January 24, 2021

Guilty Pleasure Bible

The-WaySo when my friend texted me and invited me to go to Gardner’s Used Books on Saturday afternoon, who was I to refuse? Especially because he also offered to buy me a drink at Sonic. As I looked through the selection of books in the religion section at Gardner’s, I came upon a very well-kept copy of The Way Bible—Catholic Edition that begged me to make it my own. Which I did. I’ve spent the last few days reading from it as often as I can. It takes me back to the beginning of my faith journey, more than 40 years ago. The Way was the first Bible I had other than an old King James Version. Reading this again was like eating my grandma’s bread pudding once again. Comfort food, only this for the spirit.

I have many Bibles in my home. My favorites to just hold are my Allan KJV in blue leather and the Omega Thinline ESV (both available from our friends at evangelicalBible.com). Perhaps because they have such incredible bindings I am not given to using them for everyday reading and study. The two Bibles I default to for those tasks are The Voice for reading, and the New American Standard Bible for study.

Now, however, I have found my “guilty pleasure” Bible, The Way. Ken Taylor published Living Letters, the New Testament paraphrased, in the early 1960s (the complete Bible was first published in 1971), using the American Standard Version as his baseline. Taylor was not a “theological giant,” even though he had a graduate degree in theology. (His undergrad degree from Wheaton was in zoology.) He was an editor, someone who knew the value of putting words together to convey meaning in a way that held people’s attention, something the King James Version did not do.

Is it acceptable for the Bible to be a storybook, a book we enjoy reading rather than “have to” read? Can we see God in the pages of a Bible that is understandable, or do we have to have it in a form that reads more like an academic treatise?

Let’s think about how the Old Testament stories were related until the Babylonian exile. There were very, very few written records of what is now our Old Testament. The stories, songs, laws, and history lessons were spoken over and over and over. When scribes began to record these stories so that the Jews in exile would not forget their God (which they did anyway, but that is another story for another day), they were writing down what had been spoken for thousands of years. Evidently, the way the stories were told stuck in the minds of each generation. It was remembered well enough to be recorded in a fashion we now see as Scripture.

Stories. Spoken word. Does this remind you of anyone? Say, Jesus? The entirety of Jesus’ writings was wiped away in the dust after he scribbled there. That is all we know of what Jesus wrote. Instead, he told stories. And then he left the endings of those stories open so the hearers would have to fill in the blanks themselves. Jesus even says why he tells stories when his disciples ask him.

 “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight.”

That is from Matthew chapter 13 as Eugene Peterson relates it in The Message, another paraphrase.

No, you don’t want to use either The Way or The Message for serious study. But is that only what Scripture is for, serious study? Or is it a collection of literary works and forms that point us to the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world? If we can accept the fact that Jesus himself is the Word of God, and Scripture is a continuing revelation of the Word, from “In the beginning” to “Even so, come, Lord Jesus,” then what we need are words we can relate with.

That is why I was excited to pick up a copy of The Way and once again become acquainted with what once was a good friend of mine. As a young Christian I drank deeply from this well, and today the water tastes just as sweet.

I guess I’m not really trying to make a particular point with this essay other than, if possible, to encourage you to once again find a version of the Bible that helps nudge you toward receptive insight. What version do you find to be a guilty pleasure to read?



  1. I had that same Bible many years ago, it’s totally awesome! I adore the Good News Bible, it was the Bible The Lord used to call me in my early teens and still the Bible I use. The Annie Valloton illustrations made the Scriptures alive and simple. I think a good translation should sound natural to the reader, simply because grammar for Hebrew and Greek is different from English and literal translations sound confusing and impersonal.

  2. “Guilty pleasure” implies I’d feel wrong about reading that particular translation, because there’s something hugely flawed in it. With few exceptions, I don’t feel that way about bibles—ordinary translations or paraphrases. Whatever gets people to read the bible, I’m fine with. If they won’t read the King James but will read the Good News Bible, by all means give ’em Good News Bibles.

