Monday, May 29, 2023, a ChatGPT-based alternative

A recent Christianity Today article surveyed a number of people about the use of Google as compared to ChatGPT for asking questions about the Bible or theology. One of the respondents is Suman Kumar Polepaka, founder of BibleMate, Still in an early stage of development, is a ChatGPT-based alternative whose "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."

I posed two questions to BibleMate and to ChatGPT to compare responses. First, though, note that BibleMate does not require any login to access. It did take a little longer (10-15 seconds) to generate responses.

1) Was Jonah really swallowed by a whale?


"Yes, according to the Bible, Jonah was swallowed by a great fish, not specifically identified as a whale, in the book of Jonah. The book of Jonah is a narrative about a prophet named Jonah who was called by God to go to the city of Nineveh to preach repentance to its people. However, Jonah disobeyed God and tried to flee by boarding a ship going in the opposite direction.

As a result, God sent a great storm that threatened to sink the ship. The sailors on the ship realized that Jonah was the cause of the storm and threw him overboard. It was then that Jonah was swallowed by the great fish. After three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, Jonah repented and prayed to God, and the fish vomited him onto dry land.

While some people may view this story as a metaphor or allegory, others believe it to be a literal historical event. Regardless of one's interpretation, the story of Jonah teaches important lessons about obedience to God and the power of repentance and forgiveness."


The story of Jonah being swallowed by a whale or a great fish is found in the biblical Book of Jonah. According to the account, Jonah was a prophet who was commanded by God to go to the city of Nineveh and deliver a message of repentance. Instead of obeying, Jonah attempted to flee from God's command by boarding a ship bound for Tarshish.

During the journey, a great storm arose, and the sailors realized that Jonah was the cause of their misfortune. Jonah instructed them to throw him overboard, believing that this would calm the storm. As he was cast into the sea, the text says that "the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights" (Jonah 1:17).

The Book of Jonah does not specify the exact creature that swallowed Jonah, using the Hebrew word "dag gadol," which generally refers to a large sea creature. The term "whale" is commonly used in translations, but the text itself does not provide specific details.

The story of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish is often interpreted symbolically or as a miraculous event. It emphasizes the themes of obedience, repentance, and God's mercy. Some consider it to be a parable or an allegorical tale rather than a historical account, while others view it as a literal event.

As with many biblical narratives, the interpretation of Jonah's story varies among different individuals and religious traditions. Ultimately, whether one believes the account to be a historical event or a symbolic story is a matter of personal faith and interpretation.

2) What does the gospel of John say about the “Jews”?


The Gospel of John mentions the Jews many times throughout the book, as they were the primary religious leaders and opponents of Jesus during his ministry. However, it is important to note that the term "Jews" in the Gospel of John is not used to refer to all Jewish people, but rather to a specific group of Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus and his teachings.

For example, in John 1:11, it says "He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him." This is referring to the fact that Jesus came to the Jewish people, but many of them rejected him. In John 5:18, it says "This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God." This is referring to a specific group of Jewish leaders who were angry with Jesus for claiming to be the Son of God.

It is important to read these passages in context and not use them to make generalizations about all Jewish people. The Gospel of John was written by a Jewish author and is part of the Christian Bible, which acknowledges the Jewish roots of the faith.


The Gospel of John, like other books in the New Testament, includes references to "the Jews" in various contexts. It is important to approach these references with sensitivity and recognize that the term "the Jews" in the Gospel of John refers primarily to specific groups of Jewish religious leaders or opponents of Jesus, rather than the entire Jewish people as a whole.

While the Gospel of John acknowledges Jesus' Jewish identity and the fact that he and his earliest followers were Jewish, it also highlights conflicts between Jesus and certain Jewish religious leaders of his time. These conflicts often revolve around theological disagreements, the authority of Jesus, and the claims he made about himself. It is important to note that the Gospel of John was likely written at a time when early Christian communities were distinct from mainstream Judaism, and these tensions influenced the portrayal of Jewish leaders in the narrative.

The Gospel of John does not represent the attitudes or beliefs of all Jewish people but rather focuses on specific interactions and disputes between Jesus and certain Jewish leaders of his time. It is crucial to interpret these passages carefully, avoiding generalizations or perpetuating harmful stereotypes about Jewish people.

Ultimately, the Gospel of John emphasizes themes such as the divinity of Jesus, his role as the Messiah, and the call for individuals to believe in him. It is essential to approach the text with an understanding of its historical and cultural context and to exercise caution in interpreting references to "the Jews" within the narrative.


Both BibleMate and ChatGPT gave reasonable enough answers, but BibleMate's initial affirmation that Jonah was swallowed by a whale indicates a conservative perspective before noting the possibility of it being a metaphor or allegory. Both rightly noted that it was a "great fish," and ChatGPT even included the Hebrew.

With regard to the question of John and the "Jews," both warn about drawing anti-Semitic conclusions. BibleMate referenced a couple specific passages in John, though I don't fully agree with the exegetical conclusions it drew. ChatGPT provided a broader background which I found more helpful.

It will be interesting to see how projects like BibleMate develop. I'm guessing that they are drawing on the ChatGPT technology but weighting some sources more heavily than others. I'm still doubtful any such technology can claim to contribute meaningfully to spiritual growth.

Monday, May 15, 2023

John 17.1-11: Translations and Notes - RCL Year A 7th Sunday after Easter

John 17.1-11 is Jesus' concluding prayer to the long discourse at the last supper. I have attached my compilation of translations along with my own translation. I also include the introduction I use before reading (performing) the text. A few things to note:

  • Verses 1-11 are only the first part of Jesus' prayer. The words and themes raised in this section will carry on throughout the rest of the part. I like to talk about the language in John as "spiraling." It seems like we keep hearing the same thing over and over, but the text is not going in circles. It is circling back to early themes, but it is also moving forward with new insights. It keeps spiraling in this way until it reaches its conclusion.
  • One way I try to visualize the passage is to highlight repeated words. This demonstrates the spiraling, and it also aids in memorization of the passage for performance. At the end of my notes I've included my highlighting along with logical indentations. It becomes clear in this passage that "glorification" is one key theme. Another theme is the act of "giving." God gave all things (authority, eternal life, work to do, God's words...), and Jesus has given them to the disciples. It all leads to verse 11: "... that they may be one just as we are."
  • My translation is somewhat wooden, but I'm trying to be attentive to tenses and syntax and emphasized elements in the Greek while also preserving the repeated words as much as possible.
  • In John, when Jesus finishes the prayer, he and his disciples go directly to the garden where he is arrested. Unlike the synoptic gospels, there is no record of Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane. Instead, this prayer in John 17 should be the point of comparison. And, further, unlike the Synoptics where Jesus prays that the "cup / hour might pass" him by, in John, Jesus' prayer is a confident one. Jesus is completing his work, and his prayer is for his disciples rather than himself.
  • Another aspect of John that is evident in this passage is the "two-level" nature of Jesus' speaking. On the one hand, it's a record of Jesus speaking to his disciples, but it is also a record of Jesus speaking directly to the members of the Johannine community. It makes it a bit tricky rendering verb tenses. We also see things like verse 3 which is an explanatory aside addressed directly to John's community.
  • As I have in the past, I encourage people to check out the resources available at GoTell. HERE is the link for John 17.1-11.
Here, then, are my notes and translation: John 17.1-11 mgvh notes