The third-grade students were trickling in. It was Sunday morning, and most were chatting with each other as Nannygranne welcomed them to class. All except one student. Eli’s expression was unusually cloudy. Nannygranne wondered what was bothering him.
Class progressed pleasantly. The kids enthusiastically dramatized Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. But Eli remained subdued. Then the bell rang, and her little brood stormed out the door.
“Eli,” she called. “Could you help me straighten the chairs and put the supplies away?” Nannygranne hoped he would want to talk about what was on his mind.
“Sure, Nannygranne.” Eli began gathering the Bibles to return to their shelf. Then he stopped. He held the last one in his hand, looking at it as if for the first time, then slowly placed it with the others with an air of resignation.
“Is there something wrong with that one?” Nannygranne asked.
“I don’t guess there is,” he answered.
“Eli, I’m missing your smile this morning. Has something sad happened?”
“Well, kind of,” Eli began. “My brother got in trouble this morning, and he got mad and wouldn’t come to church with us.”
“Oh. That could make a person feel worried, I know.” She handed him the eraser and pointed to the chalkboard.
With his hands busy and his back turned, Eli continued almost as if to himself. “I don’t understand why my brother said it. He said he didn’t want to come to Bible class anymore because he found out that the Bible is all messed up, and people have changed a lot of it. My dad yelled at him, and my mom even started to cry.” He stopped then, waiting, wondering whether he’d said too much. Then, mournfully, he continued. “He’s different since he went to college. I miss how he used to be.”
Eli laid down his eraser but kept his back to Nannygranne. She could see his lip trembling and knew he didn’t want her to see him cry. His heart was obviously broken.
Nannygranne stepped over to Eli, placing her hand on his shoulder. “Eli, I think your brother has heard someone’s opinion. And I think that someone hasn’t done his homework about the Bible. I have something I’d like to give your brother before he goes back to school. It might help him do his own homework on the Bible. Then he doesn’t just have to take a stranger’s word for it.”
“What if he doesn’t want to do any homework?” Eli sounded doubtful.
“Well, at least he’ll have my paper in case he decides just to look it over.”
“OK. But is the Bible really messed up, Nannygranne?” His eyes, still moist, begged his teacher to reassure him that everyone he knew and loved wasn’t wrong about the Bible.
Turning to the chalkboard, Nannygranne said, “Let me show you where our Bible came from and how I know that it says just what God had His workers write.”
She began to draw a chart, speaking as she wrote. “Fifteen hundred years before Jesus was born, Moses started writing Genesis. Over the next thousand years, 31 others wrote the words God gave them. They mostly used the Hebrew Language. Then about 200 years before Jesus was born, seventy-two scholars translated the old Hebrew into Koine Greek. That’s the Bible Jesus used and quoted. They called it the Septuagint.”
“What’s a scholar,” Eli interrupted.
“These scholars were men who had studied the ancient Hebrew language for years and years, and that’s all they did. They studied. Then they put the Hebrew words into Greek so ordinary people could read it.”
“Oh. Wow.” Eli’s expression told Nannygranne that studying for years and years sounded a little foreign to what he’d ever seen.
She continued, “After Jesus died and rose again, His followers wrote His story (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), the story of the first Christians (Acts) and letters to each other (Romans through Jude). When he got old, John wrote about Jesus, our hero, and about Heaven in the book of Revelation. All of the New Testament took about 100 years to finish. They all used the Greek language.
Then the Christians began to make copies to pass around—thousands of copies. Actually, we have over 25,000 of those copies in universities and museums all over the world.”
“We do? Really?” Eli, surprised, was becoming excited.
“We do. Really.” Nannygranne continued. “Then, about 250 years after that, another scholar took those Hebrew words and Greek words and changed them into Latin because everybody he knew spoke Latin then.”
“So that’s two times people changed the Bible,” Eli said.
“Actually, they didn’t change the meaning at all. The scholars just changed the language. They were so careful that if they made one little tiny mistake, they threw away that page and got a whole new page. In fact, Jerome lived in a cave and worked for 22 years, and that’s all he did.”
At that, Eli sat down, slapped his forehead, and repeated, “Twenty-two years!”
Laughing, Nannygranne told him, “And it was worth it. That translation was the only Bible most people used for another thousand years! Then other people got the idea of turning his Latin version into their own languages.”
“So is that when the Bible got messed up?” Eli was determined to find out what happened.
“Well, some people weren’t as careful as Jerome. But there is more.” She sat down next to Eli then. “After a few hundred years, people stopped speaking Latin, and only the Catholic leaders understood it. But they didn’t want people to read the Bible because they wanted to be the ones to tell them what it said. I guess they were afraid somebody might disagree with them.”
“Well, that’s no good. God wants us all to understand the Bible.”
“You are so right, Eli. In 1525, there was one man who decided it was time for an English Bible. His name was William Tyndale. He and his friends were scholars, too, and they’d studied the old languages of Hebrew and Greek, so they did a good job. But the Catholic leaders were furious that he hadn’t asked their permission. So they choked him to death and then burned his body.”
“That’s crazy!” Eli gasped.
“I know. But would you believe that just 76 years later, the King of England, King James, hired 47 scholars to make an English Bible, and they used a lot of Tyndale’s work, along with the Hebrew and Greek and even the Latin version Jerome had made over 1000 years before? It’s called the King James Version. And that was the favorite version for the next 350 years.”
Nannygranne waited to see if Eli was keeping up.
“OK. That was a bunch of people. They might have messed up the Bible.” Eli was keeping up.
“Well, Eli, after a couple of hundred years, people did start to wonder if the Bible was just a made-up story. The only copy of the Old Testament they had was written 350 years after Jesus was born. So they were saying that the Old Testament was made up by the New Testament people just to make Jesus look more important.”
“God showed up, Eli,” Nannygranne whispered. “God showed up.” Then she stood, took him by the hand, and said, “We’d better go on over for worship. We’re late already. But I’ll see you tonight at the ice cream social after church. We can finish our story then.”
Eli took her hand and left with her, stopping to close the classroom door behind them. “I like ice cream.”
For a Chart of the History of the English Bible go to https://www.gentles.info/BibleHistory/Index_History.html