    However I did feel weird about reading the copy of the New World Translation (the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ bible) which I picked up from a used bookstore 15 years ago. For that, you’ve gotta blame my Fundamentalist upbringing: They taught us we’d go to hell for owning rock ‘n roll records, so imagine where they’d condemn someone who willingly read a heretic bible. But y’know, other than the verses the JW’s bend to fit their dogma, it’s still largely a bible, and God can use it to point people to truth—so long as you never go to the JW’s to clarify things.

    • Cedric Klein says

      If you get the JW Greek-English Interlinear of the Christian Scriptures, you can compare the literal reading with the NWT & see obviously where they change things.

    • My grandmother, who wasn’t particularly religious, and therefore wasn’t prone to daily bible study, had a version called The Living Bible. She lived with us, my father was a preacher, so she needed a bible to take to church, and this was one she chose. It was green, and looked cushioned.
      Anyway, I stumbled upon a passage as a child that blew my little mind, enough so that I am incapable of forgetting it. 1 Samuel 20:30 “And Saul boiled with rage, “You son of a bitch!”
      Other translations read, you son of a perverse and rebellious woman. This one used the shortest words possible to say what was said.

      • Christianes says

        WOW! It looks like The Living Bible has a version of 1 Samuel 20:30 that is more ‘down to earth’ than the LOLCat Bible version.

        Imagine! The Living Bible has a version that is more graphic than LOLCat!
        This is the kind of info that gives one paws.

        “30 sauls angr flard up at jonathan an he sed 2 him, “u son ov perverse an rebellious woman! Doan i knoe dat u has sidd wif teh son ov jese 2 ur own shame an 2 teh shame ov teh mommy hoo bore u?”
        1 Sam 20:30)

  3. I didn’t have The Way, but when I first became a Christian, I had a Reach Out New Testament. (The entire Living Bible wouldn’t be released for two years).

    Another guilty pleasure I had was Clarence Jordan’s “Cotton Patch Version,” which was the NT translated into Southern dialect. Romans was written to Washington, Galatians to Atlanta, and so on. Peter was Rock or Rocky, James was Jack, and Jude was Joe. and so on.

    • I will have to look for the “Cotton Patch Version”, Marc! It sounds like a lot of fun and sweet commentary to the “official” versions.

      I guess because we Catholics don’t search scripture for “proofs” very often, and also have the Church’s interpretations of all things biblical, it allows us to read and enjoy the meanings behind the stories. I, too, used “The Way” as a young woman, and it allowed me to hear and see in new ways that did not sound so stilted and old.

  4. I read that same version in high school, Jeff. Like you, it was the first time I read the Bible as a story, although I had loved — and still do — the beauty of the KJV. I don’t remember where I got The Way from, but I know I spent hours and days in my room, on my bed, enraptured by the stories and wondering who this Jesus really was.

    It was a few months later, now that I think about it, that God most powerfully revealed himself to me, the point at which i would say I became a Christian.

    • +1

      (Didn’t BECOME a Christian, but became a Christian because “I” believed instead of riding on my parents’ coat-tails in faith….)

  5. My grandma had that very same Bible.

    • Ouch – am I that old?

      I haven’t thought of The Way in decades, but just seeing the cover photo in this post brought a smile to my face. At age 16 it was the first Bible that ever presented the Gospels in a form I could understand. I devoured it, and probably underlined or highlighted every other verse.

  6. I had a copy of the first edition of the Living Bible back then. I remember reading through and being shocked by 1 Samuel 20:30, having to go back to the KJV to see what they said.

