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First Nations Version: an Indigenous Translation of the New Testament

Jessup Think
Jessup Think
First Nations Version: an Indigenous Translation of the New Testament

Lead editor of the First Nations Version, Terry Wildman, joins the show to talk about this excited new indigenous translation of the New Testament. For more info on the translation, go to


Welcome to Jessup think I’m your host, Mark Moore

and your co host, Rex gurney. And Rex, we

both of us can’t be more excited for the show

today. Exactly.

We have been waiting for this we are having on Terry Wildman. He’s the lead editor of the First Nations version of the New Testament.

I’ve been using that version in my personal devotions for months now. And so when I heard we were gonna have him on the show, I just, it’s a real privilege to

be here. Yeah. And as you listen to this show, you’re gonna be I think, so excited about this version is put out by InterVarsity press. And it is the New Testament, an indigenous translation of the New Testament, the First Nations version, First Nations version. And you can also go to First Nations, to check it out, to see a sample of it and to see other things. Terry and his wife also do music. You’re going to hear all about that on the show. But we just want to promo that in this intro. So that you will check that out. There’s such a wonderful translation. And I think you’ll really enjoy the show.

What Terry, we are so excited to have you on the show. Rex and I are both, you know, out of all of our guests. We were we were extremely excited for for the interview. So thank you so much for joining us. Hey, it’s great to

be one reason, thanks.

One reason I was excited is actually Sherry, I have been using the First Nations version in my personal devotions for about six months now. So when when Mark said we were gonna have you on the show, I was really looking forward to that.

Yeah, and that was so the the full New Testament has just been released, and then it was released in smaller portions up till now.

Yeah, a couple about halfway through the project, we released half of the New Testament. I self published it at that time. And, and then InterVarsity press, saw what we’re doing and got involved and said, hey, we’d like to publish this. And so we worked out the details.

That’s great. That’s great. And, and so what’s Yeah, what, maybe self publishing that first part or even how it began, I would love to hear that story of how of how this version took shape.

Oh, definitely. You know, I’d like to say first of all that, you know, we live in Maricopa, Arizona, and we live on the traditional lands of the Pima, and the tahona. Okay. And so I just like to give that acknowledgement in my podcast. So, you know, the first nation version started. You know, back when I lived, my wife, I live for five years on the Hopi Indian Reservation in northern Arizona. We work with YWAM and with the American Baptists at that time, and that’s where the idea, or the first seeds of the idea began. And I discovered a Hopi Bible. And I was very excited. It was in the storage room, and nobody was using them in our church. And so I kind of wondered about that. So I began to ask around this, if somebody could read from the Hopi Bible, and I really couldn’t find anyone. And it wasn’t until much later, I found one person who was able to read a little bit from that Hopi Bible. And then I discovered my wife and I both discovered that this is basically true across the across turtle liner, which we call North America. And so these and the reason for this is the years of assimilation, government policies, boarding schools. At the same time, the translators were translating the Bible into native languages, other branches of the church got involved with the government, in taking those native languages away from us.

So working at cross purposes there. Yeah, so it’s

kind of a situation where I’d say over 90% Don’t read or speak our language today because of those policies and, and tough even though many are working hard to reclaim their languages. Many of our tribes do it. There’s over 250 distinct languages and many other portions of those languages spoken among the different traditions. So my wife and I had an idea of, of, since native people are an oral people, and learn by tradition, we wanted to create a story of from creation to to Christ, telling the story of the Bible. And so we working with some other Native people, we we did that and we created a scene De called the great story from the sacred book with music in the background, my wife and I are musicians. So we recorded this ourselves and I was the narrator. And what what was amazing was we submitted that to the Native American Music Awards, and won the Best, our Best Spoken Word in 2008. For the Native American musical words. And so here was the story of Jesus told in a native way that actually was being recognized officially by, you know, the, the Native American people. And so we’ve, we felt that was a really good beginning. But then I began to search for a Bible that that was translated in English, since most of our people are speaking English, over 90%. Has there been a Bible that was translated with Native people in mind? And it couldn’t find one. So that right, so over the years, I began to from that CD, I began to read words, some of my favorite scriptures. I had no idea that I would ever be involved in a translation. I didn’t feel like I could, you know, I wasn’t trained that way. And, and how could I do that, but, but I did play around with rewarding things. And as my wife and I traveled, and as we used the rewarding there on the reservation, and then later, as we began to travel to many different places, many different tribes, I would my wife would play the flute and, and I would read these portions. And native people would come up to me afterwards and say, What Bible were you reading from? And I told them, there wasn’t one like that. And they said, well, there should be. And then another native elder in California told me when, when you say it in English, it’s the way we think, in our language. And so that’s kind of that idea. kept working on me. And I and I thought somebody surely is going to do this, right? And no one did. So

