A refreshing, thoughtful translation that helps readers see anew what can become overly familiar.

First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament
Publisher: IVP
Pages: 481

Those who like to use different translations of the Scriptures, will want to consider getting First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament. Since receiving it I have used it for the New Testament portions of my Bible reading plan. As of this date, it’s taken me through the book of Romans and 1 & 2 Corinthians. I do recommend it for reading as opposed to study. It’s beneficial to have a more literal translation available as a supplement for study purposes.

The text flows beautifully unlike some literal translations that lack it. The language is earthy; no difficult theological terms to decipher. It feels like I’m listening to a wise Native American storyteller who proclaims the Great Spirit and his ways in easy to understand terms.

Without resorting to technical analysis, which I will leave to someone more qualified, my impression is that the meaning is being accurately conveyed. This is not a literal translation, a word for word rendering. It’s closer to what is sometimes called dynamic equivalency, conveying thought for thought done in a style of language that may be familiar to many Native Americans. Again, it’s a little like an elder passing down the history and traditions of a sacred record.

One of the editorial decisions I appreciate is the choice to use the meaning of names when a name is mentioned. Jesus is Creator Sets Free. This is followed by the traditional rendering in parenthesis so that it’s clear who is being indicated. “Father of Many Nations (Abraham)” is an example. Paul is Small Man. He might see that designation as fitting, given that he considered himself the chief of sinners, even persecuting the “sacred family.”

In the Introduction the authors state that “at times reasonably implied statements were added within, above, and below the text…. These added statements are not intended to change the meaning of the text but rather to bring clarity” (xii). These additions are in italics.

Occasionally, as in First Corinthians 11, the editors insert a block of italicized test to provide background. The following example is in relation to a man praying or speaking for the Great Spirit with his head covered, thus bringing shame to his head.

This could be because, in the traditions of the tribes of Wrestles with Creator (Israel), some men would cover their heads and faces when they prayed, being ashamed of their broken ways. So covering their heads and faces would then be a sign of shame. The Chosen One has taken away all shame, so man should not cover their heads in shame when they pray.

Such is the wonder and beauty of the text that one can get immersed in the drama and might think First Nations people are being addressed when Tribal People are mentioned. When Small Man (Paul) speaks of the Tribal People he, of course, is referring to the tribes of Israel. People from Outside Nations are Gentiles, those not part of Israel.

A favorite passage for me and probably many others is the one where Small Man talks about Creator’s strength coming to the fore in our weakness. This is 2 Corinthians 12:9 in the First Nations Version:

“The gift of my great kindness will give you the strength you need,” our Honored Chief said to me. “For the greatness of my power comes to the ones who understand how weak they are.”

So then, I am glad to brag even more about how weak I am, so it can be clearly seen that the power resting on me comes from the Chosen One.

Included in the back is a fascinating glossary of terms. You find, for example, this explanation of why “sin” is translated “bad hearts and broken ways”:

For many of our Native people, the English word sin evokes the memories of boarding school, where “sin” was often the length of our hair, or speaking in our native language, or anything related to our cultures.

This is only the first line of the term but it’s striking in light of the recent discoveries of mass graves at former First Nations boarding schools.

This clear translation allows one to see the Scriptures in a different light. If you have any inclination, don’t hesitate to get what is truly honoring to First Nations people. It’s not just for them, as this will retain a special place in my Bible collection. 

Michael Dalton