Hundreds of millions of people have used ChatGPT since its arrival last November to plan vacation itineraries, help them code better, create pop-culture sonnet mashups, and learn the finer details of their beliefs.
For years, Christians have Googled their theological questions to find articles written by humans answering questions about God and God's Word. Now, people can take these questions to AI chatbots. How will natural language-processing tools like ChatGPT change how we interpret the Bible?
Eight AI experts from around the world— and Chat GPT itself— weighed in.
Pablo A. Ruz Salmones, CEO, X eleva Group, Mexico City, Mexico
As John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (ESV). Thus, interpreting the Bible is, to a great extent, the search for Truth. Large language models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT don’t have, by definition, a source of truth; it’s simply not in the model—hence why sometimes they make things up and extrapolate. They are incapable of finding truth, so that even when they do stumble across it, they are unable to recognize it as such.
Thus, when reading an output of an LLM regarding the Bible, we must understand that said output does not come from its search for truth within His Word but rather from a mixed “regurgitation” and extrapolation—a.k.a. algorithms—of what others have said. As a result, ChatGPT cannot offer a new interpretation of the Bible by itself; rather, a person querying ChatGPT may find in the chatbot’s answer a new way to interpret the Bible, just as they may find it in an answer offered by a parrot. Because it copies others, the parrot ends up speaking truth, even if it has no idea it has done so.
Suman Kumar Polepaka, founder of BibleMate, now based in Munich, Germany
Generative text AI models, like ChatGPT, are transforming how we seek answers to theological queries. Gone are the days of Googling and scrolling through endless articles. Instead, AI chatbots offer instant, clear, and authoritative responses, compiled from a vast array of texts, books, and articles. Their convenience, speed, and interactive nature make them a go-to resource.
They can even enhance personal Bible study by providing instant, diverse interpretations and context for any passage. But here's the catch: ChatGPT, being a general-purpose model, may lack theological or biblical accuracy. Its goal isn't to foster personal relationships with God or nurture spiritual growth.
This led me to create BibleMate.org, a ChatGPT-based alternative. BibleMate's mission is to provide biblically accurate answers and guide users on their faith journey. It's about ensuring AI doesn't just offer information but contributes meaningfully to spiritual growth. This project is still in its early stages, and I'm excited to see how it evolves.
Ang Wie Hay, IT practitioner and preacher, Singapore
ChatGPT’s speed in collecting and filtering information, integrating and sorting data, and providing summaries in numerous languages gives it an intelligence not possessed by any normal human.
This technology means that Christians looking for biblical advice may ask ChatGPT to apply Scripture passages to various contexts. ChatGPT’s various language capabilities may make it easier for us to perform exegetical studies of Bible verses from the original language of the Bible to various local languages.
ChatGPT is not a human who is able to distinguish the will of God or determine the truth of the Bible. So a person’s own biblical insight is paramount in deciding whether the answer from ChatGPT is in accordance with his or her faith.
As a preacher, I’m grateful that ChatGPT will greatly help to speed up the preparation of sermon manuscripts. And at the same time, the pastor still needs an intimate relationship with God, so that the preacher is sensitive in capturing the wisdom and guidance from God. My hope is that with ChatGPT's speed in responding to our requests, the pastor can spend more time cultivating an intimate relationship with God.
Sharath Chandra Kogila, product line manager working on AI initiatives at Dell Technologies, Bangalore, India
We need to address information overload immediately. Due to the amount of information that we are exposed to, our cognition gets impaired and our ability to summarize, understand, and extract value out of information is challenged. From this generation forward, we will rely on AI systems like ChatGPT, which are based on large language models, to interpret and summarize information for us. The problem I see here is that models can be trained to reflect a specific worldview or ideology when reading information (including the Bible). This would especially affect someone new to the faith looking for resources and information.
Any type of content, including voice, may be produced and made to look real using GPT systems. That's a serious risk, since we can't tell the difference between truth and counterfeiting or engineered from original content. Furthermore, with such systems, information cannot be traced back to a source—unlike accessing information via the web, where information must be linked to a website and its authenticity can be more easily verified. In such instances, either all information must be trusted or none at all. When such methodologies are used, the AI systems either have a neutral point of view or a politically prejudiced point of view, both of which are undesirable when interpreting situations from a biblical perspective.
Batseba Kassahun, HR consultant who has previously supported digital health, e-learning, and telecommunication companies, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Too often the global church values Western culture, regardless of whether this culture has any historic Christian connection. While we currently don't have ChatGPT available in Ethiopia, I fear it will just become another tool that leads Christians to further glorify Western culture. I also worry that its answers and application to us Ethiopians would be limited, as ChatGPT is designed to work for a very different context.
Christians who do have access to ChatGPT have to wrestle with the fact that this AI generates well-developed sermons and teaching. If it can do this, how much more can it imitate our personal Bible study? Our personal transformation happens through our own digging and studying the Bible. What will happen if we are only fed summaries and conclusions?
An IT professional and AI thought leader, whose public sector job has not authorized him to make public comments due to the nature of job assignment, India
When interacting with a user, natural language processing tools like ChatGPT use a process known as word embeddings. Each word embedding has its own internal mathematical rules for associating different words together to construct a sentence in order to reply to a query.
Each word in a next-possible word list to construct a sentence is assigned a probability, and a final word is chosen based on maximum probability or the result of preference (bias) introduced through reinforcement learning with human feedback.
As a result, any query that ChatGPT answers depends upon the training data used in pretraining and human feedback provided when fine-tuning the model. The internet training data used by ChatGPT has both pro-Christian [writing collections] as well as critical or anti-Christian [collections].
Further, chatbots like ChatGPT can be deliberately poisoned by fake or synthetic data and can hallucinate answers (i.e., create convincing but fake answers). Hence, any response from ChatGPT would need critical evaluation for its theological validity and historical accuracy.
Even with these serious limitations, ChatGPT is great tool for studying the Word of God, as it readily provides concise and free reference to a vast amount of premium Bible teachings through countless blogs, discussions, discourses, commentaries, maps, charts, handbooks, systematic theology books, general Christian books and study Bibles.
For Indian Christians who want to use ChatGPT, for better or worse, this vast amount of knowledge is available mostly in English, and there is not much in local Indian languages like Hindi or 21 other official languages.
Marcelo Cabral, editorial and education manager at ABC2 or Associação Brasileira de Cristãos na Ciência (Brazilian Association of Christians in Science), São Paulo Brazil
On the one hand, ChatGPT can provide a framework, suggestions of interpreters, and accessible summaries of theological traditions that may greatly improve Christians (both lay and ordained) in their practices of reading and designing Bible studies.
On the other hand, ChatGPT will become one more obstacle (along with social media) in Christians pursuing deep reflection of biblical texts. It discourages Christians from reading the biblical text for themselves and allowing the biblical text to “read” the reader in return. This intellectual and spiritual work may be super-automatized, thus atrophying minds and hearts in the formative process of thinking and creating.
Benjamin Bimanywaruhanga, AI practitioner, Uganda
Ugandans are spiritual and would like to learn what teachings there are in the Bible that relate to their real-life situations. Many would use ChatGPT if it was built with them in mind.
However, whereas the developed world has benefited from the internet as a source of knowledge, it has eluded the majority of the population in developing countries. Most people do not speak the international languages offered by the internet, so only the elite have previously utilized it as a source of information.
With increasing internet penetration and a growing number of chat-based internet applications that use [specialized communication] pathways, there’s an opportunity for many in the developed world to turn to these places for knowledge. However, this depends on tools like ChatGPT operating in local languages. When that occurs, we will see an adoption of ChatGPT-like applications that supersede the number of users in the West, similar to this part of the world leapfrogging the developed world in the mobile money revolution.
Natural language-processing tools like ChatGPT will change how we interpret the Bible by increasing accessibility to biblical interpretations and explanations, providing diverse perspectives, enabling contextual understanding, and offering personalized guidance.
They allow immediate access to theological information, making it more inclusive. ChatGPT can process a wide range of sources, promoting a nuanced understanding of the Bible. It can analyze context, historical background, and cultural references, aiding in accurate interpretations. The tool engages in conversational interactions, helping users navigate complex concepts and apply teachings to personal circumstances.
However, AI chatbots are tools, not substitutes for human interpretation. The Bible's complexity requires expertise, discernment, and theological understanding. While AI chatbots provide valuable insights, engaging with trained theologians and scholars remains essential for comprehensive Bible interpretation.