surprising what people don’t do. Yeah. And so

eventually, there was just so much confirmation and positive feedback. I committed myself to doing it with a lot of prayer, and a lot of folks coming around me and praying over me and confirming things for me. And and so, but I didn’t know how I was going to do it. You know, who’s who’s gonna take seriously a translation by Terry wild man, you know, I mean, who am I to do that? But, but what happened was, it took about eight, nine years before I finally committed myself. And so I started by not going too long here. This is a,

it’s fine. This is the story we want to hear. Yeah. Okay.

So we started by doing the, the Christmas story, I had already kind of sent out to our supporters, this idea of that, I’m going to do this. And so we sent out portions of the Christmas story, and started getting good feedback. So we, the first book we created is called the birth of the chosen one. And so that, that we have found an artist, and, and created that that took a while. And then after that, I did another book, where we did a harmony of the four Gospels. And so Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but but all harmonize together, which, you know, is impossible, but we did it anyway. We did the best we could. You know, it’s an ancient tradition, the harmonies have existed since the second century,

right. Since station, I think, yeah, but but

so we just did it, like a storyteller would do it. And, and, and so we call that when, when the Great Spirit walked among us. And so that, when that was finished, I self published that. And then in 2015, I said, Well, here we go. I’ll start over with Matthew. And we’re gonna start doing this translation I created, I had created a website, a Facebook page. And in April, I had already been working on it quite a bit. By April, I got an email on April 1, which is April Fool’s Day. Right. And, and I got an email from the CEO of one book of Canada, Wayne Johnson, and he was that the CEO at that time, and one book is part of the Wickliffe global alliance of Bible translators. At the time, they were doing over 40 translations in Africa. Were working with indigenous people and their philosophy was that the indigenous peoples should be the translators. And they would be the helpers to give expertise and help and, and funding and, and, and all these different things. So I had a three hour conversation with Wayne Johnson from one book, and we ended up forming a partnership with one book and rain ministries, which is our, my wife and I use ministries called rain ministries. And we and we began the translation but they by forming a translation council of 12. I thought that was a good number.

It sounds good.

Councils a lot better word the committee. So I knew from traveling for 10 years on the road, my wife and I traveled and shared Jesus with Native people. And we, when we went to regular non native churches, we would talk about the issues with Native people, why? Why aren’t native people going to church? Why aren’t native people falling to Jesus? Why is there such a low percentage. And so I would talk about these things and work on reconciliation issues and things like that, along with sharing portions of the translation, so. So I had a lot of relationships across Turtle Island, North America. And so I reached out to my friends from different tribes, different geographical locations. And from there, we we spent a couple of weeks in Florida, in Orlando at the Wickliffe associates. And they worked with us, our whole our whole council of 12, they worked with us to help us figure out how we were going to do this translation as a group effort. And then after that, in November of that year, we went to Calgary, Canada. And we spent three weeks there. And for one week, we had a smaller group, about half of our council came a week early, and Wycliffe Cliff identifies about 200 words that need to be translated properly. So we took all those 200 words. And we decided together, how we were going to word them in English, how we were going to translate them into the English. And also, we got this wonderful program on a computer called Paratext. And Paratext is is a translation software that biblical translators all over the world use. But it had never been used to do an English translation. Yeah. So. So we entered all that information into Paratext. To keep us on track, make sure we were translating the words correctly in the way we had agreed upon. And finally, we we agreed on a method where we would have, I would do the initial since I had worked on it for a couple years, I would do the initial wording, and translating. And then the council and other native people would be reviewers to give feedback, suggest changes and make sure it was worded in a way that honored scripture and honored our cultures. So that’s kind of how difficult came about Go ahead.

