The first time the word “homosexual” appeared in the Bible was in 1946. That year, a committee met to translate an updated English version of the book from Greek. Religious scholars, priests, theologians, linguists, anthropologists and activists have done decades of research and investigation of where the word appears in the book. Their conclusion is that it was a translation error.
In other words, the biblical assertion that homosexuality is a sin – the catalyst for a complete cultural change, with political repercussions, religious implications, consequences for LGBT rights and acceptance and , frankly, deadly results – was, in their view, a mistake. .
As a new film asserts, it was “the misuse of a single word that changed the course of history.”
1946: The translation error that changed culture is a new documentary directed by Sharon “Rocky” Roggio. Ahead of its premiere this week at the DOC NYC festival, it has, predictably, gone viral within the conservative and Christian communities.
A popular campaign to promote the film on social media has attracted more than 185,000 followers to its official TikTok account. Makes sense. For most people, practicing Christians or not, what the film says is shocking.
There are several layers: the realization that the Bible has been translated many times over the centuries, and that human error may have been involved in the process. It may be obvious, but it’s telling. Additionally, we accept the idea that human error could be responsible for fueling homophobia – a mindset of hatred, oppression and religious nationalism that has defined the last 75 years of our existence. .
Before anyone had even seen the film, there was an organized effort to attack and debunk the film’s claims. Roggio and others involved in making the documentary received threats. Campaigns have been waged to have even innocuous social media posts deleted. An entire book has been published to refute the evidence, although the film has yet to be screened.
“The opposition are pretty vocal about our movie, trying to debunk it because they’re scared,” Roggio told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview before. 1946is the New York premiere. “We literally unmoor them and pull the anchors out from below.”
These attacks come from all directions.
“We were struck by the conservative audience,” Roggio says. “We were struck by the atheist public. We have been struck by LGBTQ people who have been hurt by the church and have now left the church because they feel we are subscribing to religious supremacy by even playing along in this dialogue.
1946 takes a journalistic and academic approach to backing up these claims. Examining thousands of historical documents, centuries of ancient texts and translations of the Bible into many languages, the film’s experts conclude that two Greek words have been mistranslated to mean homosexual. A specifically means effeminate. The other is about someone who was a sexual abuser and hurt someone.
As the film depicts, years after the translation, when the error was pointed out, the committee recognized it and attempted to correct it. But by the 1970s the implications of these verses had become widespread. By the time the AIDS crisis hit in the 1980s, this mindset was weaponized by the moral majority, especially in the fusion of politics and religion in the United States.
“A big point of our film was biblical literalism,” Roggio says. “We just think it’s a magic book that was just delivered to us, but it was real people who made these decisions that impact our real reality. People are going to feel disarmed by this idea that it was man who screwed up, not God. As much as we fight biblical liberalism, we want our conservative audience to walk with us, in the sense that it’s not an attack on God. This is not an attack on the Bible. This is a real translation error problem.
Before 1946 premiering at DOC NYC on November 12, we spoke with Roggio about the work she’s done (along with scholars and activists Kathy Bullock and Ed Oxford) to meticulously substantiate the film’s claims, the challenge of getting through a Christian community that refuses to even hear the evidence, and how a documentary like this could change the world.
I grew up in the church, but I’m still someone who finds shocking the idea that “homosexual” is a mistranslation in the Bible. What was people’s response to that?
We are talking about the greatest book in the world. This has an impact on the three largest religions in the world. It impacts everyone. And we don’t discuss these things. That’s what intrigued me as someone who grew up in the church, had bad theology, and was discriminated against for being a member of the LGBTQ community. Realizing that the word homosexual was not in the Bible before 1946, it was a trigger for me. I think it’s going to be a trigger for a lot of people.
Even the basic premise that the Bibles we read have been translated by a human, and there may have been a mistake in that translation, that’s a mind-blowing realization for people.
