Laton Holmgren, 88; Led American Bible Society

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Times Staff Writer

The Rev. Laton Holmgren, a former general secretary of the American Bible Society who oversaw an updated translation of the Bible into modern English, died Sunday at his retirement home in Rancho Mirage, according to Roy Lloyd, a spokesman for the society.

Holmgren had been in failing health for several years, but the cause of his death was not given. He was 88.

A minister in the United Methodist Church, he joined the Bible group, which distributes Bibles throughout the world, in 1952. He oversaw the translation and distribution of Bibles for Asian countries. He was based in New York City, but earlier had lived in Tokyo as a visiting professor in the international studies departments of Hitotsubashi and Keio universities.


At the time of his departure for Japan in October 1948, Holmgren told the Los Angeles Times that his Asian mission was in response to a statement by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, which read in part: “In Japan today, Christianity faces the greatest opportunity it has had in 500 years.”

Holmgren was named executive secretary of the American Bible Society in 1954 and general secretary, the top position, in 1963. After retiring in 1978, he remained a consultant until 1992.

In his 40 years with the organization, it increased its distribution of Bibles from 40 to 180 countries.

Born in Minneapolis, Holmgren graduated from Asbury College in Kentucky and earned a master of divinity degree at Drew University in New Jersey.

He began his modernized translation of the Bible, “Good News for Modern Man,” in 1965 with his colleague, linguist Eugene Nida. To emphasize its relevance, Holmgren designed a book cover of mastheads of English-language newspapers worldwide.

In September, “Gospel of John,” a film version of the gospel that uses his translation as its script, opened in commercial theaters around the U.S., including Los Angeles, Irvine and Ventura.


Holmgren is survived by his companion of 30 years, Kiyoshi Hagiya.