by Al Maxey

Issue #160 ------- November 27, 2004
I never dared be radical when young, for fear
it would make me conservative when old.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

The Living Bible: Paraphrased
Analysis of Strengths and Weaknesses

In the summer of 1957, a 39-year-old man by the name of Kenneth Taylor claimed, "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 forty-five 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 booksellers' 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, Versions of the Bible: Their Strengths and Weaknesses). "It is a commentary, not a Bible, and should be called a commentary" (Wilcox).

Strengths of the Living Bible

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.

Weaknesses of the Living Bible

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.

ONE --- Kenneth Taylor is a Premillennialist, and since the LB reflects his own beliefs (as he himself admits), it has many obvious renderings reflective of that theology. For example, note the following:

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

THREE --- 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."

FOUR --- 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 1 Peter 3:21 Taylor writes, "In baptism we show that we have been saved." This is troubling to those whose theology does not acknowledge any acceptance by God prior to the act of immersion. Thus, exception is taken by these disciples to this rendering of this passage in Peter's first epistle.

FIVE --- In 1 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.

SIX --- 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 rather amusing in nature, some embarrassing, and some downright offensive (what some have called "gutter language"). Notice the following examples:

  1. In 1 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 1 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. 1 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).

Ken Taylor's 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!" (Wilcox).

Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in Texas:

I received the sermon tape from you that I had requested and I listened to both of your sermons, which I enjoyed very much. Thank you for sending it. My only surprise (and, I must add, disappointment) came from the fact that your talks were so short. I was expecting to hear at least a 45 or 50 minute sermon, based solely on your ability to write so exhaustively on virtually any subject. But, no matter, the sermons were good. Thanks again. May our Father continue to bless you in your ministry.

From a Minister/Elder in New Jersey:

Al, Al, Al, there you go again. You are obsessed with sharing blessings, shining the light, lifting others up, enriching lives, inviting the hungry to the table of life, offering living water to those dying of thirst. When will you ever learn?! Surely you realize you must rightly divide the word, dictate the doctrine and declare damnation. Convict them of sin, judge them without mercy and bury them in guilt. You cannot stop with telling them of Jesus, they must memorize the six, count them, six steps of salvation, walk that narrow path, never wandering to the right or the left. You must impress on them the five (and only five) ESSENTIAL acts of worship, and don't forget organizational structure. Well, I could not get to sleep, so I thought I would aggravate you!!! Have a loaf of bread and a cup of wine and share in the Lord! Love you, brother. Good night.

From a Reader in Texas:

When my oldest daughter was 6 she told me she wanted to be baptized. I asked her, "Why?" She said to have her sins washed away. She had heard the "invitation" many times and knew the answers very well. When I asked her what sins she had that needed to be washed away, she replied, "I don't know." I told her when she realized what they were to come back and we would talk about it. I think it was about the age of 11 that one day she responded to the invitation without ever discussing it again with me. Unfortunately, we know a young man that at one time asked his parents about his being baptized. They told him he was too young to understand what he was asking for. Sadly, he has never been baptized after being put down about the matter. We must be very careful in handling this matter when it involves children, after all they are strongly approached from the pulpit to respond immediately. Parents should pray and guide them carefully.

From a Reader in California:

My daughter wanted to be baptized at about the same young age as the daughter of your friend from Georgia. We didn't hesitate at all, trusting God to mature her in and through the Holy Spirit. Today she is in her second year of college and is one of the most spiritually mature people for her age I've ever known. As always, God's blessings to you, my brother!

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Dear Brother, I look forward to every one of your Reflections, and am always blessed by your studies, but have never responded with a question before. Is it your understanding that at that "magic moment of discernment" the adolescent suddenly becomes lost and would not be raised to immortality if he or she died that day? Or, might there be some kind of transitional state between being "safe" (the state of infants) and needing to be "saved"?

