A Beautiful Paraphrase

At my ordination into the ministry 50 years ago, my Uncle Gene gave me a copy of J.B Phillips’ paraphrase of the New Testament. Inside the front cover he had written, “Make the Word of God plain to those you teach— God will convict them if they hear Him clearly. This is my favorite translation—it is plain.”

I’m not sure that I agree the Phillips“translation” is plain, but I do find it to be beautiful. And, as I did again last Sunday morning, I’ve often quoted Romans 8:18 from it. “In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared to the magnificent future God has planned for us.”

I’ve not only found it to be beautiful, but also very comforting. In fact, I used it in the first funeral I ever preached, and have used it in almost every funeral since then.

I don’t use the Phillips for serious study, nor as a text to explore while preaching. That’s not the purpose for a paraphrase. And paraphrases do more easily reflect the biases of the individual writing it. You never want to come to a doctrinal conclusion on the basis of what you read in a paraphrase.

While not being inspired by God as are the Scriptures themselves, they can however be inspirational, and they do have their place in personal reading. In fact, many of us are reading through The Daily Message this year, which is Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible.

I do have to admit that while reading Peterson’s paraphrase this year I’ve often found myself wondering where in the world he got something. And at times I believe he tried too hard to be contemporary, and as a result his choice of words and phrases are already dated. I even found myself laughing last Saturday while reading through the daily passage, which actually happened to be the text I’d be preaching on the next day.

Paul does say that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth, but Peterson may get just a little too picturesque.“We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and more joyful our expectancy.”

I doubt that I’ll be using that in a funeral any time soon.

God Bless, Rick

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