10 June 2005

Ken Taylor, 1917—2005

Ken Taylor, who produced and published The Living Bible, died today at his home in Wheaton.

I never met Ken Taylor, but he was an editor at Moody Press a few years before I began my own career in the office next to the one he once occupied. He was also an author. One of his books, a collection of very simple Bible stories with old-fashioned artwork for very young children—titled The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes—was Moody Press's number-one bestselling title for many years. (It may still be Moody's all-time best-seller for all I know, but Moody updated it with new artwork, and I have never liked the update as well as the original.) That book was also a favorite in our house when my kids were growing up. I think we wore out two or three copies.

Taylor was known for his evangelistic and missionary passion. During his years at Moody Press, he started Evangelical Literature Overseas, a ministry to provide Christian books for third-world countries. Taylor encouraged George Verwer during the later's student years, and Verwer later would credit the founding of Operation Mobilisation to Taylor's influence.

Ken Taylor also founded Short Terms Abroad, an organization that introduced thousands of students to hands-on missions work.

Taylor began paraphrasing from the American Standard Version of Scripture (1901) during his daily commute by train from Wheaton to Moody Bible Institute. Thus The Living Bible was largely conceived and jotted down by hand on commuter trains.

Christian Publishers (including Moody Press) were wary of a paraphrase edition of Scripture, so Taylor founded Tyndale House Publishers to publish the work himself. Portions of the New Testament were first released as Living Letters in 1962. The remarkable success of that venture enabled Taylor to quit Moody Press and complete the paraphrase, which was first published as The Living Bible in 1971 (with a padded green cover that almost everyone who was a Christian in that era will remember). The Living Bible ultimately sold more than 40 million copies in North America alone.

Here's a link to CT's 1992 review of Taylor's autobiography.


Greg Linscott said...

I was saved as a young child at the age of four. I can still vividly remember praying next to my bed with my mother and accepting Christ as Savior- just after she finished reading a story to me from The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes.

Thanks for sharing this, Phil.

Greg Linscott

Luthersrose said...

Thank you for this post Phil. I met Ken Taylor years ago... Growing up in Wheaton afforded the opportunity to meet many fine men of God (Stephen Olford, Malcolm Cronk, Merrill C. Tenney, Vance Havner, Christopher Lyons, etc.) including Taylor.

As you have mentioned, Ken's impact has been weighty in evangelical circles and he will be missed greatly. One brief anecdote: after his paraphrase of The Living Bible was released, Mr. Taylor developed a throat condition which hampered his speech tremendously. He had openly wondered if the Lord had afflicted him with this condition because he had tampered with holy Scripture? Only God knows for certain; but incontestably, only a righteous man who feared the Lord and had such a high regard for His Word could think such reverent and humble things.

"But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word (Isaiah 66:2b). May his tribe increase.

In view of eternity,
Steve Camp
2 Tim. 3:16f

Jeri said...

I was saved in 1974 from Roman Catholicsm, and my first Bible was a Living Bible. I read Luke the first day of my new birth, Acts the second day, and Romans the third day. Not yet having learned that Christians never say or think "gosh," I still remember thinking, "Oh my gosh, it's all written in the Bible! It's so clear!" Of course, that's because the Bible IS clear on justification, not because the paraphrase fixed anything.

All the same, it was a good Bible for a young person with no church to go to and not one Christian friend. Within about 15 months I was in a Bible believing church and had switched to the (then) Fundamentalist cornerstone Bible, the Scofield Reference Bible. In another few years, at BJU, I was using a King James. Now I use multiple versions in Bible software. But I still think the Living Bible was a great tool for new believers, even if it was a paraphrase.

I'd always been taught in Catholic school that the Bible was too hard to understand and very confusing. I felt a lot of awe and wonder as I read Romans and saw how easily and directly Paul lays out our justification by faith. I was 14, and it was quite clear. Probably sitting in my living room and reading book after book of the New Testament in Ken Taylor's paraphrase was better "New Believer" training than I would have gotten at some churches.


Aircraftdaft said...

I wish my earliest experiences with The Living Bible were as profound as Jeri's. As a ten-year-old Baptist when it found its way into my church, I was traumatized to discover a Bible that would include the word toilet.

Koran comment resisted.


TulipGirl said...

Big Thoughts for Little People was the standard present for new mamas from the Chaplain's wife when we lived in Monterey, CA. I remember reading it over and over again to my toddler--whose favorite part was finding the ladybugs.

Thank you, Phil, for posting this.

Cindy Swanson said...

I vividly remember "The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes"...it was a staple in my early childhood library.

As a teen-ager growing up in an IFB church, I was often chosen to represent our church at youth rally Bible quizzes. The Bible quiz was taken seriously, and the winning church go to keep a banner until the next youth rally...quite a big deal! I remember when the quizzes were dealing with the book of Romans. I would bone up for the quiz by reading Taylor's "Living Letters," which I got from my pastor dad's library. It was the only way I could understand Romans.

Little did I know that by reading a paraphrase, I was doing something that, years later, would be anathema in IFB circles. I was just trying to understand the Bible better. Who knew?

Puddleglum said...

Jeri: You were not saved from Roman Catholicism. You were saved from sin. I was too, out of a similar background.

Your experience of catholic school is vastly different than mine. 15 minutes of silent NT reading was included in our day. We were encouraged to read the Bible and taught that we could understand it.

Jeri said...

puddleglum: Wow, what school was that? Our nuns were Sisters of St. Joseph. Mean and ugly, and no education to speak of. (Of ocurse, this was 30-35 years ago.

And yes, I was saved from sin. I was delivered out of Roman Catholicism. It's a monstrous counterfeit of Christianity, though some of God's people remain in it.