Tyndale House Publishers founder Kenneth N. Taylor, whose translation of the King James version of the Bible into simple, conversational language became the nation’s best-selling book from 1971 to 1974, died Friday at his Wheaton home. He was 88.
Mr. Taylor’s version of the Bible, called The Living Bible, began as a project to help his 10 children understand God’s word. To date, it has sold more than 40 million copies and helped millions of people discover they could read and understand Scripture, according to his publishing company.
Mr. Taylor’s project also led to his founding one of the country’s largest Christian publishing houses, more recently known as the publisher of the Left Behind series. He was in the publishing industry for 65 years, beginning his career as editor of HIS Magazine, and later serving as director of Moody Press in Chicago.
Book in 100 languages
“Making Scripture accessible for all people was my father’s passion,” said his son Mark Taylor, president of Tyndale. “Many, many people have told him, ‘I became a Christian when I read The Living Bible,’ or, ‘My first bible was the green-padded Living Bible.’ Even at 88 years old, his enthusiasm and fervor for his work never waned.”
Released in 1971, The Living Bible became the best-selling book in the United States for the next three years, after which Publisher’s Weekly decided not to allow Bibles to compete with regular books for a spot on the best-seller list, according to a company history. The book is available today in more than 100 languages.
The son of a preacher, Mr. Taylor was born May 8, 1917, in Portland, Ore., to George and Charlotte Taylor, and developed deep respect for the Bible at a very young age. He graduated from Wheaton College in 1938, attended Dallas Theological Seminary for three years, and graduated from Northern Baptist Seminary in Chicago in 1944.
The Living Bible was born after Mr. Taylor found the King James version of the Bible — the most commonly used translation at the time — too difficult for his young children to understand. He began to reword specific passages into simple, conversational language easy enough for even his youngest child to grasp.
Had to self-publish
Mr. Taylor finished his paraphrase of the New Testament epistles in 1962, but he could interest no publisher in the project he called Living Letters. So he and his wife, Margaret, decided to self-publish 2,000 copies, naming their fledgling company Tyndale House Publishers, after William Tyndale, the 16th century reformer who was burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English.
“In its early days, Tyndale House was literally a kitchen-table operation,” said its spokeswoman, Mavis Sanders. “The older daughters typed Mr. Taylor’s manuscripts, Margaret typed invoices and mailing labels, and the younger children stuffed envelopes and packed books ordered by bookstores.”
As Mr. Taylor continued to paraphrase the rest of the Scriptures, orders for Living Letters trickled in.
It was not until television evangelist Billy Graham embraced Mr. Taylor’s work in his broadcasts that demand skyrocketed, the company said. In 1967, Tyndale published the Living New Testament, and in 1971, the complete Living Bible.
Worked until the end
Mr. Taylor and his wife committed from the start to deposit all profits from The Living Bible into a charitable trust, insisting that the Bible’s royalties be donated to the Tyndale House Foundation, which supports mission projects around the world and continues to promote Mr. Taylor’s vision of making the Bible accessible and available.
Mr. Taylor also authored many children’s books, including The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes, and My First Bible in Pictures.
He was president of Tyndale until 1984, when he turned over the reins to his son, but he continued to serve as chairman of the board until his death.
In addition to his wife and son, survivors include two other sons, John and Peter; seven daughters, Rebecca Taylor Kraft, Martha Taylor, Janet Taylor, Cynthia Taylor Brown, Gretchen Taylor Worcester, Mary Lee Taylor Bayly and Alison Taylor Lingo, 28 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren.