A Little Paraphrase is a Dangerous Thing

Paraphrasing can be a useful thing.  For example, you need to convey an idea that someone had said, but you don’t have the source directly in front of you.  In this scenario, paraphrase can be used to convey that thought without actually quoting.  Let’s say for instances a pal was starting a motorcycle rodeo and he wanted you to get the word out.  So you go tell your friends, but you forget what a motorcycle is called, so you tell your friends that he’s starting a rodeo with gas powered bicycles.  No, that’s not what your friend said, but it’s the same idea and the friends you’re telling will understand what it’s all about.  In such situations, paraphrase is a very useful and good thing.  But what if your source is a paraphrase?  Wouldn’t you then be conveying your thoughts of a secondhand opinion of the original idea?  Why would you ever go to a paraphrase when you can have the source directly at your finger tips?

Of course, I’m talking about The Message.  For those who are uninitiated, The Message is paraphrase of the Bible, not a translation but a paraphrase.  If you’re not sure why that’s terrifying, let me give you an example.  Below is Mark 8:34-37 in both The Message and the ESV.  You’ll notice how they say two completely different things.

The Message

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?

English Standard Version

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?

Can you see the problem here?  While it may seem similar at first, it is far from the same message.  If you are honest with yourself, you’ll see that these two versions have a completely different messages.  In fact, the only portion of these two that is even remotely similar is the very last question.  And this is not ESV VS MSG.  This is the ESV, NLT, NIV, KJV, and all the other translations VS The Message paraphrase.  So I ask you, why would you ever use a paraphrase when you can have a perfectly good translation at your fingertips?

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