Book Reviews

Book Review: “First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament”

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 as I saw so many names with meanings I would have known if I’d sat and thought about them (or consulted my Hebrew or Greek Lexicons if I couldn’t remember the roots), but that I never had done the work for. 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, an this happens many times throughout the NT (another example is the Temptation of Christ being called in Mark, “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, as they are more free with using varied terms for offices than some other translators are. Again, the equivalence between “disciples” (translated in various way) as “message bearers” and “apostles” as the same suggests this.

Other passages are 1 Timothy 3, in which many translations add masculine pronouns where the 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.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


7 thoughts on “Book Review: “First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament”

  1. Thanks for this – sounds fascinating and beautiful. The emphasis on the originally oral nature of the texts (well, those that weren’t always written epistles, I presume) makes me think this would be of interest to the Network of Biblical Storytellers — not for non-indigenous peoples to appropriate, but to learn from. I will share your review with them. Thanks again!

    Posted by bibliomike2020 | January 17, 2022, 10:54 AM
  2. NRSV Is my go-to Bible but I like to read other translation because after a while I need a different spin. I know what the text will say. I need it to sound strange again. FNV is my current make-strange translation and I am enjoying it! Hope they translate the Psalms.

    Posted by David McKay | March 30, 2022, 12:51 PM
  3. Thanks for this review, Joseph.

    I’ve just come across the FNV and my first impression is not favorable. I strongly dislike how 1 Cor. 14:34-35 (especially nomos) is translated. And Colossians 3:18 is just awful. 1 Timothy 2:15 makes the same mistake as a few other translations and effectively renders the singular verb (she will be saved) as a plural which distorts the meaning.

    Would you mind quoting a bit of 1 Timothy 3:1ff and 1 Corinthians 11:3ff? Or can you show me where I might find these passages online?

    Posted by Marg | May 20, 2022, 4:34 AM
    • Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for pointing out a few issues with the text–in 1 Cor 14, the thing I appreciated was the “out of place” language about speaking, which seemed a nod to the reading that it could be speaking to education level. I’m sure you know more about this than I do, though.

      Anyway, 1 Timothy 3:1ff- Heading “Guidelines for Spiritual Leaders” – 1 It is a true saying that anyone who desires the solemn task of watching over the sacred family desires a good thing. 2 Elders like this must be free from accusation, faithful in marriage, clear-minded, self-controlled, honorable, welcoming to strangers, and able to teach others. 3 They must not be heavy drinkers, nor given to violence, but gentle peacemakers who are free from the love of possessions. 4 These elders [italicized indicated added word for meaning] must guide their own families in a good way, having children who are respectful and well-behaved. 5 For if they cannot guide their own families, how will they take care of Creator’s sacred family?

      1 Corinthians 11:3ff- 3 Here is another tradition I want you to understand: The Chosen One is headman over each and every man, [italicized here: “giving each one loving guidance. In the same way”] the husband is headman over his wife [italicized: “and his family, giving them loving guidance.”] In a similar manner the Great Spirit is headman over the Chosen One, [italicized: “giving loving guidance to all.”]

      Then the following verses have lengthy explanatory notes about how they are traditions “most likely not for all times, cultures, and places.”

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 20, 2022, 8:02 AM
  4. Thanks for this. It’s an interesting translation, that’s for sure. The expression “loving guidance” is a tad tiring and not an altogether successful way of dealing with the concept of “submission.”

    Posted by Marg | May 20, 2022, 8:40 AM

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