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Kenneth N. Taylor, The Living Bible, Paraphrased. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1971. The New Testament was published in 1967.
This version is Kenneth Taylor’s interpretive paraphrase of the Bible.
Taylor (1917-2005) was a Baptist layman employed by Moody Press, the publishing house of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Although he had some theological training (at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary) he was not proficient in Hebrew and Greek. He used English versions as the basis of his paraphrase. The preface of the New Testament published in 1967 states that the paraphrase is based upon the American Standard Version (1901), and this agrees with Taylor’s statement in a 1973 interview 1 that the ASV was in front of him as he worked on the paraphrase. The 1967 preface does not mention that Taylor is the author of the version; it mentions only a “Paraphrase Revision Committee,” but the members of this committee are not named. The preface of the complete Living Bible (1971) states that the work “has undergone several major manuscript revisions and has been under the careful scrutiny of a team of Greek and Hebrew experts to check content, and of English critics for style. Their many suggestions have been largely followed, though none of those consulted feels entirely satisfied with the present result.” The names of those comprising the advisory “team of Greek and Hebrew experts” are not given, nor are the names of those who served on the 1971 Revision Committee. Presumably the committee consisted of Taylor and members of his editorial staff at Tyndale House Publishers, who at one stage in their work solicited comments from people whom they regarded as experts in the original languages.
Taylor created this paraphrase as a help for those who wanted to read the Bible to children without having to stop and explain many things. In a 1979 interview published in Christianity Today he explained that the version began in the context of his efforts to explain the biblical text to his own children during family devotions:
The children were one of the chief inspirations for producing the Living Bible. Our family devotions were tough going because of the difficulty we had understanding the King James Version, which we were then using, or the Revised Standard Version, which we used later. All too often I would ask questions to be sure the children understood, and they would shrug their shoulders—they didn’t know what the passage was talking about. So I would explain it. I would paraphrase it for them and give them the thought. It suddenly occurred to me one afternoon that I should write out the reading for that evening thought by thought, rather than doing it on the spot during our devotional time. So I did, and read the chapter to the family that evening with exciting results—they knew the answers to all the questions I asked! 2
He also produced other books for children, such as Devotions for the Children’s hour, The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes, and Junior Devotions for Campers.
Tyndale House Publishers was founded by Taylor for the purpose of publishing his paraphrase, beginning with the Epistles as Living Letters in 1962. In the following year the evangelist Billy Graham offered Taylor’s paraphrase as a television premium on broadcasts of his popular “Crusades,” and this brought the book into prominence. Taylor proceeded to paraphrase the entire New Testament (published in 1967), and then the Old Testament (1971). Many thousands of copies were distributed at Graham’s crusades, and it became a widely used Bible, marketed as a version for adults. The 1967 preface boasted that three million copies of Living Letters and Living Gospels had been printed, and advised that “this book should be in every Christian household ... each member of the family needs this paraphrase.”
The growing popularity of the Living Bible was one of many signs of the dumbing-down of American English that took place during the twentieth century. The trend was noticed by linguists as early as 1931, when Edward Sapir observed that the technology of mass communication has led to “the insidious cheapening of literary and artistic values due to the foreseen and economically advantageous ‘widening of the appeal.’ All [linguistic] effects which demand a certain intimacy of understanding tend to become difficult and are therefore avoided.” 3 The rate of decline excellerated during the 1960’s and 70’s. Recently the Princeton Review educational testing service measured one indicator of this historical decline by comparing the vocabulary used by Richard Nixon and John Kennedy in their televised debate of 1960 with the vocabulary used by Bill Clinton and George Bush in their 1992 debate. Their study found that the level of vocabulary in the presidential debates had slipped from a tenth-grade reading level in 1960 to a sixth-grade level in 1992. (Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas had debated at an eleventh-grade level in 1858.) 4 Taylor’s method and its “exciting results” involved the dumbing-down of the Biblical text to a grade-school level, and this was in keeping with the linguistic and educational trends of the time.
It should be noted that Taylor’s paraphrase came along after the publication of several other Bible versions designed for those who were unable to understand the King James Version. Taylor himself had arranged for Moody Press to publish a reprint of Charles Williams’ New Testament in the Language of the People in 1949. In the same year the Basic Bible was published, followed by the Revised Standard Version (1952) and the Berkeley Version in Modern English (1959). And other versions (including the New International Version of 1973) were published during the years that the Living Bible was being promoted by Billy Graham. Taylor’s paraphrase should be compared to these other twentieth-century versions, not to the version of King James.
