Did you know the first Bible printed in America was not printed in the English language? It was printed in the Algonquin (native American Indian) language in 1663 by John Eliot, a Puritan minister who came to America from England. Eliot had a passion for reaching native Indians with the gospel. He understood three fundamental principles: it makes a difference who one worships (whether things created such as spirits of ancestors and idols or the one true Creator); it makes a difference how one worships; and it makes a difference how one lives. Eliot taught the Indians that the true God commands all men everywhere to repent and become holy as He is holy.
However, the Bible was not available to the Indians in New England because they had no written language; no words had ever been written down. Eliot had to create an Algonquin alphabet! Listening carefully to the language spoken, he created an Algonquin alphabet composed of English characters (A, B, C, D, E etc.) put together phonetically. During this 14-year project he wrote in his diary: “Visited the Indians for the past four days. The weather was cold and snowy. Was wet for the entire time. But that is a small price to pay for the privilege of taking the Gospel to them.”
Eliot’s “Indian Bible” was an answer to prayer. For the remainder of his life he dedicated himself to preaching to the Indians. He preached in churches in Massachusetts and from the tops of rocks in Connecticut’s open fields.
Renowned scholars on early Bible, T.H. Darlow and F.H. Moule, state: “This book constitutes the earliest example in history of the translation and printing of the entire Bible in a new language as a means of evangelization.”
We would not agree with Eliot on everything he taught, but we cannot help but admire his love for the Indians of New England. Because he cared for their souls, the Indians had an opportunity to learn about the one true God, to worship Him and to change the way they lived.
In 1649 Eliot wrote: “I do very much desire to translate some parts of the scriptures into their language.” 1,000 copies of the first printing of the entire Bible in the Algonquin language were made in 1663. Copies of Eliot’s “Indian Bible” are extremely scarce today. When put on the market they may bring as much as $745,000.
Three hundred and fifty years after Eliot’s evangelistic outreach, the gospel is being taught once again to people of many nationalities in northeastern states through grants provided by a number of congregations in other parts of the United States and by The White Rock Fund. Gospel preachers are sharing God’s word with those who have never heard it. Souls are being baptized for the forgiveness of sins and faithful churches of Christ are being planted.