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Taylor, Kenneth Nathaniel (1917-2005) | Archival Collections at Wheaton College

Name: Taylor, Kenneth Nathaniel (1917-2005)

Historical Note:

Kenneth Nathanial Taylor, author, book publisher and Bible translator, was born May 8th, 1917, in Portland, OR, to George and Charlotte. Taylor senior, an aggressive soulwinner, pastored the Queen Anne Hill United Presbyterian Church where the family resided in the parsonage next door. Later they moved to Seattle, then Beaverton.

Kenneth, eagerly attending Sunday School, was early impressed with the inestimable value of scripture. He once saw his father accidentally drop a Bible; and with almost ceremonial gentility, Reverend Taylor picked it up from the floor. Kenneth respected the Word, but he wrestled with archaisms in the King James Bible – a certain portent of future editorial tasks. As publisher and writer, he would similarly honor the Bible and its effective communication.

After high school in 1934, Taylor enrolled at Wheaton College in Illinois where he enthusiastically embraced a bounty of opportunity, performing well academically and participating in athletics. Most importantly, his spiritual life deepened significantly as he heard challenging chapel messages proclaimed by pulpit luminaries such as Dr. H.A. Ironside, renowned pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

Taylor’s college years were not entirely free of discord. Reading Borden of Yale, he discovered that God allowed William Borden, a vibrant and wholly dedicated Christian, to die miserably of fever. Taylor, shattered at this apparent waste, deliberately turned his back on God. Then, he reflects, God “…reached out and grabbed me and pulled me back.” Deeply contrite, he surrendered his life to any and all spheres of Christian service.

Another crisis was deciding whether to marry Margaret West, a high school friend who had transferred to Wheaton College. In time their relationship, however rocky, progressed to deeper commitment; after several tumultuous seasons of dating, they married in 1940.

From 1940-43, he pursued his Th.D at Dallas Theological Seminary, sitting under the school’s esteemed founder, Lewis Sperry Chafer. There the Taylors had Rebecca, the first of ten children. Toward the end of his studies, Taylor received an invitation to edit HIS magazine, offices located in Chicago. He moved his family to suburban Wheaton, IL, and finished his coursework at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Though satisfied at HIS, he accepted an invitation to join Clyde Dennis, founder of Good News Publishers, in tract translation and foreign distribution, a missionary endeavor dear to Taylor. When printing operations gradually shifted to Switzerland, he resigned and joined the editorial staff at Moody Bible Institute, remaining for 16 years. One day he was excitedly approached by a student keenly interested in distributing Moody gospel literature in Mexico. Years later, the young man, George Verwer, founder of Operation Mobilization, would again distribute books and Bibles for Taylor.

During his tenure at Moody, Taylor also created Evangelical Literature Overseas (ELO), a not-for-profit foundation dedicated to developing and disseminating Christian literature to third world countries.

Administrative responsibilities frequently intruded on quality time with his growing family, often creating tension. However, the combination of editorial mind with fatherly heart sometimes afforded splendid creative opportunities. When he and Margaret read to their children, Taylor lamented that there was no book covering the whole Bible for youngsters. As their kids brought home Sunday School lessons, he handwrote stories to match the pictures, asking if the stories made sense.

Encouraged by favorable responses, he submitted the material, subsequently published by Moody Press as The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes, an all-time bestselling children’s book. Then followed a sequel, Stories for the Children’s Hour and Devotions for the Children’s Hour, a condensation of Chafer’s theology courses.

Noting the success of these titles, he recalled his longstanding dissatisfaction with the King James Bible; the text simply didn’t make sense to his children. Perhaps he could paraphrase the entire Bible for grown-ups as he’d done for children? Commuting by train to Chicago each day, he utilized his travel time for paraphrasing the scriptures into contemporary language, beginning with the New Testament.

His basic text, the American Standard Version of 1901, provided “…the most accurate of the world-for-word English translations.” For the early drafts, poet Luci Shaw served as stylistic consultant. After several laborious attempts at capturing appropriate expression and cadence, he at last completed it. Acquiring a loan, he published Living Letters in 1962. Sales were patchy, but in 1963 its marketing received an incalculable boost when Billy Graham announced his ambition to offer Living Letters to anyone in his viewing audience desiring a copy.

Tremendously successful, Living Letters received wide distribution under the auspices of Taylor’s newly-formed company, Tyndale House Publishers – named after William Tyndale, the 16th Century Bible translator – allowing him to quit Moody Press. Tyndale House’s second title, a Spanish translation of David Wilkerson’s The Cross and The Switchblade, sold 100,000 copies in 1965. In years following, Taylor paraphrased the remainder of Scripture, publishing it as The Living Bible. Endorsed by Jerry Falwell, Bill Bright, Chuck Swindoll and other evangelical leaders, The Living Bible has been translated into numerous languages.

Taylor holds prayer as absolutely central to his life, constantly developing deeper, more disciplined patterns. Models of prayer warriors are George Muller, founder of English orphanages, and “Praying Hyde,” missionary to India. In My Life: A Guided Tour, Taylor reflects: “…I learned that prayer brings power, but character grows through reading and obeying the Word of God – the Scriptures.”

Ken Taylor died at 88 on June 10, 2005. Taylor’s ambition was to “…see more and more easy-to-read, understandable, contemporary versions of the Bible in hundreds of languages overseas.”

Note Author: Wheaton College Archives & Special Collection staff

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