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, Thank you for the article "Age of Accountability." It was well researched and presented fairly, and certainly fits with my experience. Both of my children were baptized when they were 11-12 years old. I myself was baptized at 8 years old, then rebaptized at 12 years old because I felt that previously I had responded to peer pressure, without understanding properly what I was doing. Retrospectively, 36 years later, I doubt that my second baptism was necessary. Yet, this experience has caused me to wonder if we have placed undue emphasis on the age of accountability. We worry about pressuring a child to make a decision that he or she is not mature enough to make, but worry even more about a child that seems to have passed that "point" and has not been baptized. As a result of fear of dying before baptism, it seems that over the years children are "becoming Christians" at younger and younger ages. I have begun to wonder if these children "raised in the church" are safe in the eyes of God until such time as they consciously reject the salvation offered by Jesus. This would be a different approach than viewing them as safe until they reach the age of accountability, only to be condemned from that time onward until such time as they are baptized. What do you think?

From a Reader in Georgia:

Al, Thank you so much for thinking enough of our struggle with this issue to make it the subject of one of your Reflections articles. As was the case when you fed our spirit at the Keeaumoku Street congregation (Honolulu Church of Christ), your writings encourage and enlighten us every week. Thank you so much for your study of the Word and for sharing your insights with us. I've had some very poignant talks with our daughter over the last few months, and while her mother and I believe that she will be on the early side of the "age of accountability" (perhaps by 9 or 10), I can tell that she still is not quite understanding the full picture. I'm certain that she will continue to progress and that she'll come to that "magic moment" in the not too distant future. Thank you so much for your encouragement. We love you guys and think of you often.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Al, I don't know much about Rubel Shelly, but am aware that he is very influential in Nashville and in some churches in north Alabama. I am aware that the congregation where he preaches in Nashville is identified as The Family of God. This is just curiosity on my part, but I would like to know if you and Rubel Shelly are in almost total agreement on religious matters. I inserted the word "almost," because I realize total agreement is not likely. By way of comparison, I am in almost total agreement with your Reflections and, as you know, I have encouraged several people to subscribe to Reflections. I just finished reading "The Age of Accountability" and believe you to be right on target with that issue of Reflections. I very much appreciate what you are doing.

From a Reader at Texas Tech University:

Al, thanks for a thoughtful essay. I agree with your personal reflections. I remember that N. O. White, my hero of preachers as a youngster, told of extending the invitation one night and a little girl of nine came forward. "What is your wish?" Bro. White asked her. "I want to be baptized," she replied. "Do you think you are old enough?" he then asked. To which she replied, "Bro. White, I am old enough to die." Without further ado, he received her confession and immersed her, fully satisfied with her readiness. My own son, who was always sensitive to the Lord, went forward one night at age six. We intervened, thinking he was not prepared. By the time he was a teenager, we began to worry that we may have made a mistake. But when we moved to Washington, D. C., in 1967, he made the good confession and was baptized by Ross Dye. He was thirteen, the same age as I was when baptized in Tulsa in 1943. Today he is an elder in our church and preaches full time. Just some random thoughts.

From a Reader in Texas:

Here is a short article by Buff Scott, Jr. on the fate of those who have never heard the gospel:

From a Reader in Missouri:

I loved this article on the age of accountability. I'm sure many must be discussing it. I have always agreed with the post-teen theory, especially after seeing countless adults re-baptized after being baptized as children or pre-teens. But, I have never stood in the way of someone younger being baptized, if they insist. I will pass this article on to some who may enjoy it.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, "Age of Accountability" was another thoughtful article with which I fully agree. I am amazed and saddened at the lack of continued study by so many. I am reminded of the book "All I Needed To Know About Life I Learned In Kindergarten." I have often thought that some "disciples" seem to feel that "All I Needed To Know About Being A Christian" I learned by the time I was ______ (fill in the blank). A disciple is a learner! One can never cease to desire to learn if their faith is to grow. Are there ANY Bereans left?

