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First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament

by J.W. Wartick | March 24, 2022
Cover of First Nations Version

This review was first published at the blog, J. W. Wartick—Reconstructing Faith and is used with permission.

When I saw the First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament was coming out, I was intrigued. What kind of new things might it bring to the table? The editors of this version provide some explanation of choices made in the brief introduction. For example, they translated names while leaving the Anglicized version of the name in parentheticals in smaller font. Thus, Jesus is "Creator Sets Free (Jesus)" whenever the name appears. The editors tried to bring as many First Nations peoples into the process as possible, but of course there are so many that it wasn't possible.

Even small things like the decision made about names made for some fascinating reading. I saw so many names with meanings I would have recognized if I'd sat and thought about them (or consulted my Hebrew or Greek Lexicons if I couldn't remember the roots). It was amazing time and again to see these names with their meanings right in front of the reader.

The editors also added occasional italicized texts to help the story get told in a more oral fashion. Thus, there are occasional places in the text where an italicized portion (which the editors make very clear are not part of the original text, but there to help emphasize the oral recitation/hearing aspect of the text) adds some flare, such as Jesus "turning powerfully" to do something or confront someone. There are also some explanatory notes, italicized and set apart from the text that offer either context for passages or additional insight into reasoning behind some of the passages. For example, 1 Peter 3, with its discussion of the Flood and Baptism (translated as "purification ceremony"), has a brief explanatory note about the Flood so hearers unfamiliar with it may know what's happening. These italicized portions are a remarkable addition that makes the text more readable, and which give key insights into some passages.

I was driven near to tears time and again by the beauty of the text. I knew that "Jesus" meant "He Saves," but to see Jesus's name time and again translated as "Creator Sets Free" really drove the point home in a way that knowing it abstractly didn't do. Headings occasionally made me sit back and think, such as the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13) having the heading "He Talks to the Ancestors." Growing up and hearing how "ancestor worship/veneration" would be seen as syncretism and bad, I had never thought of this particular passage as a species of the same. It's just a fascinating and challenging way to put the passage, and this happens many times throughout the NT (another example is the Temptation of Christ in Mark being called, "His Vision Quest"). Parables are sometimes reworded entirely, such as substituting horses for talents (the coins) in some parables. These are examples of contextualizing the NT and I found them to be quite beautiful.

One way I analyze a translation of the Bible is by looking up some specific passages and seeing how they are translated. One I look at is Romans 16:7. This passage has a history of obstruction, as some biblical scholars have attempted to turn Junia into a man due to her being listed as an apostle. I was gratified to see the FNV translation: "I send greetings also to Victory Man (Andronicus) and Younger One (Junia), my fellow Tribal Members and fellow prisoners, who have a good reputation as message bearers. They walked with the Chosen One before I did." The translation as "message bearers" is interesting, as the same term is used occasionally for the disciples (eg. Matthew 10:1). Thus, the FNV does a good job noting that Junia was both a woman and among the apostles/disciples/etc. Of course, this study shows that some of our theological interests aren’t necessarily shared by the translators of the FNV. They are freer than some translators with using varied terms for offices as evidenced by the term “message bearers” being used to translate both “disciples” and “apostles.” 

Other passages are 1 Timothy 3, in which many translations add masculine pronouns where there are none. The FNV reads naturally on this section, speaking of spiritual leaders. Problematic passages like 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 have explanatory notes (see above) that show how the cultural expectations may be applied here, and contextualizing it for First Nations believers (in this specific passage, with a reference to women not sitting around the drum).

Overall, time and again I found some of the more difficult passages translated in ways I thought caught the meaning of the text. Some were given explanatory notes, while others were not. It's clear the text provides one of the more egalitarian readings of the New Testament in any translation. Additionally, discussions of Baptism (called the "Purification Ceremony") and the Lord's Supper are well done.

The First Nations Version is a phenomenal work. It is poetic, beautiful, and striking time and again. It captures the feel of hearing God's word spoken, and it corrects some mistakes other translations make. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I honestly might start using it as my preferred version for personal reading. It's that wonderful.

Book info
Publisher:
InterVarsity Press
Year:
2021
ISBN:
978-0830813506