The Living Bible

This interesting and informative article by Rev. Cornelis Prank calls for our most careful attention because it exposes the serious errors of The Living Bible, so popular in our time. Rev. Pronk is a graduate of Calvin Seminary and pastor of the Old Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. He is Radio Pastor of The Free and Old Christian Reformed Church of Canada and America. His willingness to make this radio address available for printing in THE OUTLOOK is greatly appreciated.

Of making many books there is no end, says the wise preacher in Ecclesiastes. Well. today there seems to be no end to the making of new versions of the greatest of all books. The Holy Bible. A veritable flood of new translations has appeared on the religious scene in recent years. all claiming to be better and more readable versions of the Holy Scriptures. And they are selling. Many would-be students of the Bible jump at the opportunity for a quick knowledge of the Scriptures, a knowledge that now can be gained without too much mental exertion.

The fastest selling of these new versions is the so-called Living Bible. It was first published by Tyndale House Publishers. Wheaton, Ill. under such titles as Living Letters, Living Prophecies, etc. Although it got off to a slow start in 1962, it quickly became a best-seller when Billy Graham endorsed it during a televised crusade.

It now appears under such titles as The Living Bible, Billy Graham Crusade Edition, The Way, The Children’s Living Bible and New Testament editions under titles as Would You Believe. Blueprint for Living, The Jesus Book, Reach Out and Soul Food. There are dozens of booklets containing various portions of the Living Bible, such as Come Alive (Romans), Get Smart (Proverbs), Tune In (John), Rebel With a Cause (Mark), and others.

These books are available in inexpensive paperback editions, although more expensive editions are published also. An indication of the popularity of the Living Bible text is that it is being translated into other languages such as Spanish as well. A local newspaper carried a quotation from a sales clerk at a secular book store who said; The Living Bibles go like hotcakes, especially after a series of television ads have run. We don’t sell as many traditional Bibles anymore.

It is therefore necessary that we know something about this so-called Living Bible, what it is and whether it is trustworthy.

First of all, we should note that this Living Bible is a paraphrase. It is very important that we are aware that this is not another translation like the Revised Standard Version (RSV), American Standard Version (ASV), or the New English Bible (EB).

What is a paraphrase? In the Preface of the Billy Graham Crusade Edition it says: 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. Actually we could say that the Living Bible is written in a similar style as a children’s Bible, or we could compare it with a commentary. Now there are sound children’s Bibles and sound commentaries which can be very helpful in guiding our understanding of God’s Word. But there are also some that are very untrustworthy and corrupt and pervert the meaning of Scripture.

Before judging the text of the Living Bible, my first objection is to the way the Living Bible is presented. The fact that the Living Bible is a paraphrase and not a more or less literal translation is being obscured. Often the front cover presents it as The Living Bible, and only on the inside cover page will the word paraphrased be mentioned. This is very misleading to the unsuspecting and unfamiliar reader and the impression is given that here we have the living Word of God because it is The Living Bible.

The Living Bible is only a paraphrase, or a restatement by the author Kenneth N. Taylor, who, according to the Preface quoted above, holds to a rigid evangelical position in his theology. But what Biblical doctrines of God’s sovereignty and free grace occur in texts concerning election, faith, and predestination. Many times man’s ability to choose is injected into texts where there is no warrant to do so. Although The Living Bible holds to the position that God foreknows, in key verses it posits man’s free choice as the ground for election.

The most glaring and serious departures from the does this theological position imply?

Just compare your King James Version with The Living Bible on the following verses:

Romans 1:17 in the KJV says: For therein, namely in the Gospel, is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

The Living Bible paraphrases this as follows: This Good News tells us that God makes us ready for heaven—makes us right in God’s sight—when we put our faith and trust in Christ to save us.

Here we have an attempt to define the doctrine of justification in simple terms, but the effect is to imply that the work of justification is initiated by man rather than by God.

If you think this is splitting hairs, how about this one: Romans 2:29. The Authorized Version says there: circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter. The Living Bible has, He is looking for those with changed hearts and minds. Paul is describing the work of God’s grace whereby a change of heart and renewal of a right spirit are brought about within the sinner. To suggest however, that God is looking for people who have such changed hearts and minds, is to suggest that the change took place by man’s own volition.

