The Making of Messianic Bibles


Surprised? I was.  While browsing at a thrift store I came across a copy of The Living Scriptures Paraphrased – Messianic Edition of the Living Bible.  That took me by surprise for a couple of reasons –  first, that I would find such a specialized Bible in the thrift store, and second, that The Living Bible had ever been made in a Messianic Edition.  Yes, this is the same Living Bible by Kenneth Taylor that I knew from my high school days.  I had to buy it.

After I got it home, I started comparing it to other copies of The Living Bible that I already had. Over the years, I’ve collected more than a few Bibles in many different translations or paraphrases, some of them rather obscure.  Besides “The Book” I got from the 700 Club back in the 1980s, I also have The Catholic Living Bible complete with Deuterocanonical books and the first edition of The Living Bible – the one with the green padded cover – and “The Way” from back in the early 1970s.  Somewhere in a box is a black paperback copy of “Reach Out” and some small paperback books called “Living Letters,” “Living Gospels” and “Living Prophecies.”  Those are real collector’s items now.

Published in 1982, this Messianic Edition is now out of print.  You may be able, like I did, to find a used copy (click on the link above). But it got me thinking about the Bibles we have, especially Messianic Bibles, and the methods used to get to the rendered texts.  Why do we prefer one Bible over another?

In this Messianic Edition, a few of the prominent names had been changed. Consider this from the first chapter of Mark in The Living Bible:

Here begins the wonderful story of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1:1).

Then I compared it to my new purchase, the Messianic Edition, and read the same passage:

Here begins the wonderful story of Yeshua the Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1:1).

I scanned through the rest of the chapter and notice verse 4 read “Yohanan the Baptist” and the names of the Zebedee’s sons in verse 19 were “Jacob and Yohanan.” And as I glanced at the facing page, I saw that the previous book was named Mattathiah rather than Matthew.  And on that page, the first verse of chapter 28 read:

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Miriam of Magdala and the other Miriam went out to the tomb (Mattathiah 28:1).

The Early Messianic Bibles

Actually, taking an existing Bible and substituting Hebrew words to make a Messianic or Sacred Name Bible is nothing new. Sometimes it is only a few names, and other times it seems to be a little over the top.  The Restored Name King James version is pretty much just what it says, a KJV with some names changed so it sounds more Hebraic.  The public domain World English Bible with Hebrew name changes is known by several titles, including the Hebrew Names Version, World English Bible Messianic Edition and World Messianic Bible.  It is based on the 1901 American Standard Version.

I remember the very first Sacred Name Bible I purchased was called The Sacred Scriptures Bethel Edition from the Assemblies of Yahweh in Bethel, Pennsylvania. This one was also a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901 with names and some phrases shown in transliterated Hebrew. But it also had some portions of the text rewritten to support the views of the editor, Elder Jacob O. Meyer.

So here I had copy of the very popular and easy to read Living Bible by Kenneth Taylor, published in 1982 with some names changed to reflect a “Messianic” vocabulary. It’s actually pretty cool.  While most of the ones I mentioned become more difficult to read after the name-change transformation, what I was looking at now was pretty simple.  You could read it to child without stumbling over the words.  In fact, a child could probably read it easily.  We lack that among popular Messianic Bibles.

The Living Bible – Paraphrase vs. Translation

The complete Living Bible was first published in 1971. It was also based on the 1901 American Standard Version, considered by many to be the most accurate Bible translation of its time (King James advocates excepted).  The Living Bible is a paraphrase and not a translation, primarily the work of Mr. Taylor.  While Bible Translation is an effort to bring the words of Hebrew, Greek or Latin manuscripts into English (or another language), a Bible Paraphrase seeks to bring either archaic or a more highly academic text, like the 1901 American Standard Version, into simple, contemporary vocabulary.  Paraphrasing provides the opportunity to help explain difficult passages, but that also means that the doctrinal bias of the person doing the paraphrasing will influence the result.  The same holds true for a translator, but the doctrinal liberties in a paraphrase are much greater.

When The Living Bible was first published it was not without its controversies. The use of contemporary language was, in some instances, a little risqué for the Holy Scriptures.  Consider how The Living Bible renders 1 Samuel 20:30, which I have shown in this photograph.  King Saul is perhaps more angry than he has ever been, and his hatred of David has turned into boiling rage directed toward his own son, Jonathan, David’s best friend.

Text from The Living BibleAccording to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament:

Saul, charging his son Jonathan with subversive activity in aiding David, hurls this opprobrium at him: “Thou son of perverse rebellion.” The phrase has in most cases been emended. As it stands, it is written ben-na’awat hammardut. The second word, na’awat, is a Niphal feminine participle … Hence, the translation, “son of a rebellious woman,” or “son of a wanton.”

In a contemporary setting, an extremely angry man is not likely to scream, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman!” No, instead he might yell, “You son of a …”, well, you get the idea.  And Taylor printed what he believed to be an appropriate modern rendition of what Saul said.  This picture is from my first edition of The Living Bible.  Later editions, including the Messianic Edition, revised the phrase to “You fool!”

Another rendering some considered vulgar is found in John 9:34, where Pharisees are questioning a man born blind who had been healed by Yeshua. Most translations offer a literal rendering, such as “You were born entirely in sins (NASB).”  The Living Bible says, “You illegitimate bastard, you!”  This phrasing continued to be used in later editions, including the Messianic Edition.

There are other unusual renderings in the paraphrase, some of them a little humorous. In 1 Kings 18:27, Elijah suggests the false god Baal might be “sitting on the toilet,” something that did not exist at that time.  Hosea 4:11 refers to “wine, women, and song…” and when Matthew tells the story of the birth of Yeshua, the astrologers quote Micah 5:2 as, “O little town of Bethlehem…”  These are the pitfalls of paraphrasing, and the discerning reader easily recognizes them.

Some things, though, are a little more subtle. Consider Isaiah 2:2, this from the New American Standard Bible:

Now it will come about that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the LORD
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.

Here is the same verse in The Living Bible, including this Messianic edition:

In the last days Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord will become the world’s greatest attraction, and the people from many lands will flow there to worship the Lord.

And here is a picture of the Hebrew text from an interlinear Bible. As you can see in this picture, the Hebrew text clearly says “the mountain of the house of Yahweh.”   There is no mention of Jerusalem or of the Temple; this is simply Mr. Taylor’s interpretation of what this phrase means, kind of like the things I mentioned previously, but not nearly as obvious.  Does “the mountain of the house of the Lord” mean “Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord?”  Maybe, but the actual text of Scripture does not specifically say that.

In fact, this paraphrase of the actual Hebrew text reflects the paraphraser’s conviction that in the last days there will be a magnificent physical Temple in Jerusalem that people will consider the world’s greatest attraction. If you agree, then you may not even realize it shows the author’s bias.  If you aren’t sure, then you just discovered a passage of Scripture that “confirms” this viewpoint.

From Paraphrase to Translation

The Living Bible was first published in 1971 and went through several printings through the late 1990s. In 1996, Tyndale House Publishers introduced the New Living Translation, said to be a new English translation from Greek and Hebrew rather than a paraphrase of an existing translation.  It has been revised at least twice since (in 2004 and 2007), which is generally true of translations.  I have not kept up with this particular translation, but do have a few different copies.  In my first edition copy Isaiah 2:2 reads:

In the last days, the Temple of the LORD in Jerusalem will become the most important place on earth (Isaiah 2:2 NLT 1996).

Again, this “translation” is using words that do not appear in Hebrew texts.   By 2004, the reading was changed to:

In the last days, the mountain of the LORD’s house will be the highest of all – the most important place on earth (Isaiah 2:2 NLT 2004).

I am not endorsing this translation. Rather, my point here is to show that Bible translations evolve.  Because they are an effort to bring words from one language to another and a direct word-for-word correlation does not always make sense, word choice and word order are extremely important and sometimes added explanatory words are necessary.  If you have ever purchased an electronic device and tried to read the owner’s manual that has been translated from the original Oriental language into English, you can understand the problem with strict word-for-word translation.