How difficult was it to get consensus on some of the some of the words since there’s so many different Native American cultures and languages? Or is there an underlying sort of commonality that made that easier than someone like me might think?

No, that’s a really good question. And it comes up quite a bit. Because we’re all speaking English. Okay, and because the government allowed us to have these gatherings called Powerex. Okay, our people began to come together from different tribal Heritage’s and learn from each other. And, yes, a commonality developed out of out of those gatherings and things and, and so there’s, there’s, we don’t claim that this translation is tribally specific in any way. It just has some general terms that are used kind of across the board, and the native people recognize in so far, we feel like we’ve hit that pretty well, from the feedback that we’re getting.

That’s great. I was I’m intrigued by the list. From Wickliffe of 200 words, what were what were some of those words that had to be translated correctly?

Well, you have, you know, righteousness, you have priest, you have Kingdom kingdom. Yeah, they’re all these fields, some of them are theological words. Right? And and so you just kind of go down to there, how are you going to translate Hades? Or hell? How are you going to translate Gahanna? You know, all these different terms that are found in the Scripture? How are you going to translate sin? How are you going to translate truth or whatever? Whatever? The main words that are important, because there’s a lot of words that really don’t have a lot of significance that that way. But there are key words, and that’s what we focused on.

Yeah, I could see that with these various theologically loaded words of hey, how are we? How are we translating them into and being culturally relevant, but also capturing the theology that that is maybe housed in those words, one thing for me, reading the first thing that I think stands out to a lot of people, and when I first got it, my first sermon after I got it, I read out of it at our church, right? So I got a lot of people in our church excited, excited about the copy even gave away my copy that day to someone to someone in the church. They’re like, where did you find that? But the one thing that stood out to me and stood out to my congregation as well, is the names. Yes, the names and and I’d love to hear more about that. I think it’s, to me, it’s so powerful to hear these names in a different way.

Yeah, that was one of the things our counsel was 100% on, always, we’re going to translate the meanings of names, because in many of our tribal traditions, our names all had meanings. Right. And in the Hebrew language, and often in the Greek, that same tradition exists, names have meanings. And that’s brought out especially in the book of Romans by the, by the small man, Paul, and yeah. And so in Paul’s talks about Abraham, and he says, Abraham is truly the father of many nations, as his name means father of many nations. And, and so Paul brings that idea out. And it’s amazing as you as we began to translate the meaning of these words. And of course, as we dug into the Hebrew and Greek and tried to figure out the meaning of each name in place. What what began to happen was, was the there was a few times we didn’t find the meaning. And so we had to figure out what to do in that case. So we kind of made it up. According to the context, you know, that it was being talked about, I can’t remember, I think we translated Saddam as village of bad spirits or something like that. Yeah, it didn’t, if that’s the one I don’t, I don’t specifically, specifically remember. But the other thing we found out was often the meanings of the names lent meaning to the story. Yeah. And they tied into the story. And that was a such a beautiful thing to find. And that’s the feedback that we have gotten that you’ve just given me, has been the same. Our native people just so appreciate they say, I love you had me at Matthew one.

which no one ever says that about the genealogy.

