Engineers utilizing AI to translate the Bible into new languages. Giant language fashions simulating the language of Scripture to reply fashionable theological questions. A Reddit person who requested ChatGPT to put in writing a Bible story about Jesus accepting transgender folks. New apps that permit folks to speak with biblical figures like Moses, Jesus, and even Judas Iscariot.
Together with employees apprehensive about their jobs and conspiratorial varieties apprehensive a few robotic takeover, many students and pastors are apprehensive about what AI will imply for biblical interpretation. As folks more and more flip to AI to reply their theological questions, how will these applied sciences form our Bible studying?
Earlier than we weigh the professionals and cons of AI instruments for Bible research, we should always think about a deeper query: Why do we wish AI to assist us interpret the Bible? We apply instruments to the Bible as a result of we predict they match the duty of biblical interpretation. What does AI present an answer to? What want does it meet?
The historical past of American Bible interpretation may give us some solutions.
Lengthy earlier than fashionable computing, the American Bible-publishing trade was flush with extrabiblical reference supplies: concordances, commentaries, and charts. New printing strategies made publishing more and more environment friendly as literacy charges had been rising, so extra Bibles and Bible studying guides had been printed.
In response to historian Seth Perry in his e book Bible Tradition and Authority within the Early United States, the proliferation of concordances uniquely formed American non secular historical past. They match the American ethos: Quite than listening to a non secular authority interpret the textual content, concordances allowed the common reader to let Scripture interpret itself. The notes weren’t from a church custom or a biblical scholar however merely referenced different components of Scripture. The best for Bible studying was aptly described within the title of 1 widespread Bible printed in 1792: Brown’s Self-Deciphering Bible.
The proliferation of Bible studying aids inspired a specific sort of studying. Concordances formed habits towards what Perry calls “indexical,” “discontinuous,” and “citational” Bible studying. Quite than studying bigger chunks of Scripture of their literary contexts, folks had been shaped to think about Scripture as remoted information factors.
Our curiosity within the Bible as information popped up once more in the course of the twentieth century. Within the midst of the Chilly Struggle, a specific approach of studying the Bible—dispensationalism—grew to become more and more widespread. This theology was unfold not solely by means of theological works however by means of fiction just like the profitable Left Behind franchise, and these fictional accounts of the Rapture and finish instances formed the theological creativeness of American Christians.
The Bible performs a big function in these tales, because the folks “left behind” wrestle to know the unfolding occasions. Historian Crawford Gribben’s account of Rapture fiction, Writing the Rapture, notes that many of those novels describe dispensational theology as apparent, even axiomatic. Characters within the novels learn the Bible with none aids or guides and are available to dispensational conclusions by studying the textual content alone.
One novel from the interval, The Omega Undertaking by Pentecostal evangelist Morris Cerullo, takes this method and applies it to the brand new know-how of the Eighties. Within the story, the prime minister of Israel recruits a gaggle of laptop programmers to construct a “information financial institution of unfulfilled Bible prophecies” to be able to reply to the current Rapture. It’s a fictional account of Bible interpretation, however it depicts an method to Scripture shared by many People. “We’re laptop programmers, not philosophers,” one character says.
Even earlier than the common Christian may use computer systems to interpret biblical prophecies, these tales subconsciously communicated that the Bible could possibly be organized and processed as discrete information factors other than theological data or the steerage of the Holy Spirit. Particularly within the Eighties, a interval of worldwide instability and worry of nuclear battle, many Christians had been drawn to strategies of biblical interpretation that gave them nice certainty about their instant future. They had been drawn to the concept the strangest components of the Bible had been comprehensible if solely we utilized the appropriate instruments—like plugging information into a pc.
As we speak, the dream of a computer-programmed “self-interpreting” Bible appears to be a actuality. Even previous to the latest AI Bible instruments, on-line concordances and Bible research software program appealed to our need to have the Bible interpret itself. Now, we don’t even have to flip to the concordance at the back of our Bibles. We are able to merely click on on a hyperlinked phrase to see each time the phrase is utilized in Scripture or to learn related cross-references.
Theologian John Dyer, in his e book Individuals of the Display, examines the best way digital sources form evangelical studying habits. Lots of the contributors in Dyer’s research speak about utilizing digital instruments to simply discover “key phrases,” do phrase research, or seek for passages. These “fast hits” are solely potential due to comparatively new know-how, however the underlying method to Scripture is as previous as America.
Bible-reading habits have at all times been formed by know-how—from the scroll to the codex to the printing press. However this surprisingly constant historical past illuminates a deeper origin of our studying habits than merely the accessible know-how. Our constant need to see the Bible as “information” reveals a theological problem for American evangelicals. The place different traditions have relied on liturgy and creeds to know Scripture, American evangelicals want to “stick with the textual content.” We are inclined to prize private Bible studying and infrequently characteristically resist the imposition of spiritual authorities or church custom.
However our reliance on supposedly impartial and goal instruments for deciphering the Bible (from printed concordances to computer systems), which we regularly use in isolation, can overshadow the work of the Holy Spirit, the steerage of our communities, and the knowledge of custom.
This behavior of treating the Bible as a listing of details provides us the phantasm of objectivity—of an interpretation free from bias or theological custom. However it’s an phantasm. Even concordances and cross-references include theological judgments.
Perry notes one vital instance: the “curse of Ham” justification for slavery. The unusual story of Noah’s nakedness and his son’s curse in Genesis 9 took on particular significance within the antebellum South. Concordances and cross-references in research Bibles would pair this passage with 1 Kings 9:20–21 and Joshua 9:23 to articulate the curse as persevering with into the trendy period, strengthening the affiliation between the Canaanite tribes and Africans.
The seemingly impartial observe of presenting the textual content with cross-references bolstered a theology of subjugation primarily based on racial prejudice. The selection to affiliate some verses with others is at all times a theological judgment.
As we take into consideration acceptable methods to make use of new know-how for biblical interpretation, we should always look at not solely the know-how we use but additionally the needs we convey to the textual content.
Are we turning to technological instruments to keep away from the tough work of turning to our communities for assist understanding difficult passages? Are we searching for a seemingly goal solution to interpret the Bible whereas neglecting to mirror on the presents of Christian custom and theology to information our interpretations? Are we substituting extended research of the entire Bible for fast hits that piece collectively remoted verses?
One of many contributors in Dyer’s research talked about switching again to print sources after utilizing digital instruments and discovering himself annoyed when he appeared for “commentary or clarification for sure phrases out of behavior, and it wasn’t there.” We’re turning to AI instruments for our Bible questions out of a superb need to know God’s Phrase, however our use of such instruments typically trains us to anticipate straightforward and instantly accessible solutions to questions which may require longer, messier, and extra collaborative work. Our need for objectivity is usually a need to be free of the constraints of group.
May or not it’s that we like asking ChatGPT questions concerning the Bible as a result of there’s no relationship required? With AI, there’s no accountability if our interpretation calls for one thing we aren’t prepared to sacrifice, and no problem of navigating disagreements and variations in interpretation. In the case of studying Scripture, AI instruments don’t assure that we’ll sidestep the present of the Spirit-indwelt household of God, however they’ll make it simpler to take action.
Some perspective or custom is at all times informing our studying, whether or not it’s a Nineteenth-century Bible writer, a Rapture-novel creator, or a computer-program developer. There is no such thing as a avoiding the truth that God revealed himself within the type of tales, letters, prophecies, and poems that can’t be decreased to information factors. And there’s no avoiding the truth that we finite and fallen creatures want steerage to listen to God’s Phrase rightly.
Quite than searching for some solution to interpret the Bible free from steerage, we should always select such steerage correctly, turning to the knowledge of Christians world wide and throughout historical past—and of those that collect with us weekly to listen to the Phrase of the Lord.
Jesus himself famous that we will apply all the appropriate instruments but miss the entire story: “You research the Scriptures diligently since you suppose that in them you will have everlasting life,” he tells the Jewish leaders. “These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, but you refuse to return to me to have life” (John 5:39–40).
We can also ask ChatGPT all the appropriate questions, apply all the appropriate digital instruments, and nonetheless miss the entire image of the gospel—a radical and compelling message that has been preserved and handed down by means of generations of the folks of God.
We should always fastidiously and faithfully think about the presents and challenges of utilizing AI instruments for studying and deciphering the Bible. But when we fail to ask why we wish AI to reply our Bible questions, we’ll hold uncritically repeating our identical flawed studying habits—with AI’s assist or not.
Kaitlyn Schiess is the creator of The Poll and the Bible: How Scripture Has Been Used and Abused in American Politics and The place We Go from Right here. Talking Out is Christianity As we speak’s visitor opinion column.
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