From a Reader in South Africa:

I enjoyed your article on the age of accountability. I have two children. Each came to me about age 10 and asked me if they should get baptized. I said, "No, not yet ... you are too young." At age 14 my son came back from a church camp and told me, "I am going to get baptized." He was ready, and I baptized him. At age 16 my daughter came to me and said, "I'm ready. I want to get baptized." She was ready, and I baptized her. In our situation, my wife and I decided that if they have to ask if it was time, it was not. When they became convicted of their sin and told us it was time, it was!

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, I have been through your caveman article again, and have discussed it with a few people, and had a thought come to mind this evening. I am specifically interested in your view. When I read Romans 5:18, I come up with a similar view as those in Universalism, but not to the point that I would say everyone will be saved regardless of choice. I think the passage comes as close as any to supporting your conclusion in your article. My question or comment comes from the idea that God justifies man and then man walks a constant walk of sanctification. If this is the case, then 5:18 seems to say that ALL men are recipients of justification. I would then suggest that some choose not to walk the path of sanctification. Any comments you might add to my study?

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Brother Al, I would bet that this subject is debated more in some churches than which version of the Bible to use! You've hit the proverbial nail on the head when you wrote, "This is fairly common among those 'raised in the church,' and it is generally about this time in a child's development that parents begin to seriously seek to motivate their children to make that deeper commitment to God." This is an understatement! Parents not only "seek to motivate" their 12-year-old children, but church leaders "corner" those children and ask them, "What are you waiting for? Why haven't you walked down the aisle yet? Don't you want to go to heaven? Do you want to go to hell for your sins? You had better not wait too long!" And so forth. They are so zealous to reap this harvest of children that they quench the work of the Holy Spirit and push God aside to get the child in the baptistery! Man, this fires me up!! I remember being pressured, or I should say hounded, to obey the Gospel. When I finally succumbed, it wasn't long afterward that I realized I didn't know what I was doing! In fact, I was in my mid-twenties before I finally grasped the concept of true repentance and commitment to Christ. I wish my family and church leaders would have just backed off and let God do His work in His own time. Well, I could go on for days about this, but suffice it to say, this Reflections article is powerful, and hopefully will open the eyes of the "zealots" in our brotherhood who are bent on "dunking" children.

From an Elder in Missouri:

Al, I agree with your conclusions on this matter wholeheartedly. As a father, I baptized my oldest daughter at age 12. Her first request of me to baptize her was at age two. When I asked her why, she responded, "For forgiveness of my sins." She repeated words about Jesus as Lord and wanting to go to heaven, etc. She had listened to my (and others') sermons every Sunday all her life, and had been present during many Bible studies. She knew all the right answers and could parrot the right words. Yet she lacked understanding and maturity. Truthfully, I don't recall how we convinced her it was not the right time, but she deferred. She asked the question many times for a few years. Then she began to explore and question everything, until one Sunday morning she came to me and said, "Dad, I want you to baptize me today ... right now." So I did, with tears of joy. We struggled in prayer for her younger sister who asked many of the same questions, had heard the same amount of sermons and studies, etc. ... but delayed (?) her baptism until age 16. We tried not to ever pressure either one, for we feel that to be contrary to the spirit of the Gospel. She came to her conviction in her own time. Both daughters are mature, faithful Christian women with Christian husbands and children who are learning the Gospel as they themselves did.

My oldest daughter's son came to visit me one time over a year ago, saying he had some questions he wanted to ask me because I am an elder in the congregation. He spoke of his need for baptism, of his sense of being lost forever because of things he has done, of his understanding that God wants him to obey. His words were from the heart, and were not mere parroting of things he had heard. I agonized during the conversation -- he was not yet six years old at the time! We spoke by phone with his dad, we prayed together. I feared, as one of your readers mentioned, that if we did not immerse him, he might not ask again. He decided that his dad needed to be present, so he told me he would wait. Boy, did we pray hard and long about all of that. He went home to Oklahoma and spoke with the elders there. Essentially, he told them the same things he told me, with the added punch that he knew that if he was not baptized and died that day he would be condemned by God. He could not wait any longer (his words). They baptized him. I agree with you that it is a rare individual indeed who at such a tender age can make that kind of decision and commitment. But some can, and I believe some do. Keep up the good work!