The dust-jacket of the first edition of the Living New Testament (1967) asserts that “Scholars ... have paid tribute to its accuracy,” and that it “has been carefully checked by New Testament scholars whose ability transcends precise translation—they also are able to accurately evaluate thought-by-thought paraphrasing.” But again, we are unable to determine what basis these claims may have.
Despite its great popularity (Tyndale House reports that by 1997 its sales of the Living Bible had exceeded 40 million copies), and despite the claims made by the publisher in its advertisements, very few scholars have given any encouragement to its use, and most have either ignored it or have strictly warned against it. 5 There are many problems. These involve much more than the general blurring and loss of significant details which must always accompany a reduction in reading-level. This loss of detail is regrettable enough; but aside from that, Taylor’s version contains venturesome interpretations that no scholar is likely to approve. Some of the misinterpretations are downright ludicrous—the sort of mistakes that only an uneducated man could make. For example, John 12:15:
Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!
Don’t be afraid of your King, people of Israel, for he will come to you meekly, sitting on a donkey’s colt!
Taylor may have picked up this interpretation from some devotional work or sermon. But it is impossible for us to believe that this rendering was approved by a biblical scholar. The “fear not” is an Hebraic expression meaning “have confidence,” frequently used in the Old Testament in connection with a promise of salvation (see Isaiah 40:9, Zephaniah 3:16, etc.). John uses the phrase here as an expression equivalent to the “Rejoice greatly” in Zechariah 9:9, from which he quotes more exactly in the second half of the verse. The idea that it means “don’t be afraid of your king” here would never even occur to a scholar. This is a relatively unimportant mistake, but it reveals a lack of basic competence in the translator. And there are far more serious errors to be noted, regarding important theological teachings.
In several places Taylor brazenly wrests the scripture so as to conform it to Arminian teachings about salvation. We give below three examples. The 1971 Living Bible is here compared with the Revised Standard Version of 1952 and with the version of Tyndale (1534 edition). We include Tyndale because it pleased Mr. Taylor to be compared with that venerable translator.
For of a truth, against thy holy child Jesus whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and also Pontius Pilate, with the gentiles and the people of Israel, gathered themselves together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.
for truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever thy hand and thy plan had predestined to take place.
For Herod the king, and Pontius Pilate the governor, and all the Romans—as well as the people of Israel—are united against Jesus, your anointed Son, your holy servant. They won’t stop at anything that you in your wise power will let them do.
The gentiles heard and were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord, and believed: even as many as were ordained unto eternal life.
And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and rejoiced in Paul’s message; and as many as wanted eternal life, believed.
For we know that all things work for the best unto them that love God, which also are called of purpose. For those which he knew before, he also ordained before, that they should be like fashioned unto the shape of his son, that he might be the first begotten son among many brethren.
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.
And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into His plans. For from the very beginning God decided that those who came to him—and all along he knew who would—should become like his Son, so that his Son would be the First, with many brothers.
Peter’s words in Acts 4:27-28 clearly attribute the crucifixion of Jesus to the hand of God, by whose plan it was “predestined to take place,” as the RSV says. The wicked men who did it were instruments of this mysterious plan. But Taylor’s paraphrase makes this whole statement refer, not to the crucifixion, but to whatever God “will let them do” in the future. The rendering of Acts 13:48 is especially objectionable. The verse’s teaching concerning God’s sovereign grace in salvation (“as many as were ordained to eternal life believed”) is replaced by another teaching, in which salvation is attributed to the will of man (“as many as wanted eternal life”). In Romans 8:28-29 those who are “called according to his purpose” (RSV) become those who are “fitting into His plans” in Taylor’s paraphrase. The Arminian idea that God calls people on the basis of his foreknowledge of what they will do intrudes into the text with Taylor’s “and all along he knew who would.” The implication here is that election is really based upon a human choice, not upon the effectual call of God.
This sort of thing did not sit well with many Christians who did not share Taylor’s Arminian views. That these interpretations would be passed off on readers as if they were the words of the Bible itself shows the danger of this manner of presenting the Bible. The theological bent of the interpreter will inevitably result in such problems, and they are especially unfortunate when the theology of the interpreter is so plainly at odds with the teaching of the Bible. Surely if the version had been “under the careful scrutiny of a team of Greek and Hebrew experts” during its preparation, these renderings would not have escaped criticism. A process of review and revision which allowed these renderings to stand could not have been one in which careful scholars had much influence.
The complaints were such that, in 1989, Tyndale House commissioned an extensive revision by ninety evangelical scholars. The result was the New Living Translation (published 1996).
