First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament, Terry M. Wildman, Consulting editor, First Nations Version Translation Council. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022.
Summary: A dynamic equivalent English translation of the New Testament by and for the First Nations people in North America, using the cultural idioms resonating with First Nations people.
“Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who walk a trail of tears, for he will wipe the tears from their eyes and comfort them.”Matthew 5:4, First Nations Version
I had just begun reading through the First Nations Version of the New Testament when this translation of Matthew 5:4, amid what we call the Beatitudes, stopped me in my tracks. The Trail of Tears is a reference to one of the most tragic episodes of American history, when the administration of Andrew Jackson forcibly removed the “Five Civilized Tribes,” the peoples of the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Nations from the southeastern United States to land west of the Mississippi. Over 60,000 were removed and many never made it, dying from exposure, disease, and starvation. If another nation were doing this, we might call it genocide. I was talking with Richard Foster during a recent interview and he observed that there is not a Native Person in this country who has not walked a trail of tears. The actions of Jackson’s administration epitomized what happened throughout this continent.
What a powerful idiom for a First Nations person! I do not think “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mathew 5:4, NIV) would speak in the same way. It doesn’t for me. I found myself lamenting our terrible history of displacing people from their ancestral lands across this country, certainly in my own state where the name of every river, and even the name of the state, attest to the people whose ancestral home is where I have lived my whole life.
This one verse illustrates the basic approach of the First Nations Version translators. It is a “thought for thought” or dynamic equivalence approach, seeking to use cultural idioms that speak, in English, to the hearts of First Nations people. Terry M. Wildman, the lead translator of a council of twelve all represented the diverse tribal and denominational heritages of North America. Wycliffe Associates of Orlando provided technical support and funding to gather this council. Between the council and reviewers and cultural consultants, thirty-three tribal heritages were represented. They also enjoyed the collaborative support of Rain Ministries, OneBook of Canada, Wycliffe Associates, Native InterVarsity, and Mending Wings.
I was struck that this translation reflects an oral, story-telling culture. This is reflected in this video in which Terry Wildman renders the translation of the Lord’s prayer and teaching on prayer (Luke 11:1-4; 9-10)
One of the other distinctions of this translation is the translation of the meaning of Greek and Hebrew names and titles. Jesus is “Creator Sets Free.” Abraham is “Father of Many Nations.” Jerusalem is “Village of Peace.” Both Jewish and tribal cultures believe names have meaning, and so they chose to translate the meaning of names. Other concepts are idiomatically translated: rabbis are “wisdomkeepers,” temples are “sacred lodges,” angels are “spirit-messengers.” The Gospel of John is “He Shows Goodwill Tells the Good Story.” More information about the translation process may be found at the First Nations Version website.
At times, the text includes insertions of explanatory or transitional material, aiding in the understanding of the story. This is set off with a sidebar and italics. I did not find this to be intrusive. I also felt that the dynamic equivalent, idiomatic rendering brought out meaning in the text but seemed less interpretive to me than Eugene Peterson’s The Message, which is more of a paraphrase. I suspect this reflects the careful control of a translation council and Wycliffe Associates technical assistance. The only challenge is that when you have a number of translated names in a passage, the reading aloud of the passage may be cumbersome, as I found in using this version for a reading that included the names of the twelve apostles.
It is subtle, but I also thought this version captured the context of Jews under Roman Rule–the People of Iron. Reading scripture through indigenous eyes seemed to emphasize the realities of being subject tribes, that we may not so readily see in other dominant Western culture translations. The use of Outside Nations rather than “Gentile” gave much more a sense of the “otherness” of these people, and the remarkable thing that happens when the good story goes to those “outside.”
The primary audience for this translation are the over six million First Nations people of North America. But this is also a translation for those who want to read scripture through indigenous eyes. I want to use this side by side with other translations in study. I’m also heartened to hear that work has begun on a translation of Psalms and Proverbs. Under God’s grace and provision, I hope we will see the remainder of the Old Testament translated someday. There is so much of God’s good story yet to be rendered. But this is a good beginning.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.
I will be interviewing Terry M. Wildman, lead translator of the First Nations Version today, February 9, 2023 at 2 pm ET. You may join this live interview by registering at: https://tinyurl.com/FNVJustPassion
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