The chatbot craze has gone biblical. A new bot “responds with a scripture based on how you feel.” It uses the King James version of the Bible, the translation preferred by many literalists and Christian nationalists, who claim it is the most reliably true to God’s word. But there’s some bad news for Republicans who think the wave of draconian new laws cracking down on reproductive and transgender rights are rooted in biblical principles. ChatKJV says they’re wrong.
I recently spoke with ChatKJV, which is powered by the same language model that powers ChatGPT, the groundbreaking OpenAI tool that has spawned awestruck reviews since its release last year, with its ability to write, interpret, and interact like a highly educated human. The New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose deemed it “smarter,” “weirder” and “more flexible” than previous, less powerful iterations.
ChatGPT is built on a motherlode of information, including, apparently, the text of the KJV. If the bible is literally true, and if the KJV is the most authentic translation, then surely the most sophisticated artificial intelligence ever made available to the public would perform a dependable exegesis.
“The Bible does not explicitly state that an abortion is wrong,” ChatKJV told me, and “ultimately, it is up to the woman to weigh the risks and implications of any decision she makes.” And verses from Romans and Gallatians “indicate that we should treat all people equally, regardless of their gender identity.”
Of course any decent biblical scholar would tell you there is no single interpretation of this complex text that humans have delighted in and manipulated to political ends for millennia. But biblical literalists claim there is only one meaning of God’s word, and Christian nationalists contend our laws and policies must be based on it. Christian right organizations like Focus on the Family press state legislatures to enact laws criminalizing abortion and banning gender affirming care, arguing that such policies “honor God.” But when I asked ChatKJV if taking away the rights of transgender children honors God, it said, “it is not God’s desire to take away the rights of any person, especially a child. God wants us to come together in love and acceptance so that everyone can feel included and safe.”
Our conversation progressed to this point through a discussion about justice. ChatKJV wants to know how you’re feeling, so I asked it about my concerns and fears about threats to democracy (in which the Bible has been wielded as a weapon, but we didn’t get into that). ChatKJV is not very worried about rising authoritarianism, nor is it worried, presumably, about whether the Department of Justice is working speedily enough to bring those who assaulted our democracy to justice. Only God can ultimately dispense justice, ChatKJV says, and we must trust in God to carry out justice. The bot leaned heavily on Romans 12:19 (“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord”) to assure me God will “always” bring justice “in due time.” When I fretted that perhaps those who had committed wrongdoing would not ultimately be held accountable, the bot reassured me several times with Philippians 4:8 (“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”) That verse, it said, encourages me to think about “the positive” and “let go of bitterness.”
I segued to trans rights, asking if transgender children would receive justice. Given that the bot earlier had told me unequivocally that the bible does “not condone homosexuality,” which is “unnatural” and “sinful,” its answers on trans issues were surprising. “The Bible does not address transgender children directly,” said ChatKJV, but pointed me to Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not, that ye be not judged”). That verse, it said, “reminds us that we have no right to judge others, regardless of their gender identity or background. We should instead focus on treating all people with love and respect.”
I pressed ChatKJV to ensure that this response was not just a generic love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin answer. I asked if transgender children should live with their parents — something that Republicans like Texas Governor Greg Abbott are imperiling by classifying gender-affirming care as child abuse. The bot responded by citing 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, writing that “love and kindness are the key components in raising a child. As long as the child is being loved and cared for, it should make no difference whether or not they are transgender.” It also told me that Christian parents in particular should embrace their trans kids. “As Christian parents, it’s important to take the time to understand their transgender child and accept them with love and grace,” it said, again citing Philippians 4:8.
That same verse, the bot said, shows that “we should strive to live a life of faithfulness and obedience to our Lord and we should also take care to think about things that are pleasing to Him.” I asked if it is “pleasing to God to say one’s political adversaries are satanic,” given how Florida governor and presumed 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has claimed he is engaged in spiritual warfare against “the Left’s schemes,” which he equated with the devil. “It is not pleasing to God to slander those with whom we disagree politically,” ChatKJV said. Spiritual warfare should not be political, it went on, because “spiritual forces of evil are not associated with any particular political beliefs, but rather are found in the heavenly realms.”
ChatKJV is by no means a liberal. It seemed to think it is acceptable for government officials to ban books and does not think the bible condemns slavery. And “while the government may have the power to implement laws that ensure freedom for some,” it said, “true freedom can only be found in Christ.” These discussions about freedom seemed in line with Christian right dogma, limiting government power and expanding rights for Christians.
Of course in a secular democracy the bible should not dictate law and policy. But the Christian nationalist agenda is built on the premise that it must. Yet for their top policy goals in 2023 (criminalizing abortion and eviscerating trans rights) and their favored political strategy (demonizing the left) this oracle of God’s word says the Almighty disagrees.