One dictionary says a paraphrase is: “A restatement of a text or passage in another form or other words, often to clarify meaning.” Clarity is certainly the goal of a Bible paraphrase, but you have to understand the original text correctly in order to paraphrase it. If everyone saw the same original meaning in a Bible verse, there would be no need for commentaries; there are tens of thousands of them! The same could be said of Bible translations, which commonly differ.
We all want things that are easier to understand, so what is the problem with a paraphrase? New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace says, “If the translator’s interpretation is correct, it can only clarify the meaning of the text; if it is incorrect, then it can only clarify the interpretation of the translator!” On one hand you get a paraphrase of God’s Word; on the other hand you get a paraphrase of the translator’s word.
The Living Bible
One of the most popular paraphrases is The Living Bible. It first appeared in 1971 as the literary effort of Kenneth N. Taylor. Taylor initially wrote The Living Bible for his children, never intending it for serious study, yet it achieved great popularity.
Another widely-distributed paraphrase is The Message, the effort of Eugene H. Peterson. The full Bible as paraphrased by The Message became available in 2002. One notable scholar considers The Message even freer than a paraphrase, calling it devotional literature.
So, the two most popular paraphrases are each the product of one man. Further, we note that some question exists as to when clarification becomes inventive. Compare these paraphrases with a translation for one of Jesus’ statements in the Sermon on the Mount:
PARAPHRASE: Matthew 5:3 (The Message) ”You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
PARAPHRASE: Matthew 5:3 (The Living Bible) “Humble men are very fortunate” he told them, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.”
TRANSLATION: Matthew 5:3 (English Standard Version) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Paraphrases have good devotional use, but serious Bible study is not one of them. You need an accurate Bible translation.