Examining the Positive & Negative Qualities
Of Various Versions & Translations
Of God's Holy Scriptures

A Critical Analysis

by Al Maxey


In the summer of 1957, a 39 year old man by the name of Kenneth Taylor claimed that "God planted in my mind the concept" of taking the Bible and rephrasing it in an innovative "thought-for-thought" form, rather than a word-for-word translation from the original Hebrew and Greek.

In the upstairs study of his old farmhouse in Wheaton, Illinois he began trying out his theory on a few passages of Scripture. The results of his rephrasing work he would then read to his children during their family devotionals. The family liked it so well that he determined to spend more time in an effort to rephrase even more of the New Testament writings. In the months that followed, Kenneth Taylor worked nights, weekends, vacations and even during the 45 minute daily commuter train ride from Wheaton to downtown Chicago (where he worked at Moody Press) in order to produce a thought-for-thought paraphrase of the NT.

His devotionals with his family (he was the father of ten children) continued to "come to life" as he used the passages he had translated. Soon he began to realize that perhaps other families could benefit from his work as well. He took his paraphrase of Paul's epistles, which he called "Living Letters," to several publishers, but was turned down by all of them. The Taylors finally dipped into their own savings and published 2000 copies of the "Living Letters."

He rented half a booth at a Christian bookseller's convention in 1962, and managed to sell 800 copies. Four months passed without a single comment from anyone, then orders began to trickle in 3 or 4 at a time. He soon realized that he was going to have to print more copies, so stepping out on faith he dipped into savings again and printed 5000 more copies. Within a few months these had all sold, and he printed 10,000 more.

About this time Billy Graham, who had read the "Living Letters" while recuperating in a hospital in Hawaii, decided to use Taylor's work as one of his "give-aways" on some of his telecasts. Billy Graham gave away nearly 500,000 copies in this fashion, and the demand for more began in earnest.

Kenneth Taylor continued to work on rephrasing the rest of the Scriptures, and produced his efforts piece by piece. The Living Prophecies came out in 1964, The Living Gospels in 1966, The Living New Testament in 1967, The Living Psalms and Proverbs in 1967, Living Lessons of Life and Love in 1968, The Living Books of Moses in 1969, and The Living History of Israel in 1970. The completed Bible was finally issued in one volume in July, 1971 and was entitled The Living Bible: Paraphrased.

His work has appeared in a great many different forms: The Reach Out Version NT (1969), The Way (1972), Soul Food (a version for Afro-Americans), and various other forms. In 1972 the Living Bible became the best selling book in the USA. In 1973 alone Taylor's royalties totaled $8 million!! By 1974 the LB accounted for 46% of the sales of Bibles in the USA, bringing in almost $29 million!!

Kenneth Taylor, admitting that he had little or no knowledge of the Hebrew or Greek, made his paraphrase from the American Standard Version of 1901. It should not be forgotten that this work is a paraphrase of the Bible, and NOT a translation of it! As such it is little more than a short commentary on the Scriptures --- i.e.: what Kenneth Taylor thinks the Bible says; his interpretation.

"There are dangers in paraphrases, as well as values. For whenever the author's exact words are not translated from the original languages, 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!" (Preface to the Living Bible). Also in the Preface to the LB, Taylor makes the statement that in any place where it is difficult to make a decision as to what the passage really means, he goes by his own beliefs!! "When the Greek or Hebrew is not clear, then the theology of the translator is his guide, along with his sense of logic." The LB, in far too many places, is an expression of the logic and theology of Kenneth Taylor.

"There are a number of areas where Kenneth Taylor and the Bible disagree; so if you have a LB, you have Kenneth Taylor's beliefs! You don't study a paraphrased version to build a doctrine any more than a contractor studies an artist's sketch to build a house. Paraphrases give a meaning. To build a doctrine you must use the blueprint!" (Warren Wilcox). "It is a commentary, not a Bible, and should be called a commentary" (Warren Wilcox).


The obvious strengths of the LB are its ease of understanding and its readability. The English is very clear and contemporary and understandable. Many passages of Scripture, which have been deemed difficult to understand in some of the more literal versions, are certainly clarified (often quite accurately) in the LB. In the places where Taylor is correct in his interpretations of Scripture, he has done an excellent job of making the intent of God's Word very clear.

In a sense, he has caused the Bible to "come alive" for many younger readers, many of whom regarded the Bible as being "dead and buried" in archaic and overly-literal language. Thus the name: The Living Bible. This paraphrase has had the positive effect of causing many people to take up the Bible and really read it for the first time; people who otherwise might never have done so at all because they felt it was beyond their understanding.

It should also be pointed out that although Taylor did not know Hebrew or Greek, and made his paraphrase from the ASV, nevertheless he submitted his work for review by Hebrew and Greek scholars before its release.


