Interlinear and Parallel Versions of the New Testament

by Jerry Bergman
(Bible Editions & Versions, October-December, 2003)

A unique type of Bible translation that includes two versions is called an interlinear or parallel translation. One of the earliest examples is the Emphatic Diaglott translated by Benjamin Wilson in 1864. This version is an interlinear that includes the Greek text, together with a literal word for word translation beneath it (more accurately a transliteration), and in addition includes a new translation in the right margin. The same set up was used by the Kingdom Interlinear Translation (the author’s edition was published in 1985). Both of these translations tend to be literal, but in some ways they are free translations — or at least unorthodox. Several study Bibles, such as Magil‘s Linear School Bible (1899), include the Greek or the Hebrew in a second column or below the English. This is an excellent way to learn Greek or Hebrew. Some parallel translations are only reprints of two versions or of one version with a new translation.

Another more recent example is that of a true parallel translation, The 21st Century New Testament, a new version that includes two new translations set out side by side on each page. In the left column is printed a literal translation, and next to it in the right column is the free translation. Both translations were done by Vivian Capel from Bristol England. Interestingly, the free translation is often much shorter in length. The translations were evidently done from the original Greek, and several manuscripts were used to make comparisons.

The translation itself is 450 pages long, and the author’s notes are contained in an additional 41. The notes are in alphabetical order, and include mostly topics that are of special interest to the translator. The notes are especially useful in understanding the uniqueness of the translation and, interestingly, they avoid many controversial Watchtower beliefs such as their blood transfusion prohibition and, ironically, their practice of disfellowship.

Of note is the fact that the translator was an active Jehovah’s Witness when the translation was completed (I don’t know if he is still a Witness), and their theology is reflected in both the free and literal translations. An example is Witnesses are non-totalitarian and do not accept the deity of Christ doctrine. For example, see John 1:1 in which the free translation uses the expression “Marshaling resources” to refer to Christ’s role in Creation. Capel translates John 1:1 as: “At the beginning of creation there dwelt with God a mighty spirit, the Marshal” instead of the much more common “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (KJV). This example is an excellent illustration of the advantages of a parallel translation. The literal translation uses the terms “marshal” and “word” in brackets, allowing a quick comparison.

The use of the term “marshal” here is discussed extensively in the appendix, focusing on why the author preferred it to other words, such as the “word” or “logos” which are used in most English translations. The appendix also has a long discussion on the use of the word “God” versus ‘a god,” and the propriety of using other words in John 1:1 such as “divine.” Another example is John 10:30, usually translated “I and the Father are one.” Capel translates in his free version “My Father and I are in complete agreement in this” and in the literal translation “1 and the Father we are one.” This example also shows how the use of two side by side translations can be helpful in understanding why a specific word or phase was used.

Another Witness doctrine is the teaching that Christ is not coming sometime in the future but has already returned to the earth. In support of this doctrine the Watchtower teaches that the signs spoken of in Matt. 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13 are not evidence of Christ’s future coming as commonly taught by most denominations, but evidence that he has already returned (i.e. they are evidence of “his presence”). The Watchtower once taught that Christ returned in 1878, then in 1914, a date that will no doubt change as we distance ourselves from that date. In harmony with this teaching, Capel translates the “parousia” expression in Matt. 24 as “when you are near” instead of how it is usually translated “the sign of thy coming.” The Watchtower prefers to use the term “presence” here and Capel in his literal translation also used “presence.”

Some verses that appear to be translated so literally that they go beyond the meaning of the text can be compared to the literal translation to help evaluate the free translation. For example, Rev. 13:10 states: “if anyone who is being arrested resists, perhaps killing someone in the process, he too must be killed.” One could interpret this as meaning that a Christian should be concerned about killing only when arrested, and that this Scripture does not apply to other conflicts, such as civil or other war situations. Most translations use the expression “anyone who kills by the sword must himself be killed by the sword,” which is more general and implies that all aggressive war or conflicts are wrong. Again the parallel translation method can be useful to help the reader evaluate the free translation, as also can the interlinear translations that include the original Greek and a word-for-word translation for comparison. Capel’s literal translation is close to the more orthodox translation: “if anyone by a sword will kill, it is necessary for him to be killed by a sword.”

As a whole, I found the literal translation refreshing but familiar, and the free translation very readable and flowing — and placing both side by side is invaluable. Some versions can carry the free translation to an extreme by using everyday argot which, in the minds of some persons at least, could cheapen God’s word. And I must admit that I personally value the beauty of the orthodox translations, but this set of versions was a joy to read and provided fresh insight to the text. An example of a slang word Capel uses is “pansies” in I Cor. 6:9 for “effeminate.” Also, this verse uses the modern term “homosexuals” instead of the more traditional but archaic term “sodomites.”

This is not to say that most free translations such as this are of little use, however. Although the resulting conclusions of the translator are important, sometimes they can dominate the translation. At times I felt that this was occurring in the free translation. At other times, I felt very good about much of the product. The fact that two translations were included helped to balance the translation in places where readers may feel the wording was less then desirable.

This is a major advantage of all parallel and interlinear translations including the Emphatic Diaglott and The Kingdom Interlinear.

Having said this, I would recommend this and all parallel/interlinear translation for the reason that reading any translation can be of help in understanding God’s word as long as a person accepts the translation as a means of helping one to understand the thoughts of the original writers. To do this best, some people feel that one must be able to read the original Hebrew and Greek, but as most of us cannot do this (and we have no autographs, only copies of copies), we have interlinear translations to help us. In conclusion, I highly recommend more use of all interlinear and parallel translations, and am somewhat baffled as to why they are not much more popular.

References

Chamberlin, William J. 1991. Catalogue of English Bible Translations: A Classified Bibliogra­phy of Versions and Editions Including Books, Parts, and Old and New Testament Apociypha and Apoctyphal Books. New York: Greenwood Press.

Magil, Joseph. 1899. Magil’s Linear School Bible, Montauk Books, New York.

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