    The paraphrase? You can read in the footnote of the more recent editions…


  7. Shortly after I became a follower of Jesus in a less fundamental (somewhat – KJV not required) SBC church here in Georgia, I asked our pastor which Bible he recommended. He indicated the ESV was an excellent translation for reading and study. I did like it. Of course in my new zeal I started collecting EVERY Bible and then found The Message, and really enjoyed reading in it. But to get to the point of this comment; one day I saw one of the quite elderly gents, who turned into a mentor and friend to me, in the narthex and he had a very large version of The Message under his arm. I asked him if he was reading it, and he responded that he found it very enjoyable. I thought to myself, How cool is that? He passed to glory several years ago, and I was fortunate enough to inherit several of his books and Bibles and commentaries – even an earlier Pentecostal Fire Bible. I love the HCSB now for study and normal reading, but have The Message on my Kindle for reading at work.

  8. I’m thinking about giving this one a try….


  9. If you weren’t aware, they’ve recreated this with modern updates to the articles and photos. You can find it on Amazon, with the same name. It uses the New Living Translation in its most recent version.

  10. David Cornwell says

    I remember Marge having had the “Living Bible” in the 1960’s. It was her favorite for a while and I also enjoyed reading it at times, as an adjunct to other translations.

    There is nothing at all wrong with having these Bibles so long as they remain basically faithful to the original (whatever that is). What today’s Christian need to be aware of however should be some basic principles of interpretation. We have this gift handed to us, and it is up to us to use it correctly.

    For a long period of time the Bible was not even available to most people. The iMonk bulletin board has a link to a very informative article: “Christians have not been “reading the Bible this way for 2000 years”, by Fred Clark at Slactivist.”

    In the earliest years of the Church the faith was passed on through the gathering together and reciting the story again and again through the liturgy. Harmon L. Smith in a wonderful book entitled “Where two or three Are Gathered: Liturgy and the Moral Life” in which he says the following:

    “Theology and creeds and catechisms emerge from the church’s life of prayer, from its liturgy, and from its pious devotion. Indeed, prayer and liturgy are historically anterior to Bible, ecclesial polity, and all of the accoutrements of institutional Christianity.”

    So whatever we do with the Bible, it is serious business and not something that relies on private interpretation.

  11. david hughes says

    What memories what memories, I spent my early years reading over the words written inside this cover. Talking about the cover I wonder who the individuals are?

  12. My favorite verse from The Way (or any Living Bible) is Proverbs 10:19:

    “Don’t talk so much. You keep putting your foot in your mouth. Be sensible and turn off the flow!”

    • My favorite verse is in Proverbs 18.2:

      “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (English Standard Version)

      “A rebel doesn’t care about the facts. All he wants to do is yell.” (Living Bible)

  13. >”Is it acceptable for the Bible to be a storybook, a book we enjoy reading rather than ‘have to’ read?”

    Yes. AND…One can enjoy reading a non-storybook translation of the Bible, and reading such a Bible can be a “want to” thing, too!

    >”Can we see God in the pages of a Bible that is understandable, or do we have to have it in a form that reads more like an academic treatise?”

    Umm…how about both! Trust me, God can be found in a Bible that reads like an academic treatise. Some of us like to pour over the words of various translations.

    >”What version do you find to be a guilty pleasure to read?”

    I don’t think I’d ever use it as my sole source, but I enjoy coupling my Bible devotions with text from The Message. I mean, just read this paraphrase of Matthew 11:28-30:

    “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

    “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” That’s just gold!

    • Rick, that’s such a great passage you quoted from Matthew, especially in the Message version. That seems to be what Michael Spencer’s writings were all about, particularly the “burned out on religion” part, and, “learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” That rendering of the passage really speaks to me!

  14. Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

    A few thoughts:

    Strangely, these days when I want a “fun” bible to read, I go for my fancy illustrated KJV.

    My sister used the Living Bible when we were growing up. Whenever we’d be having family bible reading time and we’d get to one of the long lists in the Torah, we’d make her read it, as it would often be less repetitive than our more literal translations!

