In the Book, Rev. Kenneth Taylor Converts King James from Holy Writ to Simple Prose
By using such unvarnished, modern English, the Rev. Kenneth Taylor has turned this telling of the holy scriptures into another best-seller. The Book (Tyndale House Publishers, $9.95), his hipper-than-thou gospel, has sold 671,000 copies so far, and the publisher expects to sell one million by Jan. 1. With financial backing from cable's Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), Tyndale has launched an initial $2.5 million publicity campaign that features slick TV ads starring celebrities such as Glen Campbell, Charlene Tilton and Donna Summer.
When Taylor, 67, first started paraphrasing the Bible 30 years ago, he had in mind a smaller audience—his own family. Every night after dinner Taylor gathered his then eight children in the living room of their Wheaton, Ill. farmhouse, and read the Scriptures. One night, as Taylor struggled to explain a passage from Corinthians, his 10-year-old daughter asked, "If that's what it means, Daddy, why doesn't it say so?"
Why not, indeed, thought Taylor. He began composing his revisions in longhand as he rode a commuter train every day to Chicago, where he was director of Moody Press, a religious publishing house. Taylor's work, originally called The Living Bible, was first published in 1971. By the end of 1972, eight million copies were sold, a record for books published in English. CBN, which was pursuing ways to increase Bible readership, grew interested and struck a deal with Tyndale House last February. Then CBN brought in a Madison Avenue ad firm, which decided to sell the Bible "like a tire or a can of Crisco."
The overhaul began by renaming it The Book. To ensure mass appeal, the traditional hardback tome was redesigned as a teal blue paperback. Its availability was extended to supermarkets, drug stores and discount marts. The double-column page format was replaced with the kind of printing found in novels. With its modern narrative style, The Book even reads like a novel. " 'All right,' he said. 'Put her to death.... But only a man who has never done anything wrong may' throw the first stone,' " is Taylor's version of one famous passage.
Ads for The Book resemble flap copy on a romance novel. "Love, suspense, wisdom and intrigue," promises one. "From a man so rich that he never gets a full accounting of his possessions to a vicious vixen who vows to take a man's head. It's all in The Book."
Taylor, who lives quietly with his wife of 44 years, Margaret (their 10 children are all grown), is not bothered by such earthly marketing. "There are millions of people who have lots of personal problems who may be helped by The Book," he says. Lest anyone suspect his motives, Taylor has donated his $20 million in royalties to a fund that promotes Bible reading. "God is the author of The Book," he explains solemnly, "and He should get the money."