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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Bible Translations

Don Stewart :: What Is an Interlinear Bible?

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What Is an Interlinear Bible?

Bible Translations – Question 6

Many people think that a faithful translation of the Bible means a word-for-word translation. If the verse in Hebrew contains ten words, then ten English words should be used to translate the verse. If the Greek text contains eight words, then only eight English words are necessary to translate it. To be a faithful translation of the original text, each Hebrew and Greek word should have a corresponding English word. Yet this is not the way translation works.

The idea of corresponding English word, or words, which matches with the original text of Scripture, is not found in translations, but rather in interlinear Bibles. We must appreciate the fact that an interlinear Bible is different from a translation.

This Is Not a Translation

An interlinear Bible is not a translation. It is a tool that helps identify Greek and Hebrew words with their English translation. For example, in an interlinear of Matthew 1:18, the English words under the Greek words would look something like this:

of moreover Jesus Christ the birth in this manner was after having been engaged the mother of him Mary to Joseph before to come together they she was found with a stomach having from spirit holy

This example makes a couple of things obvious. First, it is not possible to translate Greek words with only one English word. Certain Greek words need a number of different English words to convey their meaning. In addition, some words do not translate by themselves. Second, it is not possible to keep the same word order in English as in the original. To do so would make no sense whatsoever. This example illustrates this fact. While there are places in Scripture where the word order is similar to English, this verse is more the rule than the exception. It shows why translations cannot usually reproduce the word order of the original—it will not make sense in English.

The Value of an Interlinear

An interlinear can be useful to find which particular Greek or Hebrew word that is used for the English translation. Beyond this, they are not really much help. In fact, they can be misleading to someone who does not understand the grammar of the original languages. The best thing a student can do is to learn the biblical languages. If this is not possible, then owning an interlinear will only be of limited use.

Summary – Question 6
What Is an Interlinear Bible?

An interlinear Bible is not really a translation. It lists the Hebrew or Greek word in one line and below the Hebrew or Greek word is the corresponding English word, or words, that translate the meaning of the original word. An interlinear will make two things absolutely clear. First, it is not possible to have one English word correspond to one Hebrew or Greek word—it just will not work.

In addition, the order of the words in the original cannot be kept in the English translation. If one attempts to do this, it will not result in good English. Neither will it convey the message of the biblical writer. A translation needs to be able to use one or more English words to translate the corresponding Greek or Hebrew word. Furthermore, the order of the words usually has to be changed in the English translation to make sense out of the passage. Therefore, the interlinear only has limited value.

How Does a Person Know If a Bible Translation Is a Good One? ← Prior Section
What Are the Major Theories of Bible Translation? (Formal Equivalence and Dynamic Equivalence) Next Section →
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