And, and a lot of people give that feedback, and they love to say the name. But the other thing as we, we did some testing early on, and we translated Luke and Ephesians. And we, we published that, and then we sent copies out several 100 copies out to pastors and leaders, native, all Native people, a few non native people, theologians, you know, things like that. And to get some feedback, and the feedback was, was really good. 90% Positive. But but that was the most positive feedback of all was putting the meanings of the name, I guess, in some ways, we’ve broken new ground by doing this in a translation. Yeah, but also the feedback said, well, it gets How do we know who it’s referring to? If you don’t know the Bible real well, so we decided to put in parentheses the standard English translation of the name So there wouldn’t be any confusion and, and a few people who might think and sometimes we get the feedback, oh, you can’t be saved by calling on Creator sets free, you have to call on the name of Jesus. They said, Well, you know, I understand what you’re saying. But I do believe that you can be saved calling on the name of Creator sets free, because that’s the meaning of the name of Jesus. And it’s not the backlight the name isn’t magic, it’s the person we’re referring to that has the power, right, you know, and so, as long as you’re referring to the proper person, it’s good. So that was some of the feedback.

In the Word, Jesus would be an English translation of Yeshua, anyway. So we’re already translating and yeah, giving the meaning to the names or showing that I so agree with you that it, it does add, it draws out the meaning of the stories as well. And that fits better with the Hebrew culture and the Greek culture, then Western non native culture. And, and so I yeah, I think it’s unlocked a way of reading scripture, and understanding the power of names and unlocking that, you know, the story behind that.

So I actually have a question for Terry, that that has not been bothering me, but is something that I’m just sort of aware of, I’m not Native American, I’ve been using the First Nations translation devotionally. Now for quite a while I actually had a copy of the what, Luke in Ephesians, actually, and the one I’m using now, actually, it’s not the whole New Testament, it’s the Gospels and acts in Ephesians that I’m working through. But I’m not Native American, what would you know, I’m always, I don’t know, concerned and worried about issues of misguided cultural appropriation and things like that. What would be a benefit of, of this translation for for someone like me?

Well, one of the things that, that we discovered, as we began to put this out there for people to give feedback, was the non native people were, were giving positive feedback. Yeah, I love it. And, and so one of the things that we began to see was that this First Nation version was was our gift not only to our Native people, but a gift from Native people, to the dominant culture. And so as a part of the body of Christ, we have something to offer, we have something of value that will help non native people draw closer to the Creator, to draw. And so that’s the idea behind that. And we have had amazing feedback. We have people in the UK that are reading it, and using it. We have Celtic based Christians that love it, because it really resonates with them. And again, to understand, not all native people are going to like this translation. It depends on how they’ve been raised. It depends on their view of Christianity, it depends on as a Christian natives, if they’ve been raised that the King James Bible, or these translations are the way to go. They’ve been assimilated, that some of them won’t be open to this. But we’ve discovered that over 90% are open and love it and are actually telling us that it’s drawing them deeper into their faith and trust in Jesus. And I believe that’s true. So we just love, love that that’s happening.

Another thing for me that really stands out in the text is the different names for God that are drawn from from native culture. And I wondered I can, I can only maybe assume that there was maybe some there’s been some pushback there. Because because people get maybe antsy when we don’t use the word God, knowing that it’s still an English name, God, and it doesn’t hold that and I in your introduction, I really appreciated that. But I would love for you to kind of tell our listeners how you went through the process of incorporating those names and why that’s important.

