How the Gen Z Bible is Bringing Scripture to Life for a New Generation

President of The D. L. Moody Center
Updated May 20, 2024
How the Gen Z Bible is Bringing Scripture to Life for a New Generation

The Gen Z Bible became a TikTok sensation, with various biblical passages “translated” into the language used by Generation Z. Print versions of the Gen Z Bible are also available on Amazon. The Gen Z Bible has given rise to varied opinions. Some see it as a helpful way of reaching young people, while others believe it dishonors God’s word. 

So, how might Christians think about the Gen Z Bible? To answer that question, we need to understand something about Bible translation more generally. We also need to consider the GenZ Bible as a translation by considering how it handles various translation issues. Finally, we need to think about how new forms of A.I.-enabled translation change the way we think about a project’s value.

Photo Credit:   Image created using DALL.E 2024  AI technology and subsequently edited and reviewed by our editorial team.

Slide 1 of 6

Why Are There Different Translations of the Bible?

When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, he and his associates sought to produce a translation that would be maximally intelligible to everyday people while preserving the basic sense of the text. For instance, in his open letter on translation, Luther notes, “We do not have to ask about the literal Latin or how we are to speak German—as these asses do. Rather, we must ask the mother in the home, the children on the street, and the common person in the market about this. We must be guided by their tongue and the manner of their speech and do our translating accordingly. Then they will understand it and recognize that we are speaking German to them.”

While there is something to Luther’s translation philosophy that should inform translation strategies today, we must also consider the context into which Luther is translating. People would not have had a great deal of access to theological works that could help them understand the biblical text. The Bible would be, by and large, the only text German speakers would have at their disposal. A translation strategy that would keep the sense of the biblical text while also helping to bridge contexts would seem necessary in Luther’s day and, to some extent, in our day as well.

There are a wide variety of translations today ranging from highly interpretive (paraphrastic) translations like the Amplified Bible or The Message (and likely the Gen Z Bible) to more formal translations that seek to reflect the underlying Greek and Hebrew in another language to the extent possible (e.g., NASB, ESV). Each translation has its place. The GenZ Bible is something of a paraphrase though it differs from other Bibles in this category because it lacks a coherent translation strategy.

Slide 2 of 6

What is the Gen Z Translation of the Bible?

The GenZ.Bible, which appears to be built in the BibleGPT model, does not offer any insight into how translation issues are handled and interpretive decisions made, nor does it offer any explicit statement about the purpose of the translation. Contrasting the GenZ Bible to The Message, the latter lists a series of “exegetical consultants” who helped Peterson navigate challenging translation issues. GenZ.The Bible is far less transparent about how interpretive issues are handled or how specific translations are chosen. This lack of transparency may be due to an inability to know how the AI platform is making interpretive decisions or choosing particular translations.  

In reality, Luther’s comment regarding translation recognizes the sorts of choices required in Bible translation. For instance, Biblical Hebrew follows a verb-subject-object word order. English tends to use a subject-verb-object structure. As such, translators have to reorder the translation so that it is more easily readable for English readers. Translators must also choose a translation that may not capture the fullness of the underlying Hebrew or Greek. In Genesis 3:1, for example, the Hebrew word ‘arum  is used to describe the serpent. This word is often translated “more crafty” or  “more cunning.” These translations reflect the narrative depiction of the serpent as a tempter who misleads the human couple. However, ‘arum is more ambiguous than the English phrases used to translate it suggest. It can be used to describe a positive (Job 5:12; 15:5) or negative quality (Prov 12:16, 23; 13:16; 14:8, 15, 18; 22:3; 27:12). Further, ‘arum is likely used as part of a word play with erummim (“naked”) in Genesis 3:7.

Translation is both an art and a science, and the purpose and strategy of a given translation significantly shape its effectiveness and limitations. Every translation necessitates the translator to interpret the original text, making decisions that can profoundly influence its understanding. The weight of these decisions underscores the importance and responsibility of the translator's role. Some decisions may be more successful than others, but all are crucial in the process of bringing the Bible's message to a wider audience.

Slide 3 of 6
Gen Z Man at Home Studying

What Are the Pros and Cons of the Gen Z Bible?

1. Why Do We Need a Gen Z Translation?

What is the purpose? The purpose isn’t altogether clear in all cases. Some people are simply trying to engage younger audiences by cultivating curiosity about how a given verse might be rephrased using GenZ slang. However, this approach can potentially lead to confusion, as the original meaning of the text may be lost in the process.

Does the current context necessitate a new translation or a new translation strategy? Again, when Luther translated the Bible into German, people did not have widespread access to other study materials. Luther determined, then, to change certain words so that they were intelligible to people without other resources. GenZ is not without other resources, nor are they incapable of interacting in non-GenZ slang. At best, a GenZ Bible has limited utility. My guess is that if A.I. wasn’t making it easy to create this sort of translation, no one would have gone to all the trouble.

2. Does the GenZ Translation Properly Represent the Bible?

For example, consider the following translation of Genesis 1:2 from GenZ.Bible: “But then, the Spirit of God started doing its, cruising over the oceans.” The use of “it’s” is problematic. Not only does it add to the original Hebrew, but it also diminishes the personhood of the Holy Spirit. We can see similar challenges in the rest of the translation of Genesis 1. For example, the Hebrew phrase generally translated as “God saw that it was [very] good” is changed to “lit” (1:4, 10, 18, ), “super cool” (1:12), “[all] good” (1:21, 25), and “totally awesome” (1:31). 

As such, the GenZ translation makes it difficult to (a) recognize that the underlying Hebrew is the same and (b) see the other places the saw-good pattern is used in Genesis (e.g., Gen 3:6; 6:2). Based on Genesis 1 alone, it seems likely that the GenZ translation will sacrifice the broader biblical narrative because it isn’t consistent in its translation of various words and phrases.

Other translations face similar challenges, though not to the extent of the Gen Z Bible. For example, “good” is a feasible translation in Genesis 3:6 in which the woman sees that the fruit of the tree is “good” for food. In Genesis 6:2, however, some versions shift away from “good” to something like “attractive.” While the translation makes more sense as a description of the “daughters of men,” it does tend to mask the “saw-good” pattern that is evident in the Hebrew. 

3. The Gen Z Bible Is Not Translated from the Original Language.

It is worth noting that the GenZ Bible I used above was not translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts but from the King James Version. We might say that the GenZ Bible, then, is truly a rephrasing rather than a translation. It is “updating” the language of a previous version to include various GenZ terms. While other translations like the ESV also use previous translations (i.e., the Revised Standard Version) to do their work, the ESV also works with the original Hebrew and Greek text in ways that aren’t particularly transparent in the GenZ Bible translation. 

We might say that the GenZ Bible, then, is truly a rephrasing rather than a translation. It is “updating” the language of a previous version to include various GenZ terms. While other translations like the ESV also use previous translations (i.e., the Revised Standard Version) to do their work, the ESV also works with the original Hebrew and Greek text in ways that aren’t particularly transparent in the GenZ Bible translation. 

Photo Credit:  Image created using DALL.E 2024  AI technology and subsequently edited and reviewed by our editorial team.

Slide 4 of 6

How Does AI Create the Gen Z Bible?

The Gen Z Bible has gained traction via TikTok and is often the product of artificial intelligence (A.I.) models like ChatGPT. For instance, I asked ChatGPT to rephrase several biblical passages into GenZ terminology. It generated the following:  

  • “Don’t diss foreigners; treat them like squad members. Remember, you were once outsiders in Egypt. #Respsect” (Leviticus 19:33)
  • "Okay, so, in the beginning, there was the Word. And the Word was, like, legit with God. The Word? Yeah, that Word was God-level” (John 1:1).
  • "Yo, think like Jesus did. He wasn't on some high horse; he was all about that humble life, keeping it real. Even when he could've flexed his divine status, he didn't trip. Nah, he kept it low-key, serving up humble pie. And 'cause of that, big man upstairs gave him mad props, elevating him to the top spot. Every knee bows, every tongue shouts—he's the real deal, from the top floor to the underground” (Philippians 2:5-11).

It should be noted that these were not the only translations provided. When I went back and asked ChatGPT to translate Leviticus 19:33 again, it provided the following: “Don’t diss the foreigners living among you in your hood. Treat ‘em with respect, like they’re your squad. Remember, you were outsiders once too. I’m the man upstairs, your big guy.” The variations kept coming as I asked ChatGPT to re-translate the passage. 

Do these translations offer a sense of what each of these passages is staying? To some degree, yes. Still, the incorporation of GenZ terms doesn’t seem to clarify what is happening in the text beyond, for instance, the ESV, NIV, or NLT. For instance, Leviticus 19:33-34 in the NLT reads as follows: “Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” While there may be somewhat of a learning curve for the uninitiated, the basic thrust of the NLT isn’t difficult to grasp.

Slide 5 of 6

Is the Gen Z Bible Accurate?

Couldn’t a similar argument be made with regard to other translations? Probably. The proliferation of English Bible translations has allowed for a number of solid options so that the value of new versions is often incremental. The question with regard to the GenZ Bible is how the use of AI undercuts questions of value due to the relatively low effort needed to produce it. Copying and pasting the first chapter of Genesis into ChatGPT took less than sixty seconds. The ease of translating makes all sorts of versions possible. For instance, I asked ChatGPT to convert Genesis 1 into Pig Latin. That also took sixty seconds. Would I have done a Pig Latin translation of Genesis 1 without A.I.? Probably not. The value isn’t worth the effort. That, in my estimation, is the question that needs to be answered with regard to the GenZ Bible (and likely other translations created via A.I. in the future)…would they be worth the effort without A.I.? My guess is that the answer would be “no.” 

New technology tools raise new questions. We need to ensure that we aren’t doing something just because we can, but because it needs to be done. There may be a place for the GenZ Bible translation, but the relative lack of effort with which this sort of translation can be produced raises new questions. Those range from questions about translation strategies used by AI to the need for more specifically tailored translations.

Slide 6 of 6
Gen Z Man Comparing Gen Z Bible to Traditional Bible; What is the Gen-Z Bible?

Is the Gen Z Bible Helping People Understand the Bible?

While the GenZ Bible differs in the specific vocabulary and idioms employed, in some respects, it is similar to The Message, the Amplified Bible, or even the New Living Translation. It seeks to provide a highly contextualized and interpretive translation of the biblical text that people of a certain age will understand. Some will benefit from a translation that makes God’s word more accessible but this sort of rephrasing of prior translation has limited value for long-term study. 

We need to consider the use cases for the GenZ Bible. Could it be a novel way of introducing the younger generation to the Bible? Perhaps. Even as a novelty that people explore just to see how certain verses sound with GenZ slang tossed in could cultivate some interest in the Bible. Still, there is also the risk of trivializing God’s word and allowing rephrasing to become punchlines or gimmicks rather than ways of communicating God’s word to those who wouldn’t otherwise understand it. Therein lies the basic problem of the GenZ Bible.

While there are a number of arguments that could be used in favor of the GenZ Bible, it seems clear that GenZ can understand the Bible in more standard translations. The GenZ Bible isn’t a necessity because GenZ doesn’t actually need it. We have a wealth of translations, study materials, and commentaries available to help those of any generation understand the Bible. The GenZ Bible translation seems like a translation of convenience. A.I. made it possible and easy. While novel and somewhat interesting, it is difficult to identify the clear contributions and benefits the GenZ Bible actually provides.

As content becomes easier to produce, there will be less need to consider the value that content will provide. Does the GenZ Bible serve a purpose sufficient to justify its development were A.I. not available to reduce the effort required to produce it? Can we envision a group of translators spending months or years pouring over the biblical text and discussing the best “GenZ” phrase to represent the message of one biblical text after another? I think not. That doesn’t mean that the GenZ Bible can’t or won’t have a positive effect. It does mean that we need to adjust our perspective on what the GenZ Bible really is and whether or not is has enduring value as a biblical translation.

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James SpencerJames Spencer earned his Ph.D. in Theological Studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He believes discipleship will open up opportunities beyond anything God’s people could accomplish through their own wisdom. James has published multiple works, including Christian Resistance: Learning to Defy the World and Follow Christ, Useful to God: Eight Lessons from the Life of D. L. Moody, Thinking Christian: Essays on Testimony, Accountability, and the Christian Mind, and Trajectories: A Gospel-Centered Introduction to Old Testament Theology to help believers look with eyes that see and listen with ears that hear as they consider, question, and revise assumptions hindering Christians from conforming more closely to the image of Christ. In addition to serving as the president of the D. L. Moody Center, James is the host of “Useful to God,” a weekly radio broadcast and podcast, a member of the faculty at Right On Mission, and an adjunct instructor with the Wheaton College Graduate School. Listen and subscribe to James's podcast, Thinking Christian, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or LifeAudio! 

Originally published Monday, 20 May 2024.