A controversial new documentary makes a shocking claim that, if true, could shake the bedrock of Christianity and Western culture.
The film, titled “1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture”, claims that the word “homosexual” is only listed as a sin in the Bible because of a mistranslation that happened 76 years ago.
If accurate, it could mean that decades of Christian teachings about the evils of homosexuality resulted from a bad translation.
Is it possible that the countless Christian attacks on the LGBTQ community, the denial of their right to marry, and the persistent homophobia faced by queer folks all stem from a human error three-quarters of a century ago?
A Translation Investigation
As the film explains, the word “homosexual” didn’t appear in the Bible until 1946, when a committee gathered to update the English language version of the text from Greek.
During this translation – for the Revised Standard Version (RSV) – that committee made a critical error that would become the launching pad for decades of faith-fueled homophobia, the documentary claims.
The filmmakers argue that the Greek word “arsenokoitai”, a word invented by the Apostle Paul, was mistranslated as “homosexual,” when it would more accurately refer to child sex abusers. That simple error, they say, resulted in a “sacred weapon” for Christians to use as a cudgel against the LGBTQ community: 1 Corinthians 6:9, which states which types of people cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Future translations and editions of the Bible have used the word “homosexual” in other passages, but all of those references stem from this original mistranslation.
“We’re talking about a word, a medical term that has a connotation of a group of people that have an orientation, as opposed to what the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts are referring to, which is an aggressor, somebody who was an abuser—somebody who has abused someone else, and there is a victim on the other side,” explains the film’s director, Sharon Roggio. “It’s a very different connotation.”
How Did Nobody Catch the Error?
You might be thinking: how did this rather important translation go unnoticed?
It did, but not until years later when a 21-year-old seminary student spotted the inconsistency. He then penned a letter to the committee to suggest that it had seriously erred in choosing the word “homosexual” in the translation.
The committee even sought to correct its original error, but by then, it was too late; by the 1970s, the belief that homosexuality was sinful had become ubiquitous in Christian circles.
What followed is well documented: the rise of the moral majority and the demonization of gay people by many evangelical Christians in the 1980s. A wave of ‘gay panic’ brought on by the AIDS crisis solidified the gay community as an “unbiblical” group. By then, there was no turning back.
The film's director insists that this film does not exist to bash Christians. She says that it exists to point out lousy theology and to (hopefully) convince open-minded Christians that their holy text isn’t as anti-gay as they’ve been led to believe.
Even still, not everyone’s buying it. Although the film hasn’t even been released yet, there’s already a book out seeking to debunk the film’s thesis. The director and crew have been subject to countless attacks on social media from evangelical Christians who say that the filmmakers are the ones with the wrong theology.
One critic even compared it unfavorably to the conspiracy-laden novel ‘The DaVinci Code.’
Considering the film hasn’t been released yet, this is unlikely to be the last time we hear about this groundbreaking claim.
What is your reaction? Is it possible that the source of Christian homophobia comes down to a simple translation error?