One of the things that I early on as as I was living on the Hopi reservation, I read a book I think the book is is written by a Wickliffe translator. I think the books called God speaks Navajo. Okay. And so the translators at that time were trying to figure out how to say God in the Navajo language, and they weren’t sure there wasn’t as specific word for God, there was kind of an idea of this great, invisible spirit who is holy, the most holy one. And so that was dn dn. But the translator was nervous about it, that, well, maybe they, they would get it confused with other spirits or other gods so to speak. So they added the word God, God, to the end to the end of that, so it’s dn God. And so, some of the, in the book there was, it was funny because the Navajo people were trying to figure out who was this? Who What is this God? That’s holy? What what is this? Because the word God had no meaning to them? Yeah, at all in their language. It’s a German word basically comes from a German. Right? And so. So what happened was at Christmas time, the the missionaries put up a beautiful green Christmas tree. And they looked at and go, Oh, good. See their juniper tree, their evergreen is called Good. And so they thought, oh, this Holy Spirit is a tree. Yeah. So the idea. And then when they went to the Apache people, they didn’t do that. They didn’t add God. They just used the Apache word, I think it was usin. For for for the Creator, and more Apaches came to faith than the Navajos? Well, they believe it was because of the the the using the indigenous words for the Creator. So I said all that, to say, we use general terms, we didn’t use God, we stayed away from God. First of all, a lot of natives have a negative opinion of Christianity. And that’s because of all the boarding schools, the government policies and things. So the name of God and Jesus are often attached to, in their minds to this negative image. But creator, and great spirit are native general ways native have natives have referred to the Supreme Being. And also, we found there was a few other ones that we use the one above us all we used, nor of hearts, you know, there’s different terms that have been used. And we we just picked a few that we felt were more common, and and use those in the translation. And that that has been a very, very positive feedback also. But you’re right, there are some that don’t like it, or we get some pushback. I would be shocked if we didn’t get pushback, right? But it’s okay, because this is it’s not for everyone. But it’s touching many that would probably not be able to read this without these barriers coming up. In other words, too, like the word sin, when our native people went to boarding school, it was a sin, to speak your language, it was a sin to cut your hair. I mean, to have long hair, it was as all these different things were sin. And so the word sin is like a trigger word. And it triggers a bad memory that that has actually been passed down generationally. And boarding schools weren’t as long ago as some people think. Right? There’s people alive today that experienced boarding school. And we’re getting those testimonies. So So those are some of the the ideas and the feedback we’ve gotten has been positive in that direction.

Yes, I am a theology teacher here at Jessup and trying to help students, sometimes they’ve grown up in the church, and they have words like God, or words like sin. And the meaning kind of gets wrapped up in that word. And to kind of help them understand, hey, the word God is actually just a general term. And we have to fill in the blank. You know, when we say God, it doesn’t necessarily mean Yahweh doesn’t necessarily mean we have to. And we have to understand who the god is we serve and that term is just a title or sin. What do we mean by sin? And, and yeah, I think it’s helpful. I think that a translation like this, for me is helpful to show the students there’s deeper meaning then, than the English word we’ve been using. Yes, and and it has a concept that yes is way more universal that we

can all benefit from, from understanding those deeper meanings I am.

And in both the Hebrew and Greek there are other terms other than God that are used for God. Right? You know, right. Creator is used in places, and Most High is used the most high. Yeah. And so there are there are different ways in, in the Hebrew people, they would say, Hashem, you know, or they talk about the name, you know, and they wouldn’t even say his pronounce his name in the Hebrew. And so um, so names are meaningful. And we had when we first presented this, we were at the crew, crew is the former Campus Crusade for Christ. We weren’t, we were invited to the in 2015, to their staff gathering from all over the world, there was over 5000 staff there. And they let us present on the on this project. And yeah, and I read our early version of the the Lord’s Prayer. And afterwards, the native lady came to our table, and she had tears. She says, I’m unbeliever, I’ve been a believer for years, I’m a staff. But when you read that, and I heard those words said, in that in those in using those native terms, something happened inside of me. And a connection was made in my spirit that never existed before I was able to integrate my nativeness with my belief in Jesus. And I thought, wow, you know, that’s what we’re hoping for. You know, and that’s a lot of the some some of the feedback has been like that.

One of the things that I’m benefiting a lot from going through the First Nations version devotionally is the fact that following Jesus is a journey. It’s not it’s a path, it’s a road, you walk, it’s not just a deposit of affirmations that you have to assent to. And that’s, that’s it. And that, that means a lot to me.

