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100 Bible Verses that Changed America: John Eliot, The Missionary Who Learned America's Native Tongue

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 26, 2024 3:00 am

100 Bible Verses that Changed America: John Eliot, The Missionary Who Learned America's Native Tongue

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 26, 2024 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, John Eliot translated the Bible into the language of a people who were there before the state: the Massachusetts.

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Go dot TCL dot com slash TCL Roku TV. And we continue with our American stories. If you want to know about the history of America, it's imperative that you know the role that the Bible played in shaping our country. Our founding fathers, both Christian and non-Christian alike, were heavily influenced by the Bible. Here to share another story is Robert Morgan, who is the author of 100 Bible verses that made America, defining moments that shaped our enduring foundation of faith.

Let's take a listen. I want to introduce you to one of America's early heroes, a man who has left a lasting impression on our history books. Although many of the newer ones neglect his story. John Elliott was born in England and the very early years of the 1600s. He was a teenager when he heard about the pilgrims coming to America and about the Puritans establishing the city of Boston. John Elliott attended Cambridge University in England, and he made a decision to follow Jesus Christ as his savior under the ministry of a local pastor named Thomas Hooker. Because of the pressure on Puritans by the English government, John Elliott joined those who immigrated to Boston, and shortly after arriving, he was hired to be the pastor of a church in nearby Roxbury. That was in the year 1632, and John was in his 20s. He kept that job for 57 years. Imagine serving as the pastor of the same church for nearly six decades.

But that's not all that Elliott did. When he was 42 years old, he grew burdened for the nearby communities of Native Americans, and he began studying Algonquin. It was a daunting task, especially because of the length of their words. For example, in the Algonquin dialect, the phrase our lusts was expressed by a word that I can't even pronounce, but I can spell it to you.

N-U-M-M-A-T-C-H-E-K-O-D-T-A-N-T-A-M-O-O-N-G-A-N-U-N-N-O-N-A-S-H. Imagine trying to find a way of expressing the simple words of the Bible in a language in which the words are so long. Well, Elliott faced those linguistic challenges, and he persevered until he could speak the language himself well enough to preach with the help sometimes of an interpreter. Elliott later wrote of his first attempt at preaching to these people. He said, I then preached Jesus Christ unto them as the only means of recovery from sin and wrath and eternal death. I explained to them who Christ was and whither he was gone and how he will one day come again to judge the world. I speak to them of the blessed state of those who believe in Christ and know him feelingly. Well, in just a short time, a number of Native Americans confessed Christ as savior. These converts established their own village and named it by an Algonquin word that meant in English, rejoicing. It was the town of rejoicing, for that's what they were doing.

As time went by, other villages arose and Elliott traveled up and down the coast all the time, maintaining his primary ministry as a pastor in Roxbury. It was very hard, rigorous work. In a letter dated December 29th. Imagine how cold in New England the year was 1649. He wrote, I was not dry day or night from the third day of the week to the sixth. But I traveled and at night I pulled off my boots, rung out my stockings and on with them again. And I continued.

And yet God stepped in and helped me. He said, I considered this first second Timothy to three that we should endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Well, Algonquin and Native American churches were planted in Nantic, Plymouth, Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Elliott lived to see 14 praying villages, as he called them, and each one had between twenty five hundred and four thousand inhabitants. And there were 24 Native American preachers by the time he died, all the while he was serving his church at Roxbury. Plus, he founded a school, the Roxbury Latin School, which still is going today.

It is the oldest school and continuous existence in North America. John Elliott's most prodigious feat was the production of the first Bible published in America. The New Testament came out in 1661 and the Old Testament three years later. It was in Algonquin. It's hard to imagine how Elliott accomplished such a thing, reducing a near impossible language to writing, training Native Americans to read and then translating the entire Bible for them.

One historian said that it was a work which excited the wonder and admiration of both hemispheres and has rendered his name ever memorable in the annals of literature and piety. When he was in his 80s, Elliott grew too weak to preach at his church in Roxbury, and he asked the church to finally seek another pastor. He said, I wonder for what the Lord Jesus continues to let me live.

He knows that now I can do nothing for him. As he sought for some final work to do for Christ, he heard about a youth who had fallen into the fire and had been blinded. Elliott invited the church to live with him, and he devoted the latter years of his life to helping this young person memorize full chapters of the scripture. And he taught him how to pray. Elliott himself was a man of deep prayer. When confronted with distressing news, he would always say, brethren, let us turn this all into prayer.

On May the 21st of 1690, in his 86th year after a remarkably productive life, and his last words were, welcome joy. Pray. Pray.

Pray. And a terrific job by the production, editing, and storytelling by our own Greg Hengler. And a special thanks to Robert Morgan. He's the author of 100 Bible verses that made America. And what a story.

Imagine this. You're John Elliott. You graduate from Cambridge.

And then what do you do? You give that all up and you come to America to the wilderness. And then he gets the idea to translate the first Bible in America into Algonquin.

Remarkable. The story of John Elliott here on Our American Stories. This is Lee Habib, host of Our American Stories, the show where America is the star in the American people, and we do it all from the heart of the South, Oxford, Mississippi. But we truly can't do this show without you. Our shows will always be free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love what you hear, consider making a tax-deductible donation to Our American Stories. Go to Give a little, give a lot.

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