As with any effort by a mere man, this work is filled with some glaring weaknesses and faults. Before one makes use of the Living Bible (or any version, for that matter), one should be made aware of these areas of difficulty.

#1 --- Kenneth Taylor is a Premillenialist, and since the LB reflects his own beliefs (as he himself admits), it has many obvious premillenial renderings. For example, note the following:

#2 --- The Living Bible promotes the doctrine of original sin. Psalm 51:5, for example, has the same problem as in the NIV. The LB reads, "But I was born a sinner, yes, from the moment my mother conceived me." In Ephesians 2:3 he has Paul saying, "We started out bad, being born with evil natures, and were under God's anger just like everyone else."

#3 --- The doctrine of "faith only" is promoted in the Living Bible. Romans 4:12 reads, "Abraham found favor with God by faith alone." This view cannot be harmonized with James 2:21-24. This belief in salvation by faith only has led him to mistranslate Colossians 1:23 as follows: "...the only condition is that you fully believe the Truth."

#4 --- In Mark 1:4 baptism is described in the LB as a "public announcement of their decision to turn their backs on sin," rather than stating it is for "forgiveness of sins," as the original text does. The "water" of John 3:5 is interpreted in a footnote this way: "Some think this means water baptism." The actual meaning, he states, is that it refers to "the normal process observed during every human birth" (i.e.: the amniotic fluids). In I Peter 3:21 Taylor writes, "In baptism we show that we have been saved." This implies that we're already saved, and are just baptized to show it.

#5 --- In I Corinthians 6:12 the Living Bible reads, "I can do anything I want to if Christ has not said no." Martin Luther also maintained "We can do anything the Bible does not forbid." He and Zwingli debated this issue heatedly.

#6 --- Kenneth Taylor, in his efforts to paraphrase the Bible in modern day speech, has taken some liberties that at times go a bit too far. Some of his renderings are amusing in nature, some embarrassing, and some downright offensive (what some have called "gutter language"). Notice the following examples:

  1. In I Samuel 20:30 we read, "Saul boiled with rage. 'You son of a bitch!' he yelled at him." The wording of John 9:34 is in a similar vein: "'You illegitimate bastard, you!' they shouted."

  2. In I Kings 18:27 the LB reads, "About noontime, Elijah began mocking them. 'You'll have to shout louder than that,' he scoffed, 'to catch the attention of your god! Perhaps he is talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!"

  3. I Samuel 13:11 reads, "But as she was standing there before him, he grabbed her and demanded, 'Come to bed with me, my darling.'" In vs. 20 "Her brother Absalom asked her, 'Is it true that Amnon raped you? Don't be so upset, since it's all in the family anyway.'"

  4. Hosea 4:11 speaks of "wine, women and song."

  5. Matthew 2:6 reads, "O little town of Bethlehem." This is taken from the Christmas song, not from the original Greek text.

  6. Acts 4:36 refers to Barnabas as "Barny the Preacher."

  7. In Acts 1:26 they "drew straws" to determine who would replace Judas as an apostle.

  8. In Acts 10:15, where Peter is given a vision of several different kinds of animals and then told to kill and eat them, the voice from heaven says that this food is "kosher."

  9. In Revelation 1:4 Taylor writes, "From: John. To: the seven churches in Turkey." There was no such country at that time. Revelation 1:8 reads, "I am the A and the Z" (Hugo McCord does the same thing in his version). Revelation 2:15 reads, "Yes, you have some of these very same followers of Balaam among you" (the text literally says "Nicolaitans").

  10. Matthew 16:18 reads, "You are Peter, a stone; and upon this rock I will build My Church." This could almost be construed as a reference to Peter as the rock upon which the church would be built.

  11. Matthew 7:12 reads, "Do for others what you want them to do for you. This is the teaching of the law of Moses in a nutshell" (the text literally says, "this is the law and the prophets").


"The masses of people not conditioned by a lifetime of study to the archaisms of the KJV & ASV have a deep hunger for a translation they can easily read and understand --- a hunger so urgent that they, the blind led by the blind, grasp at broken reeds like the LB. Although the LB is easy reading and provides the general outline of the biblical story, it is not sufficiently reliable to be useful for serious study by any person who is concerned over details of what the Word of God says either in historical matters or in doctrinal matters" (Dr. Jack P. Lewis, The English Bible: From KJV to NIV).

The Living Bible "is not God's words. It is rather a commentary which gives us what Kenneth Taylor believes the Bible said; if he is right, it can be a useful tool, but if he is wrong, and we believe it, he has done us no favor by making his error understandable!" (Warren Wilcox, Versions of the Bible: Their Strengths and Weaknesses).

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