One of the biggest concerns we see in America today is Christian nationalism and people using the Bible who say it is infallible. They are biblical literalists. He has sovereignty over us. It cannot be changed. The word is the word. It’s dangerous. It is dangerous for so many people. We see it playing out in our reality today, and I call it religious supremacy, really. My idea for refining these themes is to hopefully get the conservative public to join in and be honest about it. Words have power and words have meaning. How we use the Bible and use these ancient texts is very important. So what we’re trying to do is contextualize.
What is the purpose of this contextualization?
Our film is more than a simple theology. It’s history. It is society. It’s politics. It’s the law. It is oppression. This is how, again, these words make sense. As a group of people, we had to negotiate the text. Over time, a group of people have had to choose which verses stand out, which verses we follow, which verses play in our country and our law. To really be an honest reader of the Christian scriptures, we need to find a way not to oppress people, where we contextualize the text – we understand where it came from and how it impacted a group of people.
When you present this idea, which is seismic and probably upsetting to a lot of people, how do you explain it to them at the most basic level?
1946: The translation error that changed culture This is about the first time the word “homosexual” appears in the Bible. We had a team of researchers who wanted to ask the question: Who made this decision, and why? What we discovered, thanks to a series of letters written by the translation committee which included the word “homosexual”, is that it was a mistake. Then we found out how the word “homosexual” went viral in the print media in the 70s. It had an impact on the 80s and the moral majority, and how we see the merging of politics and religion , especially in America. What we see today are the dangers of Christian nationalism, and it has only grown.
Can you talk more specifically about the mistranslation of the word “homosexual” and what happened?
We are talking about a word, a medical term that has a connotation of a group of people who have an orientation, as opposed to what the original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic texts refer to, who is an abuser, someone someone who has been an abuser – someone who has abused someone else, and there is a victim on the other side. It’s a very different connotation. So that was my motivation to make the movie, because now I have hard evidence, letters written by the committee [acknowledging this].
This translation committee not only acknowledged the error, but continues to rectify it and ensure that their translations reflect the connotation of abusive behavior. Whereas now we see wickedness in the Conservative committees, which since the 1980s have done the opposite. They say it refers to consensual acts, so it was amplified as homophobia because of this mistranslation.
“This translation committee not only recognized the error, but continues to rectify it.”
From my experience, I know that there are many Christians who stand still in their beliefs, who operate from a point of blind faith. How does it feel to arrive with all this evidence, research and evidence – even just a request to listen to what the film alleges – but to be met with this stubborn certainty?
It’s like hitting a wall. You get two kinds of Christians. You have people like my father. [Roggio’s father is a pastor who appears in the film and repeatedly challenges its claims.] They want us to believe that they love us so much, that they’re just trying to tell us the truth. And my father is very nice and he is never hurtful. But there are other people I will see, especially on social media, who turn their fear into anger and then into hatred. They are vicious. Much of what I see on social media and TikTok is the epitome of the phrase “There’s no love like Christian hate.” They are so disgusting.
Is it still productive? How does it feel to meet that, on a human level?
We have reached a few people who will actually listen and watch the film. But there are so many people who are so closed-minded. It’s heartbreaking that people aren’t even open to recognizing us as human. It’s just dehumanizing. With the church being comfortable with other people – it’s not us, it’s you – it’s easy for them to dehumanize the LGBTQ person. A major hurdle is that even some of these theologians who will spread this harmful rhetoric do not have relationships with LGBTQ people.
Do you think that makes a difference?
One of the reasons I wanted to put my dad in the movie and my story in the movie is because we’re a great example of that “hitting the wall.” Here is an example of someone I love very much who is my biggest oppressor. There is no way to reach him. And so the other thing is, you know, we’re not going to change everybody’s mind, and that’s okay. But at the end of the day, my dad has to keep his beliefs where they belong and stay out of where my beliefs are.
I don’t interfere with his equal rights and he doesn’t need to interfere with mine. I’m doing this to provide equal protection to everyone under the law, because if we don’t get this right now, with the Bible in this country, we’re all going to be in trouble no matter what you believe.