English Bible History--John Eliot
In November 1632, John Eliot became a teacher at the church of Roxbury, with which his connection lasted until his death. There he married Hannah Mulford, who had been betrothed to him in England, and who became his constant helper. Soon, Eliot became inspired with the idea of converting the Indians. His first step was to learn their dialects, which he did by the assistance of a young Indian whom he received into his home. With his aid he translated the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. John Eliot first successfully preached to the Indians in their own tongue at Newton in October 1646.
The Eliot Indian Language Bible
Even wider in influence and more lasting in value than his personal labors as a missionary, was Eliot’s work as a translator of the Bible and various religious works into the Massachusetts dialect of the Algonquian language. The first work completed was the Catechism, published in 1653 at Cambridge, Massachusetts, the first book to be printed in the Indian tongue. Several years elapsed before Eliot completed his task of translating the Bible. The New Testament was at last issued in 1661, and the Old Testament followed in 1663. The New Testament was bound with it, and thus the whole Bible was completed. To it were added a Catechism and a metrical version of the Psalms. This book was printed in 1663 at Cambridge, Mass., by Samuel Green and Marmaduke Johnson, and was the first Bible printed in America. In 1685 appeared a second edition, in the preparation of which Eliot was assisted by the Rev. John Cotton (1640—1699), of Plymouth, who also had a wide knowledge of the Indian tongue.
Many people are shocked to discover that the first Bible printed in America was not English … or any other European language. In fact, English and European language Bibles would not be printed in America until a century later! Eliot’s Bible did much more than bring the Gospel to the pagan natives who were worshiping creation rather than the Creator … it gave them literacy, as they did not have a written language of their own until this Bible was printed for them. The main reason why there were no English language Bibles printed in America until the late 1700s, is because they were more cheaply and easily imported from England up until the embargo of the Revolutionary War.