Or take Romans 3:25. The apostle, speaking of Christ, says: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood. This is changed to, He used Christ’s blood and our faith as the means of saving us. Clearly faith is seen here as part of the payment made to God for our sins. But this robs Christ of His honor as the only Savior, Who by His blood made a full and perfect satisfaction for sin. Faith is that which the Holy Spirit works in a sinner’s heart, whereby he is enabled to put his trust in that one perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

Again the familiar and majestic’ words of Romans 8:9, Whom He did fore1mow He also did predestinate, is simply changed to God decided that those who came to Him—and all along He knew who would—should become like His Son. Here’s God sovereign election is not sovereign anymore. It is based on foreseen faith and obedience. As if man is capable of rendering faith and obedience apart from God’s grace.

In John 6:65 we have these words of Jesus: No man call come unto me, except it were given unto him. of my Father. This solemn statement is devaluated into this: No one can come to me unless the Father attracts him to me. Surely the drawing power of God is more than a making Christ look attractive to the natural man!

Acts 13:48 is another good one. The KJV says there: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. Guess what that becomes in The Living Bible? and as many as wanted eternal life, believed.

What is left here of God’s sovereign election? Nothing! Of course this doctrine has always been offensive to the natural man. Hence the clever attempts to play it down wherever possible, and even where it is not possible. Even Good News for Modern Man did not dare change the original Greek here. That version still says: and those who had been chosen to eternal life become believers. But The Living Bible apparently throws all caution to the wind and makes God’s Holy Word say the opposite of what it really says.

One more example will do. In Hebrews 11:1 we have that well-known definition of faith: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. This becomes in The Living Bible: What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead.

Although at first glance The Living Bible is fascinating reading, the more one reads and becomes aware of the underlying theological bias of the author, the more exasperated and indignant one becomes because of the misrepresentations of the Scriptures, and the more questions arise.

The Living Bible is the product of modern evangelicalism and the text is representative of this theology. The whole tenor of The Living Bible reflects the current optimistic and humanistic view of God and man, so popular today. It docs not do justice to the holiness and majesty of God, the Creator of heaven and earth. The language used is unworthy of the character of God. It is racy, at times immodest and even offensive and vulgar. Just listen to a few examples:

Psalm 16:10 – For you will not leave me among the dead; you will not allow your beloved one to rot in the grave.

Isaiah 5:14 – Hell is licking its chops in anticipation of this delicious morsel, Jerusalem.

Isaiah 14:4 – You bully, you! at last you have what was coming to you!

Amos 6:12, 3 – Can horses run on rocks? Can oxen plow the sea? Stupid even to ask, but no more stupid is your rejoicing in how great you are . . .

Romans 7:18 – I know I am rotten through and through . . . .

I Samuel 20:30 and I Kings 8:27 contain words that arc not fitting for this publication. Descriptions of activities relating to sex are very explicit and at times suggestive and even prurient.

There is even a Roman Catholic version of The Living Bible, entitled The Way, an illustrated Catholic edition. The text is The Living Bible paraphrased. Is the popularity of The Living Bible another evidence of the mystery of iniquity and the spirit of delusion which God sends to those who do not have the love of the truth? (II Thess. 2:9–12, KJV).

May we therefore constantly watch and pray for the Spirit of Truth to guide us into all truth and may we have a desire for the sincere milk of the word (I Peter 2:2). What this world needs is a Bible that is faithful, completely faithful to what God says, both in the Old and in the New Testament.

And friends, all the claims to the contrary the King James Version is still the best in spite of some archaic expressions. It is reverent, dignified, God-exalting and man-debasing, and it has the practical benefit that it lends itself to memorizing.

My final advice is therefore this: leave the litter of modern translations or paraphrases aside, except for the purpose of occasional consultation and reference. But stick to one version—the one that God has abundantly blessed ever since its first appearance in 1611, the King James. Read it often. Read it seriously. Above all, read it prayerfully, asking for light from above to illumine your understanding. Also teach your children from this version. Have them memorize its key texts.

If modern translations have done anything, it is that they have caused greater ignorance of the Bible than ever before. Why? Because no one memorizes these new versions. They don’t last long enough for that. People are constantly changing to the latest in Bible translations. As one noted Bible teacher said:

When and while one reads, he ought to be getting the Word by heart . . . but if he changes versions by the day or week or even year, though some advantage may be gained in terms of the understanding of an occasional thought or word, yet the end result will be that he knows no version thoroughly, that his mind is quite confused as to the wording of the Scriptures, that, in short, the memorizes and gets by heart nothing at all. (Dr. J. de Witt)

And that my friends, is exactly what the devil likes to see; ignorance and confusion, for those, he knows, will ultimately lead to destruction.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge, says the Lord. He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear!