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ESV Reverse Interlinear New Testament

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At long last, the ESV Reverse Interlinear New Testament has become available. What is a Reverse Interlinear Bible, you ask? The Preface answers well. “A conventional interlinear New Testament provides an English translation directly below each Greek word in a Greek New Testament. This tool is called an interlinear because the English words are placed between the lines of Greek.” Though remarkably helpful tools, interlinears do have one weakness. “Since the English words are merely translations of individual Greek words, the English words are out of grammatical word order, do not constitute any particular translation, and cannot easily be read. Their only use is as a reference. This is not to say that conventional interlinear New Testaments should not be used. One simply must be aware of their purpose and limitations.” “A reverse interlinear displays an English translation as the primary text and then weaves the corresponding Greek words between the English lines. So the word order of the English translation is untouched, but the Greek words are rearranged to correspond with the English. This means that the English lines are readable and the text can be used as a working everyday English New Testament.”

Because the Greek language is not as dependent as English on word order, the Greek text is still readable. Take a look at the sample below:


In this passage (1 John 4:1) you can see that the English text remains perfectly intact. By way of comparison, my KJV interlinear (conventional, not reverse) renders the English “Beloved, not every spirit believe, but prove the spirits, if of God they are; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” While still readable, the Greek takes priority over the English.

You will have noticed that the text has five lines. The first is the English Standard Version translation, of course, and that is followed by the corresponding Greek words, the Greek transliteration (a guide to help in correctly pronouncing the Greek words), the Greek parsing code (grammatical descriptions of the word) and the Strong’s number.

The book’s Preface outlines several benefits to using a Reverse Interlinear:

For the layperson or pastor who has never learned Greek, a reverse interlinear provides an inductive access to the original language of the New Testament. Everyone has a favorite English Bible translation. Not only do most people tend to memorize Scripture in one translation, they normally read out of just one Bible because they become familiar with the locations of verses and passages on particular pages. Those who choose to use a reverse interlinear as their day-to-day Bible, in addition to learning the locations of particular verses, will become familiar with repeated Greek vocabulary and phrases that underlie the English translation. Furthermore, this particular reverse interlinear does not merely attempt to connect English vocabulary with Greek vocabulary, it associates English and Greek syntax, allowing the reader to compare multiple word constructions in the two languages.

There are many kinds of clauses and phrases in both languages. To produce a finished English translation, the structures of these phrases and clauses are often mixed and matched. For example, the English Standard Version often translates Greek participial phrases (e.g., “running into the house”) with a conjunction and an indicative verb (e.g., “and he ran into the house”). Using this interlinear, one doesn’t need to learn the meaning of all of those grammatical terms to get a feel for how Greek is used at the phrase and clause level. This is a helpful advantage over a system that simply aligns vocabulary words. This broader understanding of both languages can be gained inductively over time simply by reading one’s favorite English translation while noticing the underlying Greek.

For those who need to refresh their Greek skills or who have just finished a beginning course in Greek, this reverse interlinear can sharpen those skills and advance their fluency in the language. It is not uncommon for a person who knows some Greek to use a conventional interlinear as a tool to translate parts of the New Testament. However, in many places where translations are not woodenly literal, a conventional interlinear does not provide any guidance for connecting the Greek to the reader’s favorite English translation. Many English words in our favorite translations are left unaccounted for, and the reader is left wondering where the translation came from. This also happens when people who know some Greek translate the Greek New Testament alongside their English Bible. It isn’t long before these students start seeing English words in their translation that are difficult to account for, and they have no idea where to look to find the answers.

This grammatically oriented reverse interlinear provides the answers by showing exactly which Greek words and phrases produced the difficult English. Students immediately see which Greek words produced the English, and by using the parsing information they can look up the corresponding grammatical information in their favorite Greek grammars. If you are more inductively oriented, you can just take note of the Greek lexical and grammatical information as you read your favorite translation and gradually get a feel for how the Greek is translated. Every English word is connected to the Greek. You are not left on your own to determine where the English came from.

Further along in the Preface, the authors outline the most important benefit of having access to the original languages, even to those with little training. “The primary benefit of working in the original biblical languages is noticing structural patterns and word play. Good translations correctly conveying the original meaning in good English style obscure these. Often the original Greek repeats words or structures that help to identify a contrast or forcibly present a paradox. Such repetition is not as common in good English style, so these structural clues are often obscured by translations, which primarily attempt to render meaning rather than structure.”

As one with rudimentary Greek skills (based on only one year of Greek while I was in college a decade ago) I have found the Reverse Interlinear remarkably helpful in helping me track down the meaning and usage of words in the original language. I have been using both the New Testament and the Old Testament for some time now through Logos Bible Software and they have proven almost indispensable to me in my research projects. I am glad to now have a printed New Testament I can carry with me.

This Reverse Interlinear New Testament is a resource that will surely prove beneficial to anyone who is or who wishes to be a student of the original language of the New Testament. If you are interested in learning more, you can read the Preface and Introduction and view a full sample page.

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