From a Reader in Missouri:

Brother Maxey, I have witnessed through the years where some were baptized at ages as early as 9 or 10. What I have told my granddaughter is this: children must first learn to obey their parents. If a child cannot obey their parents and submit totally to them, how can we really expect them to obey God's commands? Unless a young person is submissive to their parents, there is no way they can be mature enough to submit to God. I think many of us as parents push our children into baptism too soon and for the wrong reasons.

From a Minister in Texas:

As usual, I enjoyed and profited by your last Reflections. One of my cousins told his mother at a very young age (I am not sure just how old he was) that he wanted to be baptized. She objected, telling him he was too young. Many years went by before he was ever born again, and this was after he lost his health in riotous living. He was immersed shortly before his death. When I was preaching in Las Cruces, New Mexico (1978-82) a mother called me one day and said that her two sons wanted to be baptized. One was about ten or eleven, and the other was seven or eight. She was worried that the younger was much too young. She also had doubts about the older one. I told her about my cousin, and told her not to interfere; that if some time in the future he wanted to do it again, he could remove any doubt then. She agreed, and that younger son is now preaching somewhere in New Mexico. Again, many thanks for all your research and excellent writings. They are the best I have seen.

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Al, Should we consider that Jesus asked to be baptized by John only after reaching the mature age of 30?! One's development of conscience depends on exposure to teaching and correction, which begin during infancy. Those first three or so years of life bring remarkable development, particularly in attitude. Those raised in homes of devout Christians often know Christ before entering elementary school, because they are continually immersed in teaching by parents, as well as in Bible schools. I knew I was accountable for my actions before being baptized at age eight. 2 Timothy 3:14ff is very relevant. Christian parents carry out the Great Commission as they raise their children in the Way they should go, teaching new generations all that Jesus commanded, as well as bathing them in continual awareness of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

From a Minister in Arkansas:

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I try to encourage all my friends to subscribe to your Reflections ministry. Keep up the good work, and may God bless you and your family.

From a Minister in California:

Brother Maxey, I am slowly but surely working my way through many of your Reflections articles on your web site. I have had the pleasure of corresponding with you via e-mail on more than one occasion, and it is hard for me to express just how exciting it is to read your scholarly, yet practical, view of the Holy Scriptures. Since you have been so open with your own life and spiritual journey, I think it appropriate to give you a little detail as to my own life (since I plan to continue to read and comment on your writings). I was raised in the mainline Church of Christ, but I left about 14 years ago. I am now a member of the International Churches of Christ and have found a place here. My wife and I lead a ministry that helps individuals addicted to drugs and alcohol find healing and salvation in Christ. The legalism and the hidebound attitudes in the mainline church were (and still are, for that matter) too much for me to take. I am extremely grateful that there is someone like you in the mainline churches who looks beyond the intellectual comfort of tradition and legalism and searches for the true spirit of Christ. I had just about given up hope that anyone such as yourself existed! Thank you again for all your hard work and dedication to making people think!

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Your article "Age of Accountability" was very in-depth and very insightful, as usual! I can argue both sides of the issue -- I was only seven, but I really didn't understand what it was about until I was in high school. My daughter, on the other hand, is eight and she understands. Believe it or not, what did it was Veggie Tales. I could see her eyes light up when she realized what Jesus had done for her, and what it meant for her! I probably questioned her too much, but there is no doubt in my mind that she understands. Of course, when the pastor baptized her, she grabbed the side of the baptistery. :o) Anyway, you are correct in that it is different for every individual, and only God truly knows when someone can be held accountable. Thanks for another outstanding study, brother!

From a New Reader in New Zealand:

Please add me to your email list for Reflections.

If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. I would also welcome
any questions or comments from the readers. A CD
containing these articles may be purchased. Check the
ARCHIVES for details & past issues of Reflections: