Billy Graham is one of the most influential evangelical preachers in modern history. He was an excellent preacher and teacher of the Bible. Songs have even been written about this man’s Bible, which raises an interesting question: which Bible did Billy Graham use?
To this, there is no single answer, as Billy Graham actually used three Bibles depending on the circumstances: he used the KJV in his preaching, the NIV in his writings, and the Living Bible in his personal devotions.
Throughout the rest of this post, we’ll analyze why Reverend Graham used these Bibles in each scenario and whether or not this a model we should adopt in our own use of the Bible. Keep in mind, Graham never mentioned his favorite Bible version, nor did he explain why he chose to use these three versions. That said, the rest of this article is educated speculation.
Billy Graham’s Public Use of the King James Version
During Billy Graham’s public ministry throughout the latter half of the 20th century, the King James Version was the most popular translation of the Bible. It doesn’t come as a surprise that this is the Bible which Reverend Graham chose to use most often during his sermons.
Apart from its popularity, the King James Version was an appropriate choice for this setting for a number of reasons. First, the King James Version is written in very poetic language. It’s a beautiful translation with a sing-song rhythm. It just has a certain ring to it that makes it perfect for public speaking.
Second, the King James Version was written specifically to aid in memory. By preaching from this version, Billy Graham’s sermons and sayings were able to be more memorable to his audience.
Third, the King James Version and its archaic language carry a certain authority that more contemporary versions don’t. When paired with his strong voice, Billy Graham’s KJV citations established a sort of ethos in his sermons. ”Thus sayeth the Lord” just sounds more authoritative coming from the pulpit than ”This is what the Lord says.”
Billy Graham’s Literary Use of the New International Version
In the late 70’s, the New International Version was published for the first time. From this time forward, Billy Graham began referencing the NIV in his writings instead of the KJV, even though he continued to use the KJV in his sermons.
This shift makes sense, since spoken sermons and published books are two completely different media. One’s goals during a sermon may be to connect with one’s audience, to deliver a point, to persuade through the use of one’s language. In writing, that goal may be more focused on education, comprehension, accuracy, and enlightenment.
The King James Version aided Billy Graham in his public ministry by enhancing his power of persuasion. But when it comes to his published writings, he likely chose the NIV because of its accuracy and sheer understandability.
With more modern language and a lower reading level, Graham was able to reach a wider audience with his writings, as well as maintain his audience’s comprehension throughout. This is an important element when it comes to education through the written word. Using the KJV in his writings may have proven to be more of a stumbling block to his overall purpose in writing.
The NIV is also more accurate than the KJV, as it’s based on stronger textual evidence than was available during the compiling of the KJV. This added benefit of accuracy allowed Graham to teach through his writings in a clear and accurate manner.
Billy Graham’s Private Use of the Living Bible
Much of Billy Graham’s life played out in the public arena. When it comes to his quiet personal times of prayer and study, we have less data to draw from. However, we do know that Billy Graham preferred to use Kenneth Taylor’s paraphrase, The Living Bible, during his personal devotions.
This Bible paraphrase was first published in the early 70’s. Since then, it has been revised multiple times and eventually became the basis for a new translation of scripture, the New Living Translation (NLT). This paraphrase presented the biblical texts in fresh language with the aim to help readers better understand the meaning of the scriptures.
In his personal devotion time, it is likely that Reverend Graham chose to use The Living Bible to help him see the scriptures in a fresh, new light. As someone who was constantly in the biblical texts for study, teaching, and sermon prep, the modern paraphrase of The Living Bible most likely helped the reverend liven up his personal devotion time.
Moreover, reading familiar scriptures in a new way allows one to see the texts from a new angle, like twisting the barrel of a kaleidoscope. Not only would this benefit Billy Graham’s personal devotions, but learning to view the text in a new light would have overflowed over into his teachings and sermons.
At the end of the day, we can’t be 100% sure why Billy Graham chose to use the Bibles that he did. What we can be certain of is that Billy Graham took it upon himself to use a variety of Bible versions on a regular basis. He understood the importance of reading the scripture and he recognized the unique value that each translation offered.
We should absolutely follow Billy Graham’s model when it comes to reading and studying the Bible. The more versions we use in a variety of circumstances, the deeper we’ll begin to understand the words of scripture.
Do not get caught up into a divisive and fruitless controversy over which of many good translations is best. Instead, consider using a number of them in your study and reading, and join in prayer that all peoples in all countries of the world might soon have the Word of God in their own language.Billy Graham Evangelist Association website