    My favorite thing in the Living Bible was the infamous “You son of a bitch!” verse in the original (1 Samuel 20:30). This is a very colloquially accurate translation! The more recent editions of it say “You fool!” and then mention in a footnote that the Hebrew is more like the modern “son of a bitch.” Most translations say “son of a perverse and rebellious woman” or something to that effect. I think the Message says “son of a slut.” TLB’s original is so much more… well, true to the text!

  15. I think I use my JB Phillips the same way. Always a pleasure to read ( a few “brititsh-isms” to get by, but it doesn’t bother me). The way it’s set up gets me past individual words in order to get at the ideas, and the story. Sometimes the Message is pretty good for this also, but I prefer the Phillips.

  16. That Bible was all over my Covenant Church back in the late 70s/early 80s. That cover alone is reason to love it — It was groovy, man.

    I think they gave us similar Bibles when we went though TEC (Teens Encounter Christ — Cursillio for the younger set). It was the one with the simple line-art illustrations, right? I was always loved those.

  17. They should totally market a Bible called the “Guilty Pleasure Bible.” Make it fluid-proof or something.

    What’s up with that cover? The kids look a bit too clean-cut for that hippie lettering.

  18. “Is it acceptable for the Bible to be a storybook, a book we enjoy reading rather than “have to” read? Can we see God in the pages of a Bible that is understandable, or do we have to have it in a form that reads more like an academic treatise?”

    Hmmm. Let’s deconstruct this question, shalllllll we?

    Why would one feel guilty about reading a translation through which God may speak to an individual? Would God make us feel guilty? That seems strange.

    Who would care if I walk into church with a copy of the Living Bible, which I actually do every Sunday (a compact readers edition I recently found at Good Will, which I absolutely love; however, I have shown up at church with a copy of the “The Way” edition)?

    Here are my guesses:

    1. The KJV – only cult, which believes only those who read a translation of the Bible censored, edited, and approved by a British monarch are truly saved (yes, a just a bit of sarcasm).
    2. The Neo-reformed ESV neo-Pharisees.
    3. Bible geeks, who turn bible reading into a hobby akin to model rockets or Dungeons and Dragons.
    4. The Bible chic, who show up at church with the latest fashion in designer Bibles.

    What is “serious” bible study, anyways? Is everyone who can conjugate ancient greek “serious” about studying the bible? In my opinion, those who are serious about the bible study are those who hunger and thirst for God. If you that draws one to an interlinear bible, great! If that draws you to a “paraphrase” (what bible isn’t?), fantastic. This morning, I read from “The Psalms in Haiku” while looking up Hebrew words by the Strongs numbers. I don’t know where that places me.

    The bible is not a hobby; it is not a fashion statement; its not an exclusive club logo; for goodness sakes, its not a commodity nor merchandise.

    I have found errors and jumbling of verses in paraphrase translations; however, I have found literal translations which in scripture passages quite accurately translated the annotative meaning from the Greek or Hebrew, but completely lost the heart and essence of the text. There is a place for both in “serious” Bible study, if the geeks, pharisees, and fashion snobs can be kicked to the curb.

  19. I just love this topic and all the responses! Truly a breath of fresh air.

  20. My two favorite translations are both long out of print: the original Living Translation and the 1966 Jerusalem Bible. both were ruined by their revisions. What translation doesn’t have mistakes? If yours doesn’t, you’re not looking closely enough.

    If the Bible can’t be read as a story, it should at least be read as an epic – like a Norse classic holding our collective heritage and heroes and villains. I personally want a translation penned by story tellers, like Eugene Peterson, JB Phillips, or (in the case of Jonah in the 1966 Jerusalem Bible) JRR Tolkien. Throw in illustrations by a famous artist like Salvador Dali (Like the the original Jerusalem Bible). Why can’t the Bible be translated in a way that awakens our imagination, creativity, and inspiration? The fact that this question needs to be asked even rhetorically shows how far we have fallen under the spell of magic book pragmatism.

  21. I also like the rhythm and flow of the Catholic “New American” translation, but in it, too, I have found a few querky word translations.

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