Your Bible litmus test

What passages do you gravitate toward when evaluating a new Bible translation?

Here are a couple of examples:

Henry Neufeld: “In one place I watch closely in Bible translations, 2 Corinthians 5:20-21, The CEB does use one translation I didn’t think quite make it, “God is negotiating with you through us” in verse 20.” (Common English Bible: First Impressions)

Jim West: Regarding the NLT, “it’s a pretty good translation. i have two ‘test passages’ for any translation – jeremiah 25, and romans 8.” (Tyndale Is Launching a New Site)

For some reason, I gravitate toward Philemon. I also tend to sneak a peek at 1 Timothy 2 and Ephesians 5:21-22.

What about you?

6 thoughts on “Your Bible litmus test

  1. iverlarsen says:

    For me, 2 Cor 5:20-21 is a good place to test, and CEB failed miserably. But so did KJV, NIV and many others. NLT is the best here.
    Otherwise I look at Romans and Galatians, but I prefer to look at the whole book or at least several chapters before making an assessment.

  2. jkgayle says:

    For the Hebrew Bible, I like to see where the translators first bring Adam into play. At what particular place in Genesis does the English translator (or team of translators) call the Hebrew אָדָם (‘adam) by a proper noun, i.e. the transliterated Adam as the name of a particular individual and/ or as the category of the male (not the female)? Most translators will call it “man” or “human” until somewhere in Genesis 2. Then it becomes “Adam” in different verses. The implications are huge for reading the Bible from a gendered perspective.

    For the Greek, I look at the human terms across the end of John 2 through the beginning of John 3. Is Nicodemus called “a man”? And, in Romans, are they called “Gentiles” or “Greeks”? In Romans 1:14 are they “non-Greeks” or “Barbarians”?

  3. Joel H. says:

    For evaluating accuracy and overall quality of a translation, I think looking at easy passages is best. I often use Numbers 31. Though it has one challenging nuance, that passage is mostly just annals of war. If a translation can’t even get that right (and, unfortunately, most can’t), I worry about more difficult passages.


  4. Jay says:

    Here are some of my test spots.

    Revelation 20:4 ἔζησαν “came to life” or “lived”

    Romans 16:1 The translation of διάκονος in Romans 16:1 as compared to in 2 Corinthians 3:6.

    Hebrews 13:17 Πείθεσθε τοῖς ἡγουμένοις ὑμῶν

    James 2:2 τὴν συναγωγὴν an assembly, a church or a synagogue?

    Acts Matt 19:9 πορνεία

  5. Gary Simmons says:

    Joel: that’s an interesting point. By the way, I just got Robert Alter’s translation of the Psalms. Some parts I like, some I dislike. Thank you for your review of it.

    Everyone: Are there any other test passages? Since I’m a student, I’d like to hear more of the important test cases.

    Side note: I have to wonder if early Christians used ekklesia specifically because the first-century Jews had more or less a copyright on synagoge. Is there some validity to that, or is that an amateur mistake?

  6. jkgayle says:


    Related to your side note, at Mt 16:18, Willis Barnstone has this fn:

    The Greek words ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) and συναγωγή (synagogue) mean an “assembly,” “gathering,” or “congregation,” and both words can refer to “synagogue.” However, ekklesia (except in the Septuagint Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) is normally translated church, while synagogue is the common word for “synagogue.” Here, in Yeshua’s prophecy, the intentional futurity of “I will build my church” is contrasted with the old Jewish tradition represented by Gei Hinnom, the Hebrew word for “hell.” Yeshua’s dramatic message is that he will build on a rock the new church that will overcome the old synagogue, and that Christian heaven will overcome Jewish hell. In his lifetime there was no Christian church, and Yeshua preached in the synagogues. For the observant Jew to say that he would “build a church” is an anachronism, revealing not his voice but that of churchmen many decades later when a Christian church as a building and institution did exist. The superimposition of later terminology, theology, and history on the figures of Yeshua and his followers remains the essential dilemma of the New Testament.

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