Yeah. The term kingdom of God was probably one of the most difficult ones to translate, because Kingdom has such colonial baggage attached to it. Right, right, you know, the United Kingdom, in the takeover in America and of our native people in the these different things. So we use George Tinker is a native theologian and believer in Jesus. And we used he has a whole chapter in one of his books called Spirit and resistance, where he talks about how would the, the kingdom of God be understood in a native way. And his conclusion, which is several pages long, was that it would be like a good road to walk. Yeah, and so that’s how we, we say the kingdom we say creators, good road, traders good road. And so it becomes a Native people have always seen spirituality, not in a dual way, but in a in a singular way. We don’t have secular and spiritual we, we have creation and spirit all together, natural spiritual working together, intersecting with each other, in in the ways that creator wants it to. And we believe that when things go wrong, something’s happened to that balance between spirit and natural, and it has to be restored. So that’s the idea of sin broken relationship or broken ways or sometimes it can be wrongdoings. We, rather than the word sin, and so we, we, we wrestled with all these different terminology to present the meaning of the Greek. But but in a way that’s going to resonate more with many of our native people.

That’s one big question for me is, are you working on the Old Testament,

every interview, I get? See, I’m just gonna say pray for me, please pray we are considering it. And it would be a huge project. And it would involve needing to raise funds and a lot of different things to be able to the time it takes to do this. And I would love you know, we had volunteer people that volunteered their time native people across the board over probably over 50 people have volunteered their time into this translation. I would love to be able to give them something more than just you know, We’d love to say, hey, you know, we can actually pay you to do this? You know, when that’d be amazing. Yeah, you know, so yeah, we were considering,

again, good, well, hopefully we can spread the word. And that can, can get you some resources to be able to because that’s I mean, I just the this is so valuable and can see having the whole scripture would be would be so valuable.

Well, another thing that was really interesting that happened is in the middle of this translation, some folks from the Jesus film from crew got a hold of us, and they somehow had gotten a copy of the First Nation version, one of the early copies of Luke and, and so there was a discussion about doing some kind of film. And what we finally decided on working with other people, they got a nice donation to actually create something with the First Nation version. So working together, we came up with an animated version of, of Jesus, feeding the 5000. And walking on the water after that story. And so it took a couple years to find the right people and to get this put together, and then it’s beautiful. And so if you go to the website, First Nations, you can click on the link for the Jesus film. And you can see it, it’s embedded right in the website. Or you can go to the YouTube version, or you can go to the Jesus film itself into a search for First Nations version. And so that was released almost two weeks just before the First Nation version was released. And so it helped as a promotional way. And we’ve gotten really good feedback back from that film. I hope you guys are watching your listeners will take time to take a look at it.

Definitely. When you were talking, I thought me a really neat way to end. Would you mind reading the Lord’s prayer for us out of the First Nations version?

Oh, sure. I’m going to read from the matt Matthews version. Okay, in Matthew chapter six, oh, gray spirit, our father from above, we honor your name as sacred and holy. Bring your good road to us. For the beauty of your ways in the spirit world above is reflected in the earth below. Provide for us day by day, the elk, the buffalo, the salmon, the corn, the squash, in the wild rice, all the things we need for each day. release us from the things we have done wrong. In the same way we release others for the things done wrong to us. Guide us away from the things that tempt us to stray from your good road and set us free from the evil one and his worthless ways to hope. May it be so.

So good. Thank you so much for joining us on the show. And thank you for for doing this project. It really I think you’re gonna find and the feedback is already so good, but you’re gonna find this, this is gonna have far reaching impacts. And we’re just so grateful that you joined us the

same great. It’s been a while seeing the glitch. This in our league. Thank you for listening.

Thank you for listening to Jessup. Think Be sure to follow us on Twitter at Jessup think we would love to hear your thoughts on the episode and engage with any questions you have. Our aim is to provide a framework for further reflection and deeper exploration of these important topics. You can also help the show by leaving a review on iTunes these reviews help the podcast reach new listeners. Until next time, I’m Mark Moore and this is Jessup think

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