corinthians 13 came alive to me in a new way, here.)
I never intended to regularly use The Message paraphrase. Just like I never intended to live where I’m living now. And like I never intended to marry my husband (true story!).
I’ve noticed a trend in my life, though. Sometimes the things I need the most are things I’m not initially drawn to. They look different than I imagine. They seem contrary to what I need or want.
Until suddenly, without intentional effort, I realize they are exactly what my heart does need. And then, I can’t get enough.
My initial introduction to The Message was a bit tumultuous. I was in Bible college when The Message was released, amongst people studying Greek and Hebrew. Let’s just say this paraphrase wasn’t highly esteemed.
I didn’t really spend a lot of time debating the issue. Nor did I spend a lot of time looking into The Message either. I mentally assigned it to a category of things “not worth my time” and went on with life.
Fast forward eight or nine years. I’m in a new environment. Absorbed with full-time ministry. Drowning in busyness. Searching for ways to sustain the weight and demands of life. And somewhere along the way I noticed an older, wiser friend reading from The Message.
I honestly wasn’t sure what to think at first. But then I heard passages read. I looked up passages online. It wasn’t long before I ordered my own copy.
I inhaled entire books in one sitting. I couldn’t get enough. The Message was a breath of fresh air. A reservoir of water to my parched and weary soul.
The words were fresh and new, blunt and in my face. God used The Message to give me a fresh understanding of discipleship, salvation, and life with him. Many other versions of the Bible can do this too.
Sometimes we need to get out of a Scripture rut. Sometimes we need new words that help us think differently and deepen our understanding. This is what non-traditional Bible versions can do and why I’m a proponent of using them.
5 Benefits of Non-Traditional Bible Versions
#1 – You Can’t Read Into the Text
My paradigms influence how I interpret meaning – with Scripture and in life in general. I’ve shared before about my perfectionistic, driven nature. My default is rules, earning, law. It’s what I unconsciously bring to Scripture whenever I read.
When I read words I’m familiar with, it’s easier to interpret them though the lens of my faulty paradigms. When I read new words that I have to work to interpret, my paradigms are challenged.
#2 – You Can’t Assume You Know What a Passage (or word or phrase) Means
I wish now I had kept a tally of how many times I’ve been reading The Message and thought to myself, “The Bible doesn’t really say that.” Only to discover when I go back to my usual version, that yes, indeed, it does say that even though I’ve never understood it that way before.
It’s a blessing to be familiar with Scripture. But there’s a risk in it too. A risk that you stop reading for meaning and simply read what you think is already there. Reading a new version keeps you on your toes when you read, enabling you to read for true meaning.
#3 – You Notice New Words and Phrases
This one but seem a little obvious! Of course there are different words used in different versions! But what struck me most is how those words and phrases were used.
Words and phrases used to describe God that I hadn’t considered before. Words and phrases that further developed the meaning of words I’d heard and read over and over without really appreciating. Reading a new version caused truths to expand their depth and meaning in my life.
#4 – You See Related Ideas You Never Noticed Before
A further benefit to novel words and phrases is that you notice them everywhere. I remember when I first started reading The Message. I read in the Old and New Testaments concurrently and was amazed at the common language between them. It had never been so obvious to me before. I really couldn’t help but notice.
The book that stands out to me the most was the book of Deuteronomy. It’s easy to think of that book as a “law” book. In reality though, there’s so much grace and love filling the pages of that book. God was after his people’s hearts from the very beginning. He desired they love him first, knowing that keeping the law would flow from that. Sounds a bit like the greatest commandment, huh?!
#5 – Your Heart is Reached, Not Just Your Mind
This one is the clincher for me.
By reading God’s Word in a fresh way, I came to know God better. I saw his heart that pursued sinful man. Pursued me. I couldn’t help but feel loved and then respond in love. My heart was overwhelmed with his choice of me, his generous heart towards me, his kindness and graciousness that was so undeserved.
Psalm 86:15 has become one of my favorites. It epitomizes who I have found God to be towards me as I have journeyed towards his heart through his word.
Where To Go From Here
I don’t think The Message is right for everyone. But here’s what I do think. I do think everyone needs to read God’s Word in a way that gets them out of their own reading rut.
I think everyone needs to read God’s Word in a way that the text can speak for itself. I think everyone needs to wrestle with their misconceptions and misunderstandings that come from hearing words and assuming their meaning without seeing the words for what they are really saying.
God’s Word is designed to lead you further into intimacy with Jesus. It’s not just something to understand or defend or uphold. There’s a person that it all points to. A relationship to be enjoyed.
As Sally Lloyd-Jones says, “Every book whispers his name.” And that whisper is for you. For your heart. For your life.
If God’s Word does not come alive to you as you read it right now, maybe it’s a good time to pick up a new version. Not for study. Not for in depth comparison and cross-referencing. But for enjoyment. To hear the voice of God loving you, drawing you near, extoling himself, inviting you into the grand adventure of life with him.
Maybe you’ll see new truth. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll see common threads in Scripture you never noticed before. Maybe you won’t.
But at the end of it all, I’m pretty sure you’ll see God differently. You won’t leave the same. You can’t. Because God will have your attention. His words will speak directly and in a fresh way. Your mind won’t be able to skim over truths you’ve heard over and over. Your heart will be captured by the love, grace and winsomeness of a God who will do anything to pursue relationship with those he calls his own.
Won’t you give it a try? What do you have to lose?