A Christian’s Take on Deepfakes

Jack VanDrunen

New Horizons: January 2024

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As technology advances, it is only becoming easier to lie. That statement might be surprising at first glance. With the advent of photography, audio, and video recording, we have gained access to more truth than ever before. We are now able to hear and see events that we were never present at—events that happened decades ago and thousands of miles away. Surely this should only make it more difficult to lie!

AI Advances

Photos and videos, however, are the perfect media for communicating half-truths. First, they can be altered. And even if they haven’t been altered, they are still only a narrow perspective, a sliver of “what really happened.” They’re an outline from which our mind colors in further details. We are more easily swayed by visuals than by text, because we are used to having other people lie to us, but we are not used to having our own senses lie to us. That is the power of manipulated media.

With better technology, our lies have become more convincing. For almost as long as people have been taking photographs, people have been falsifying photos. The same goes for audio and video. With Photoshop, anyone can paste one person’s head onto the body of another. With video editing software, anyone can slap a different audio track on top of a blurry video. Or, with a little more effort, splice together a parody of President Obama’s State of the Union address with sound (and video) bites taken out of context.

Artificial intelligence (AI), and in particular “deepfake” technology, accomplish all this with far more sophistication. A deepfake, which is a portmanteau of “deep learning” and, well, “fake,” is an AI-generated image or video of anything you want. There was an amusing deepfake of Pope Francis wearing sunglasses and a puffer jacket (the “Balenciaga Pope”) which circulated the internet in early 2023. Even this seemingly innocent example deceived many people, in part because it was unprecedented.

The uses of deepfake technology only get darker from there: the aim of the earliest software was to generate falsified pornography “starring” various public figures (and whomever you liked). And now, generating a convincing deepfake of a State of the Union address is easier than learning how to use video editing software: just tell the AI what you want the president to say and twiddle your thumbs while it mints an original video of the “event.” In fact, don’t write the transcript yourself. ChatGPT can do a better job. We no longer need half-truths—or human imagination—to tell a convincing lie.


Is it wrong to create a deepfake? It depends. They are not categorically off limits and can be innocent and hilarious. It is possible to produce fiction in a manner that builds up.

However, in commenting on the Greek word the ESV renders “crude joking” in Ephesians 5:4, John Calvin wrote that it “is often used by heathen writers in a good sense, for that sharp and salty pleasantry in which able and intelligent men may properly indulge.” But, he goes on to say, “it is exceedingly difficult to be witty without becoming biting.” When we think about whether it would be edifying to create (or share) a deepfake, we ought to keep in mind that “the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I am only joking!’” is “like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death” (Prov. 26:18, 19).

Additionally, deepfakes—even when used in private and not distributed—are not victimless. It may be tempting to think that they are. After all, the subject of the deepfake isn’t directly involved with the production of the material and may not even know it exists. Perhaps the subject of the deepfake is a public figure whom we feel we are entitled to mistreat. But we must always consider carefully the representations we make of others, both in public and in private.


As AI becomes more sophisticated in producing deepfakes, another danger comes to the fore: the deepfake you don’t know to be a deepfake. It seems to me that there are also moral issues involved when we fall for deepfakes unwittingly.

Remember when good old-fashioned fake news was the problem? Typically, these were textual false reports, often without any strong audio-visual evidence to back them up. If we were so easily taken by fake news, how are we going to survive in an era of deep fake news? The urgent call to the church is to think carefully about who we believe and how we get our news. There are more trustworthy friends and less trustworthy friends. There are well-vetted news outlets and less-reputable ones. This isn’t to say that a trusted friend or a newspaper of record will never deceive us; Scripture and life experience both tell us otherwise. And we are not always culpable for the lies we believe. But we are responsible for the friends we keep: “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33).

Other times we are on the hook, not because of the source of the lie, but because of its content. Consider the Westminster Larger Catechism on what the ninth commandment forbids: “receiving and countenancing evil reports,” “evil suspicion,” and “rejoicing in [the] disgrace and infamy [of any]” (Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 145). Likewise, Proverbs tells us that “he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered” (Prov. 11:13). A report may be accompanied by a convincing video—and come from a trustworthy source—but if it brings shame to our neighbor, whatever his profession, we must still be careful of how we receive it. We should not be too quick to believe ill of others, especially in the church.

Finally, however, we must avoid the opposite extreme: the temptation to be too skeptical. A natural reaction to the dangers of deepfakes would be to adopt the policy of trusting nothing and nobody. But it is also possible to be too slow to believe ill of others. If allegations are serious, they warrant further investigation. People are hurt when sin is not addressed. It is wisdom from above that leads to the right balance of credulity and incredulity, that we may be wise to all varieties of attack from the Father of Lies.


Every kind of sin claims victims within the church, and it will surely be no different as deepfakes become more common. When a scandalous rumor about a person is false, the rumor still wounds. In the same way, a false representation can still victimize the one represented—doubly so, if it’s a convincing false representation.

This is not new to our era: both Jesus and his early followers suffered under the effects of lies told about them. A fake video is the same old problem, with extra potential for damage. This calls for compassion and an affirmation that the hurts experienced are legitimate hurts.

From my present perspective, writing this in fall 2023, it’s hard to predict how the technology and its social consequences will have evolved even by the time this article goes to print. The technology for producing deepfakes—photo, audio, and video—will only get better. But the nature of the social threat might turn out to be very different from the one depicted in this article. Perhaps in the coming months AI will present new and unexpected—and more pressing—threats to the peace of the church and our local and global communities, in ways that have nothing to do with deepfakes. That is the nature of grappling with a moving target as swift as AI.

But there is something timeless about the threat of disinformation and rumor-mongering, both on a societal and individual level. As our technology evolves, we must continue to address it wisely. New versions of old threats will require new safeguards for how we go about our lives in this fallen world.

Yet we can rest assured that no force in this world can destroy the church. And nothing will permanently prevent her from completing her mission. There is nothing new under the sun, and we rely on the same God who helped us in ages past for our hope in the years to come.

The author is a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Irvine, and member of Westminster OPC in Westminster, California. New Horizons, January 2024.

New Horizons: January 2024

Demystifying ChatGPT

Also in this issue

Demystifying ChatGPT

AI in the Pastor’s Study

AI: The Latest Idol?

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