Documentary says use of ‘homosexual’ in the Bible is a mistake
Dallas Theological Seminary prof. says the film is misleading and ignores biblical context and other verses.
A new documentary claims that a “mistranslation” of the Bible is to blame for Christians believing that homosexuality is a sin.
The film 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture, directed by self-identified “lesbian Christian” Sharon “Rocky” Roggio, attempts to chronicle how the word “homosexual” came to be used in the pages in Scripture and purports to offer “recently unearthed evidence that challenges deeply-held beliefs about LGBTQ+ people and their place in God’s kingdom.”
According to Roggio, the word homosexual did not appear in any version of the Bible until 1946, when translators for the Revised Standard Version (RSV) used it in their translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9.
The filmmaker argues that translators chose to use the word homosexual for the Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai, which, according to the film’s website, “translate loosely” to “effeminacy” and “pervert” or “sexual pervert.”
The site further claims, “The decision to use the word ‘homosexual’ instead of the accurate translations was voted on by the committee,” adding 1946 “explores how this mistranslation ignited the anti-gay movement within American conservative Christians.”
The film’s primary piece of evidence rests upon the research of Kathy Baldock, a “straight conservative Christian” who was “kicked out of her church for standing up” for LGBT members, and Ed Oxford, a graduate of The Talbot School of Theology and a “conservative gay Christian.”
While researching the topic, Baldock and Oxford claim to have uncovered a letter addressed to the RSV translation committee from a young seminarian identified only as “David S.”
According to the film’s website, the letter “points out the dangerous implications that could come with the mistranslation and misuse” of the word homosexual.
Despite a response from Dr. Luther Weigle, the head of the translation committee, to David S. to “acknowledge their mistake and commit to correcting their grave error,” the updated 1971 version of the RSV wasn’t published for more than two decades after the letter, the film argues.
Baldock said the RSV translation team did the translation work on 1 Corinthians between 1937 and 1941. The text was finalized and signed off on in 1941.
“Their task as a team was to update the English Revised Version and American Standard Version as well as being informed by the King James Version and original Greek and Hebrew,” Baldock told The Christian Post via email.
When members of the translation team “looked out into the culture in the late 1930s and tried to find the modern word that would represent male-male sex that was excessive and abusive, the word homosexual, at the time, represented those behaviors,” she added.
Baldock said the RSV team created their translation based on “assumptions about what it meant to be homosexual.”
“We must remember that [in] the 1930s, not very much was known about homosexuality,” she said. “Was it a crime? Was it a mental illness? The final translation was based on assumptions we no longer hold.”
As a result, the film argues, most contemporary translations of the Bible use the word homosexual, including 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.
Baldock said that while she believes the Bible is “indeed inspired by God,” any effort to translate the Bible “will be impacted by human translators who indeed live in their culture with knowledge limited to their time.”
“In this case, the word homosexual has had to change assumptions and baggage attached to it over 150 years,” said Baldock. “We have a far better understanding of what the word homosexual is and who homosexual people are.”
According to Baldock, the verses in question refer to those who “use and abuse sex and those who use and abuse others.”
“Heterosexuals and homosexuals alike can do both,” she added. “It is time to revisit those verses ladened with assumption and bring them into a modern context and language.”
So is there any merit to the theological argument posed by 1946?
None at all, according to Darrell L. Bock, senior research professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, who says the issue is not the term itself, but the context in which it functions.
“The background culturally is shown by texts like Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, which describe any laying down of a man with another man as one would with a woman as a sin,” Bock told CP. “In addition, the language from Paul in Romans 1:26-27 has Paul describe such acts in generic terms, not merely in abusive contexts that it is claimed limits the scope of what is referred to in 1 Cor. 6:9.”
Furthermore, Bock added the passage in 1 Corinthians details an active and more passive participant in the act. Still, the show itself is being discussed in either case, whether one is an active or passive participant.
“Noting both partners shows this is not merely an abusive situation as then the passive ‘victim’ would not be named,” he explained.
On the 1946 website, the film’s producers suggest this translation “has become the foundation for much of the anti-gay culture that exists today, especially in religious spaces.”
However, despite any apparent slights toward Christian orthodoxy, Roggio claims 1946 “is not an attack on Christianity, the Bible or God’s Word. It’s an intervention.”
“Many conservative religious leaders have used these biblical texts to condemn and marginalize LGBTQ+ Christians. And society at large has been shaped — at least partly — to believe that sexual and gender minorities must choose between their faith and their identity,” wrote Roggio.
Luis Javier Ruiz, CEO of the ministry Fearless Identity and a survivor of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub terrorist attack who has since walked away from homosexuality, told CP that regardless of the arguments over language, it’s more than just about the translation of one word.
“You can try to take out the word ‘homosexual’ from the Bible, but the Bible will still amplify and give charge to God’s order and design between a man and a woman,” Ruiz said.
He compared 1946 and any effort to alter the transformative power of the Gospel to the response of the chief priests and Pharisees after one of Jesus’ greatest miracles.
“As a former identified [LGBT] man that’s lived decades in the lifestyle, I think this documentary just proved what they tried to do when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead,” he said. “Many people wanted to silence, cancel and kill the miracle of when Jesus raised a dead person to life.”
In a statement posted on the site, Roggio — whose father is a “reaffirming pastor” — says her goal with making the film is to “change the Christian narrative and liberate the many LGBTQIA+ people living in the dark … oppressed by bad theology.”
“I want us all to live and be acknowledged as equals, under God’s love. Some truths must be shared. We are here to share those truths,” she added.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Roggio appeared to express “concerns” against Christians who hold to biblical inerrancy.
“One of the biggest concerns that we see in America today is Christian nationalism and people using the Bible who are saying that it is inerrant,” Roggio quoted.
When asked whether she believes the film might change hearts and minds, she said: “I’m doing this to provide equal protection for everyone under the law because if we don’t get a handle on this now, with the Bible in this country, we’re all in trouble — no matter what you believe.”
1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture is currently screening at the documentary festival DOC NYC, with screenings both in New York City and online.