By the time of Taylor’s death in 2005, Tyndale House Publishers had become wealthy through sales of this paraphrase. And Taylor’s death was used as an occasion for the celebration of his paraphrase by others in the Bible-publishing industry, who had a financial interest in the marketing of their own paraphrastic Bible versions. Paul J. Caminiti, Vice-President of the Zondervan Corporation (publisher of the controversial TNIV), wrote:
We admire his courage. I was a college student when The Living Bible released [sic] and remember well the criticism heaped on the paraphrase and on Dr. [sic] Taylor himself. The critics accused him of playing fast and loose with the Bible. But Dr. Taylor was indomitable. One wonders if he named his fledging [sic] new company Tyndale because he knew in small measure the persecution of attempting to make the Bible accessible to the masses. 6
Yet the allegations of “playing fast and loose with the Bible” should not be dismissed lightly in this case. They are well-founded. And the idea that Taylor’s paraphrase was needed to make the Bible “accessible to the masses” seems to have little basis when we take into consideration the other versions that were available during the 1970’s. These other versions also served the needs of readers with limited education, without the problems of the Living Bible.
The comparisons to Tyndale are not apt. Tyndale was not an amateur or a paraphrast. He was a competent scholar and a faithful translator; his New Testament was essentially a literal translation. As the examples quoted above show, Tyndale’s version has much more in common with the Revised Standard Version than it does with Taylor’s paraphrase.
Moreover, it should be pointed out that Taylor’s Arminian interpretations amount to a rejection of the “grace alone” teaching of the Reformation which Tyndale embraced and for which he even sacrificed his life. In his Prologue upon the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans Tyndale wrote that “God only ... poureth faith and belief ... into us, even as water is poured into a vessel,” and he summarized the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters of Romans thus:
In the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters he treateth of God’s predestination, whence it springeth altogether whether we shall believe or not believe, be loosed from sin or not be loosed. By which predestination our justifying and salvation are clean taken out of our hands, and put in the hands of God only; which thing is most necessary of all. For we are so weak and so uncertain, that if it stood in us, there would of a truth be no man saved; the devil no doubt would deceive us. But now is God sure, that his predestination cannot deceive him, neither can any man withstand or let him; and therefore have we hope and trust against sin.
These teachings concerning the complete inability of man, the predestination of the elect, monergistic salvation, and the irresistible grace of God, are biblical teachings which were affirmed by all Protestants in Tyndale’s day. But Taylor, in accordance with the teachings of modern Baptist evangelicalism, rejects these teachings of the Reformers, and even tries to expunge them from the Bible. It is not right that anyone should do this, and it is especially wrong to do it in Tyndale’s name.
There is no doubt that Taylor had a zeal for God, and that he was eager to make the Bible more “accessible to the masses,” as Caminiti says. But in Bible translations, good intentions are not enough. As we read (or ought to read) in Proverbs 19:2 —
|גם בלא־דעת נפש לא־טוב|
|ואץ ברגלים חוטא|
|Without knowledge, zeal (nephesh) is not good;|
|He who makes haste with his feet commits sins.|
1. Interview in “The Story of the Living Bible,” Eternity 23 (April 1973), p. 74.
2. Harold Myra, “Ken Taylor: God’s Voice in the Vernacular,” Christianity Today, October 5, 1979.
3. Edward Sapir, “Communication,” in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences vol. 4 (New York, Macmillan, 1931) as reprinted in Selected Writings of Edward Sapir in Language, Culture and Personality, edited by David G. Mandelbaum (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963), p. 108.
4. As described by Diane Ravitch, Dumbing Down the Public: Why It Matters, accessed at url http://www-hoover.stanford.edu/pubaffairs/we/current/ravitch_0101.html on 11 July 2005.
5. According to one source, officials of the United Bible Societies even advised missions agencies not to distribute the Living Bible : “In 1977, the UBS Executive Committee (UBSEC) recommended to all societies that they should not disseminate the English Living Bible on the grounds that it was a paraphrase, straying too far in some places from the original Hebrew and Greek.” (Roger Steer, “‘Without Note or Comment’: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” in Sowing the Word: the Cultural Impact of the British and Foreign Bible Society 1804-2004, edited by Stephen K. Batalden [Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2004], p. 75.)
6. “Remembering Ken Taylor,” Zondervan web log entry, dated 14 June 2005.
Reproduced from the first edition of Living Letters: The Paraphrased Epistles (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1962).
In this wonderful day of many new translations and revisions we can greet another new one with either dread or joy! Dread that ‘people will become confused’ or joy that some will understand more perfectly what the New Testament letters are talking about. We choose the way of joy! For each new presentation of God’s Word will find its circle, large or small, of those to whom it will minister strength and blessing.