Dynamic Equivalence vs. Formal Equivalence

Actual Bible translation – not paraphrasing – generally falls somewhere on a balance between two approaches.

Dynamic Equivalence places an emphasis on reproducing the functional meaning of the ancient words and phrases with freedom to rearrange the order of the words (syntax) in the target language. This is often called “thought-for-thought” translation.

Formal Equivalence places an emphasis on reproducing the modern English equivalent of the ancient words, with a tendency to use same word order as the ancient language as much as possible. This is often called “word-for-word” or “literal” translation, though as previously stated word-for-word often doesn’t really make sense.

Among popular Christian Bible translations there are scores of different articles and charts that position them somewhere along a scale using these two translation methods. Christian Book Distributors (CBD) has such a chart on their web site.  According to this chart, the New American Standard Bible is the most literal of all popular English translations.  Not far from it on this scale is the English Standard Version.  These happen to be the two Bibles that I personally prefer to use for study.  It is interesting to note this chart includes The Amplified Bible in this category as well – hardly a word-for-word translation, as it tends to use several words or even extended phrases to try to convey the meaning of Hebrew and Greek words.  None-the-less, it is very literal.

On the opposite end of the scale they show several translations that are very broad in their rendering of the text. And the more you move toward these thought-for-thought translations, the more you will be influenced by the bias of the translators.  After all, to translate the sense of a thought from one language into a thought in another language requires that the translator first interpret the meaning in the thought in the initial language.

A formal equivalent, literal translation from one language to another can be done by a team of translators with diverse theological views. However, if you attempt to do a dynamic equivalent translation by a team that will interpret the original text from different viewpoints, you will only end up with confusion.  At the far end of this scale at CBD are two paraphrases (not translations) each done primarily by one individual:  The Living Bible by the late Kenneth Taylor (1917-2005) and The Message by the late Eugene Peterson (1932-2018).

Source Texts

The approach to translation is not the only aspect in the process. Another key factor is the source text that is to be translated.  Nearly all English Bible translations rely primarily on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible.  You can read my post on the Septuagint for more on this subject.  The two primary families of source texts for the New Testament are the Byzantine and Alexandrian texts, and you should know which one is used for the Bible you are reading.

Recently I saw where someone put up a poll regarding Revelation 22:14. The question went something like this:

“Blessed those who _____________________”
a.) do His commands.
b.) wash their robes.

The correct answer is “a.” The correct answer is also “b.”  It depends on which source text is being used.  However, since this poll was conducted among Messianic believers, the first choice, “a.) do His commands,” was the overwhelming response.

This is the rendering of the King James Version and similar translations from the Byzantine text.  “Wash their robes” is the correct translation of the Alexandrian texts, used as the basis for the New American Standard Bible and others like it.  I believe most of these people said “a” because in our circles we think it better fits what we believe. That is a dangerous way to determine the “correct” rendering.  And yet, one of the most popular translations in the Hebrew Roots movement does this very thing.

The ISR Scriptures

The 10-page preface seems to suggest that ISR is more focused on getting an end product that reads their way than on the accuracy.  The paragraphs below are taken directly from the Preface to The Scriptures, Institute for Scripture Research, 2009 Edition:

Which text then are we to use? Since the originals are no longer extant [the author/editor believes they were in Hebrew/Aramaic], there was no alternative but to make use of the existing Greek manuscripts, carefully considering the additional testimony of Semitic texts such as the Peshitta (Aramaic), the Shem Tob (Hebrew), etc.  Even here, however, there are problems in that for each of the main streams of textual types (e.g., Byzantine/Textus Receptus vs. Alexandrius, Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus) there are those who contend that a particular type and that one alone represents the true original.

We determined, however, not to become embroiled in such controversies, since our position advocates a Semitic original, true to the Tanakh/Old Testament. Hence whatever readings we have adopted will inevitably offend those contending for any one of the main textual types as the true original.  We cannot therefore claim that our text represents a translation of any particular underlying text.

As a modus operandi then, we have started out using the Textus Receptus, modifying our rendering as seemed appropriate in light of those other texts which we consulted, such as the Nestle-Aland text and the Shem Tob text, noting certain differences in the footnotes, where necessary.

What they are telling you here is that they follow the King James text, except where they don’t like it, then they use something else or nothing at all.

In a previous edition (1998) of The Scriptures, ISR rendered Acts 13:9 as “Then Sha’ul, filled with the Set-apart Spirit, looked intently at him.” Notice first that a Hebrew name is used, which is common in Messianic Bibles.  Second, notice that this translator/editor avoids the use of a word he thinks might be of pagan origin – “Holy.”  In fact, in this translation you won’t find the words holy, grace, faith, god, lord, glory, sacrifice, temple and a host of others.  Third, this translator/editor does not think the phrase “who was also called Paul” should be in the Bible, so he just left it out – even though there are no supporting texts that do not include this phrase.  The Halleluyah Scriptures, another lesser-known Sacred Name version, does the same thing.  That should be a major concern for anyone who would consider this translation.  Thankfully, the 2009 edition of The Scriptures has restored this line, but with a footnote referencing their explanatory notes about how the name Paulus is pagan.

Please, don’t use this translation as your primary Bible.

Messianic Bibles – Dynamic or Formal Equivalence?

Unfortunately you won’t find any Messianic Bible translations on the aforementioned CBD chart. And many of them do not provide a clear description of who was involved in the translation or how the translation was made.  Here is a summary of the three most popular Messianic Bibles (I have read all three of these completely through from beginning to end).

The Complete Jewish Bible – The Old Testament is a paraphrase of the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh. The New Testament is a translation by one person, Dr. David Stern, from the United Bible Society Greek Text, 3rd edition, an eclectic but heavily Alexandrian text.

Tree of Life Version – Both the Old and New Testaments are translated by a team of scholars. The Old Testament was translated from a Masoretic text, and the New Testament is from the 27th Nestle-Aland Greek text, and eclectic but heavily Alexandrian text.  While the TLV Bible Society is very open about the process used to create this translation, I was not able to determine the degree to which they believe their end product to be a literal translation.

The Scriptures, Institute for Scripture Research – The Old Testament was translated by Dr. C. J. Koster, with the aid and support of other scholars and textual experts, from Kittles Biblia Hebraica, a Masoretic Text. The New Testament comes from who knows where, as I mentioned earlier.  I do not recommend The ISR Scriptures.

The range of Jewish, non-Messianic (meaning those who do not believe Yeshua is the Messiah) translations of the Tanakh (Old Testament) in English varies along the same continuum, but is not as much of an issue for those who use them. This is primarily because in shuls and synagogues, reading is done in the Hebrew language.  The English translations are secondary.

If you are looking for a Bible just to read along with your main Study Bible, the Complete Jewish Bible or Tree of Life Version would be a great choice. If you happen to come across something a little more unusual, like The Living Scriptures Paraphrased, Messianic Edition of the Living Bible, give it a try.  But always have a proven, reliable “Formal Equivalence” translation like the New American Standard Bible, English Standard Version or New King James Version for your studies.  I highly recommend the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible in one of these translations.  You can read my review of this Study Bible here.

For your comparison, here is a chart showing a selected Old Testament and New Testament passage in several different Bible translations.  Of course you cannot judge a translation based on one verse, but this might give you an indication of the style for each of these Bibles.

