Eugene Peterson

Perennial issue whenever journalists write about religion: Which Bible to quote?

Perennial issue whenever journalists write about religion: Which Bible to quote?

A recent item by GetReligion colleague Bobby Ross posed this perennial issue facing journalists and others writing about religion: “Which Bible to quote?

News articles had quoted Eugene Peterson’s The Message -- one man’s popular paraphrase and not quite a Bible -- and the New King James Version, a conservative fave that was an odd choice for a piece about liberal Protestants.

Once upon a time the (original) King James Version from 1611 sufficed. Its wordings were  familiar to a broad swath of English readers, indeed often memorized. Though the King was Protestant, generally similar verbiage appeared in Catholicism’s old Douay-Rheims translation (1609), and even moreso in the Jewish Publication Society’s The Holy Scriptures (1917).  

Today, however, a dozen or more modern options are in regular use, thus creating our tricky problem. Ross, who like The Guy is an Associated Press alum, noted that the wire’s influential Stylebook offers ample guidance about the Bible but doesn’t address how to decide which version to quote. “Please help me out here, friends,” Ross asked, so the ever-friendly Religion Guy responds herewith. 

When The Guy was teaching an adult Bible class recently, one participant brought along The Message. Its differences with standard Bibles sparked some pointed discussions. Such personal paraphrases -- also including Kenneth Taylor’s The Living Bible and J.B. Phillips’s elegantly British New Testament in Modern English -- are useful for private study and devotions. But they’re not really Bible translations, so a more literal version should also be consulted for comparisons.

Likewise, in most situations writers should cite a Bible closer to the original text that expresses the consensus from a panel of experts.  

Obviously, if a person is quoting a Bible passage verbatim you’ll go with that wording, even if it’s a paraphrase.

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Eugene Peterson, RNS and gay marriage: Wave good-bye to clarity and objectivity

Eugene Peterson, RNS and gay marriage: Wave good-bye to clarity and objectivity

Religion News Service definitely made headlines on July 12 when it reported that the revered author Eugene Peterson had changed his mind on same-sex marriage.

Note that I said “reported.”

The news was actually broken in an opinion piece by Jonathan Merritt, a blogger and columnist who is same-sex attracted and writes frequently on LGBTQ issues.

Merritt is passionately on the side of gays to the point where, in March, he opined that it was “good news” that reparative therapy pioneer Joe Nicolosi had died. So I don’t expect objective reporting from that quarter.

But with RNS, as we’ve said previously, the difference between news and opinion is often pretty thin. Also, it's crucial that some RNS material that is opinion -- Merritt is clearly labeled as a columnist -- may run, in some places, with a simple byline. In the online world, clear labeling of news and features is crucial. Readers are getting confused.

So Merritt, we find out later, had heard rumors that Peterson had changed his mind on gay marriage. So why not get all this on the record? The piece starts out:

When a journalist has a chance to interview a paragon of the Christian faith like Eugene Peterson, there’s a lot of pressure to pick the perfect questions. I’d asked him about why he was leaving the public eye and if he was afraid of death. I’d asked him about Donald Trump and the state of American Christianity. But there was one more topic I wanted to cover: same-sex relationships and marriage.
It’s one of the hottest topics in the church today, and given Peterson’s vast influence among both pastors and laypeople, I knew his opinion would impact the conversation. Though he has had a long career, I couldn’t find his position on the matter either online or in print. I did discover that “The Message,” Peterson’s popular paraphrase of the Bible, doesn’t use the word “homosexual” and “homosexuality” in key texts. But this wasn’t definitive proof of anything. After all, those words never appear in any English translation of the Bible until 1946.

The article then veers into a Q&A, which in my book qualifies as news.

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