This book, though arriving late on the current translation scene, has been under way for many years. It has undergone six major manuscript revisions and has been under the careful scrutiny of a team of Greek experts to check content, and of English critics for style. Their many suggestions have been largely followed, though none of those consulted feels entirely satisfied with the present result. This is therefore a tentative edition. Further suggestions as to both renderings and style will be gladly considered if future printings are called for.
A word should be said here about paraphrases. What are they? To paraphrase is to say something in different words than the author used. It is a restatement of an author’s thoughts, using different words than he did. This book is a paraphrase of the New Testament letters. Its purpose is to say as exactly as possible what Paul, James, Peter, John, and Jude meant, and to say it simply, expanding where necessary for a clear understanding by the modern reader.
For the New Testament writers often used idioms and patterns of thought that are hard for us to follow today. Frequently the thought sequence is fast-moving, leaving gaps for the reader to understand and fill in, or the thought jumps ahead or backs up to something said before (as one would do in conversation) without clearly stating the antecedent reference. Sometimes the result for us with our present-day stress on careful sentence construction and sequential logic is that we are left far behind.
Then too the writers often have compressed enormous thoughts into single technical words that are full of meaning, but need expansion and amplification if we are to be sure of understanding what the author meant to include in such words as ‘justification,’ ‘righteousness,’ ‘redemption,’ ‘baptism for the dead,’ ‘elect,’ and ‘saints.’ Such amplification is permitted in a paraphrase but exceeds the responsibilities of a strict translation.
There are dangers in paraphrases as well as values. For whenever the author’s exact words are not translated from the Greek, there is a possibility that the translator, however honest, may be giving the English reader something that the original writer did not mean to say. This is because a paraphrase is guided not only by the translator’s skill in simplifying but also by the clarity of his understanding of what the author meant and by his theology. For when the Greek is not clear, then the theology of the translator is his guide, along with his sense of logic, unless perchance the translation is allowed to stand without any clear meaning at all. The theological lodestar in this book has been a rigid evangelical position.
If this paraphrase helps to simplify the deep and often complex thoughts of the New Testament writers, and if it makes the Bible easier to understand and follow, deepening the Christian lives of its readers and making it easier for them to follow their Lord, then the book has achieved its goal.
Reproduced from the first edition of The Living New Testament, Paraphrased (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1967).
Three million copies of Living Letters and Living Gospels have been printed since the first edition of 2,000 Living Letters was published in 1962. In this 5th anniversary of that event, we present this paraphrased New Testament in one volume. The manuscript has been carefully revised, including suggestions from lay readers, Bible scholars and linguists. For the most part the changes are in the wording, to make the text even more readable, but there are also occasional basic translation changes (such as Romans 14:1), where the revision committee has felt that a previous rendering, though valid, should conform to a more standard interpretation. *
The basic text used for this paraphrase is the American Standard Version of 1901, generally accepted by Bible scholars everywhere as a masterful work. New readings in the light of research since the publication of that volume have, of course, been incorporated into the Living New Testament, Paraphrased. It is the intention of the Paraphrase Revision Committee to continually revise this book as desirable changes become evident, with a general revision every five years. To this end the publishers continue to request assistance from general readers and scholars alike in calling attention to easier or more accurate wording possibilities.
Copies of this book should be in every Christian household as a companion to the favored translation in use in that home. Each member of the family needs this paraphrase to use alongside such standard translations as the King James Version. Many testimonies indicate that the use of this paraphrase has transformed Bible reading from a duty to a joy, and that Christian lives have been radically changed as a result.
This book is also an important text for nonreaders of the Bible who have heretofore found Bible reading in the standard versions too difficult. Here the reading is not only easy, but stimulating, even exciting.
May many lives be changed by the Holy Spirit of God as He uses this form of His Word to cut into hard, troubled, or confused hearts, flooding them with light, and to fill all willing hearts with new, heavenly riches.
* In the first edition of Living Letters (1962), Taylor paraphrased Romans 14:1 thus: “Give a warm welcome to anyone who wants to join you as a member of the church, even if he scarce believes that Christ alone can save him. Don’t criticize him for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.” In the edition of the complete New Testament (1967) this was changed to, “Give a warm welcome to any brother who wants to join you, even though his faith is weak. Don’t criticize him for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.” Also a footnote was added: “Literally, ‘receive him that is weak in faith, not for decisions of scruples.’ Perhaps the meaning is, ‘Receive those whose consciences hurt them when they do things others have no doubts about.’ Accepting them might cause discord in the church, but Paul says to welcome them anyway.” The revised rendering is still not satisfactory, but it does avoid giving readers the impression that Paul instructed the Romans to welcome “anyone who wants to join” their congregation, including those who “scarce believe” that Christ can save them. —M.D.M.
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