So Peterson did the next best thing and used his knowledge of Greek to translate Galatians into “their idiom.” He put the life back into the ancient text, words originally spoken and penned in the language of the working class. “Paul had this wild syntax with vigor and startling images he would fly into when he was excited. I wanted them to get that.” Bit by bit, he translated
Galatians every week and gave everyone in the Sunday school class a copy of it. “I knew I had them the second week because after they left, I was cleaning up and their cups were full of cold coffee and they had forgotten to stir in the sugar and cream and drink it.”
Eventually that little Galatians volume was published by InterVarsity Press. Peterson forgot about it and moved on, “. . . recovering from the episode of regression.” After several years, an editor at NavPress contacted him saying he had been carrying that tiny volume around and writing out passages of it for friends. “I’m just getting tired of Galatians,” the NavPress editor said and asked if Peterson could translate the whole New Testament.
“I said I couldn’t do that. I’m a pastor. When would I have time to do that? It took me a whole year to do Galatians.” But every few months NavPress would call back and Eugene’s answer was always the same: he was too busy being a pastor to translate the New Testament. Then, after twenty-nine years at his parish, Eugene Peterson left. He wanted to write.
“I didn’t know how I’d make a living. I more or less thought I’d go back to our family home in Montana. Then NavPress called again and I suddenly realized I could do it, I had the time.”
Peterson isn’t trying to be relevant and he isn’t massaging the biblical message according to some market-driven agenda. Once, while teaching in Vancouver, some of Peterson’s students became very excited because Bono of the rock band U2 said The Message was the most important book he’d read in his whole life. The students thought this a great triumph. Eugene didn’t recognize either Bono or U2. “If you dig your wells deep enough, relevancy is pretty much irrelevant,” Peterson said.