Kenneth Taylor

Creator of 'The Living Bible'
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The Independent Online

In 1950s evangelical America, most churches were wedded to the King James version (KJV) of the Bible, but Kenneth Taylor was frustrated that his 10 children could barely understand large chunks of it. Commuting every day on the train to Chicago, where he worked for a Christian publisher, he began paraphrasing the 1901 American Standard version, an update of the KJV, beginning with the New Testament. A poet, Luci Shaw, helped him polish up the style.

Kenneth Nathaniel Taylor, writer and publisher: born Portland, Oregon 8 May 1917; married 1940 Margaret West (10 children); died Wheaton, Illinois 10 June 2005.

In 1950s evangelical America, most churches were wedded to the King James version (KJV) of the Bible, but Kenneth Taylor was frustrated that his 10 children could barely understand large chunks of it. Commuting every day on the train to Chicago, where he worked for a Christian publisher, he began paraphrasing the 1901 American Standard version, an update of the KJV, beginning with the New Testament. A poet, Luci Shaw, helped him polish up the style.

His paraphrase of the letters of St Paul, Living Letters, was turned down by several publishers. With the help of a loan, he published 2,000 copies himself in 1962, but found even these hard to shift. Sales received a powerful boost the following year, when Billy Graham, the king of American Protestant evangelists, read it while recuperating from an operation in Hawaii and offered 50,000 free copies to viewers of his television show.

Taylor's own Tyndale House Publishers also took off, eventually publishing his entire paraphrase as The Living Bible in 1971. It has now sold 40 million copies worldwide. Bizarrely, given that it was a paraphrase of an English translation of the original Hebrew and Greek, The Living Bible was itself translated into more than 100 languages.

But for every enthusiastic endorser there were many who felt Taylor interpreted the Bible too freely to suit his theological positions. Critics dubbed the text "inaccurate" and "strongly tendentious". They pointed to passages such as one from 1 Kings rendered in the hallowed KJV as "Cry aloud: for He is a god: either he is talking, or he is pursuing", which Taylor gave as "Perhaps he is talking to someone or else is out sitting on the toilet". A text from Psalm 34, often taken as a messianic prophecy, "He keepeth all His bones: not one of them is broken" (KJV), Taylor rendered as "God even protects him from accidents".

Taylor defended his Living Bible as a "thought for thought translation" in which "we take the original thought and convert it into the language of today". He claimed this to be "much more accurate" than a literal translation. "I felt such a thrill at my own privilege of stripping away some of the verbiage," he added, to the horror of those who took the Bible literally.

Although The Living Bible proved the model for later and more accurate paraphrases, such as the Good News Bible, it appeared nearly two decades after the easily comprehensible Revised Standard Version and the vigorous New Testament translations by J. B. Phillips. From the 1960s, a flood of translations from the original languages in modern English began appearing, including The New English Bible and The Jerusalem Bible.

Born into a pastor's family in Oregon, Taylor grew up in the close-knit world of American Evangelicalism. From 1934 to 1938 he studied zoology at Wheaton College in Illinois. His one recorded moment of religious doubt came after reading about William Borden who died miserably of fever, cutting short a promising missionary career. However, as Taylor later recalled, God "reached out and grabbed me and pulled me back".

For many years he worked at Good News Publishers, and then Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. His first publication was Stories for the Children's Hour (1953), followed by The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes (1956). His publications - mainly retelling of bible stories - would continue into the 21st century, and included the Scratch and Sniff Bible Storybook (2003).

Tyndale House itself (of which Taylor remained president until 1984) grew sometimes precariously from a kitchen-table operation, where Taylor's older daughters typed his manuscripts, his wife Margaret typed invoices and address labels, and the younger children stuffed books into envelopes. Taylor never made money out of The Living Bible - all profit was handed to a charitable trust supporting mission work. "Since the Bible is the Word of God and God is the author, it seemed logical that He should get the royalties for his work," he declared.

Felix Corley

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