Bible Translation Exodus 23:15 Matthew 26:17
New American Standard Bible You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?”
New King James Version You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty); Now on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?”
The Living Bible – Messianic Edition The first is the Pilgrimage of Unleavened Bread, when for seven days you are not to eat bread with yeast, just as I commanded you before. This celebration is to be an annual event at the regular time in March, the month you left Egypt; everyone must bring me a sacrifice at that time. On the first day of the Passover ceremonies, when bread made with yeast was purged from every Jewish home, the disciples came to Yeshua and asked, “Where shall we plan to eat the Passover?”
Complete Jewish Bible Keep the festival of matzah: for seven days, as I ordered you, you are to eat matzah at the time determined in the month of Aviv; for it was in that month that you left Egypt. No one is to appear before me empty-handed. On the first day for matzah, the talmidim came to Yeshua and asked, “Where do you want us to prepare your Seder?”
Tree of Life Version You are to observe the Feast of Matzot. For seven days you will eat matzot as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Aviv, for that is when you came out from Egypt. No one is to appear before Me empty-handed. Now on the first day of matzah, the disciples came to Yeshua, saying, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?”
The Scriptures (ISR, 2009) Guard the Festival of Matzot. Seven days you eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the new moon of Aḇiḇ – for in it you came out of Mitsrayim – and do not appear before Me empty-handed; And on the first day of Unleavened Bread the taught ones came to יהושע, saying to Him, “Where do You wish us to prepare for You to eat the Pěsaḥ?”
Jewish Publication Society Tanakh (1985) (not Messianic) You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread– eating unleavened bread for seven days as I have commanded you – at the set time in the month of Abib, for in it you went forth from Egypt; and none shall appear before Me empty-handed.
The Stone Edition (not Messianic) You shall observe the Festival of Matzos; seven days you shall eat matzos, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month of springtime, for in it you left Egypt; you shall not be seen before Me empty-handed.
The Living Torah (not Messianic) Keep the Festival of Matzahs. Eat matzahs for seven days, as I commanded you, during the prescribed time in the month of standing grain, since this is when you left Egypt. Do not appear before me empty-handed.



6 thoughts on “The Making of Messianic Bibles”

  1. Have you considered the One New Man Bible?
    Quoting William Morford in Preface:
    The goal of The One New Man Bible is to bring a greater understanding of and appreciation for the power given to believers – the power in which we are all supposed to walk. The One New Man Bible also makes the Jewish Roots of Christianity come to life. This translation of the Hebrew Scriptures has been edited from a public domain English translation. The English has been brought up to date and many words previously translated according to tradition have been changed to the literal. Hebrew is a very expressive language, so this translation brings out much of the power that has commonly been omitted. The New Testament is The Power New Testament, a fresh translation of the Fourth Edition United Bible Society Greek text. An effort has been made to keep the text as free as possible from denominational biases and doctrinal interpretations…

    • Thanks for the comment, Darren.

      Yes, I have looked at the One New Man Bible. I have both the Power New Testament dated 1997 and the One New Man Bible and enjoy comparing this translation with others for insight. I consider it a valuable addition to my library. I have a brief overview of the One New Man Bible here but haven’t yet done an comprehensive review.


    • Hi Ron. I am not aware of a Messianic translation from the TR, though there may be one. There are several that are adapted from the KJV, usually just by changing a few names.

  2. I like the JPS and Stone Edition, but none of the others. I read mostly from the KJV but have the Hebrew and Greek texts to fall back on when doing more in depth studies. Plus, the use of many Hebrew language studies by Rabbinical and accredited Jewish Hebrew teachers. I also have many, many videos by Jewish Hebrew teachers that are a great help. I have books that give in depth studying of the Holy Days and what their effects have been in the past, present and possibly the future. I am not better than anyone else, but I am better than I was yesterday. I try to take life a day at a time, one letter a day at a time, one word, one phrase, etc., one day at a time. Did you know that the first word of the Bible “Bereshyit”, when re-arranged gives us the phrase “He made them in Six” and that re-arranged again, gives us “Revere the Sabbath”? The first and last letters of the Torah spell the word “LeV” (Heart). Unless we place these words in our heart they mean nothing. Out of the abundance of the “Heart” the mouth speaks. There are 32 teeth in a normal mouth and how we communicate, and this is the numerical value of the word “LeV” (Heart). All this, and so much more, is not by coincidence.

    • Thanks so much, David! You are right, this is not a coincidence and the more we study the more God confirms His word. I appreciate your insight.


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