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 the Greek. Religious scholars, priests, theologians, linguists, anthropologists and activists have spent decades researching the instances where the word appears in the book. Their conclusion is that it was a wrong translation.
In other words, the biblical claim that homosexuality is a sin—the catalyst for a whole culture shift, with political ramifications, religious implications, ramifications for the rights and acceptance of LGBTs, and, frankly, deadly results—was, they argue, a mistake .
As a new film claims, it was “the misuse of a single word that changed the course of history”.
1946: The Wrong Translation That Changed Culture is a new documentary directed by Sharon “Rocky” Roggio. Ahead of its premiere this week at the DOC NYC festival, as you might expect, it has gone viral within conservative and Christian communities.
A grassroots campaign to promote the film on social media has gained his official TikTok account more than 185,000 followers. That makes sense. For most people – practicing Christians or otherwise – what the film says is shocking.
There are layers to it: the realization that the Bible has been translated many times over the centuries, and that human error may have been involved. That may be obvious, but it’s an eye-opener. Moreover, one has come to terms with the idea that human error may 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 has even seen the film, there has been an organized effort to attack and disprove the film’s claims. Roggio and others involved in making the documentary have received threats. Campaigns have been launched to remove even innocent social media posts. An entire book was published to disprove the evidence, even though the film has yet to be shown.
“The opposition has been quite vocal about our film and trying to debunk it because they’re scared,” Roggio told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview prior to 1946premiere in New York. “We literally unmoor them and pull the anchors out from under them.”
Those attacks come from all sides.
“We have been touched by the conservative public,” says Roggio. ‘We have been touched by the atheist public. We have been touched by LGBTQ people who have been hurt by the church and who have now left the church because they feel we are endorsing religious supremacy by even getting involved in this dialogue.”
1946 takes a journalistic, academic approach to substantiate these claims. The experts in the film have reviewed thousands of historical documents, ancient texts and Bible translations in many languages and concluded that two Greek words have been mistranslated to mean homosexual. A more accurate means effeminate. The other refers to a person who sexually abused and harmed someone.
As the film outlines, years after the translation, when the error was pointed out, the committee acknowledged it and attempted to correct it. But by the 1970s, the implications of those verses were widespread. By the time the AIDS crisis broke out in the 1980s, that mentality had been weaponized by the moral majority, particularly through the fusion of politics and religion in the United States.
“A key point of our film was biblical literalness,” says Roggio. “We just think it was a magic book that just invaded us, but these are real people who made these decisions that affect our real reality. messed up, not God. As much as we fight biblical liberalism, we want our conservative audience to travel with us, in the sense that this is not an attack on God. This is not an attack on the Bible. This is really a matter of a wrong translation.”
Before 1946 premiering at DOC NYC on November 12, we spoke to Roggio about the work she did (along with scholars and activists Kathy Bullock and Ed Oxford) to meticulously substantiate the film’s claims, the challenge of reaching a Christian community who refuses to even hear the evidence, and how a documentary like this can change the world.
I grew up in the church, but I’m still someone who found the idea of ”gay” as a mistranslation in the Bible shocking. What has been the reaction of the people to this?
We are talking about the largest book in the world. This has implications for the three largest religions in the world. This affects everyone. And we don’t discuss these things. That was what intrigued me as someone who grew up in the church, was a victim of bad theology and was discriminated against for being a member of the LGBTQ community. When I realized that the word homosexual was not in the Bible until 1946, I clicked. I think it will click for a lot of people.
Even the basic principle that the Bibles we read were translated by a man, and that there is an error in that translation, is a mind-boggling realization to people.
One of the biggest concerns we see in America today is Christian nationalism and people who use the Bible and say it is infallible. They are biblical literalists. It has sovereignty over us. It cannot be changed. The word is the word. That is dangerous. It’s dangerous for so many people. We see it playing out in our reality today, and I actually call that religious supremacy. My idea in refining these themes is to hopefully get the conservative public to join us and be honest about this. Words have power and words have meaning. The way 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 just theology. It’s history. It’s society. It’s political. It’s law. It’s oppression. It’s how, again, these words have meaning. We as a group of people had to negotiate about the text. A group of people over time has had to choose which verses stand out, which verses we follow – which verses are set in our country and our law. To really be an honest reader of Christian scriptures, we need to find a way where we don’t oppress people, where we put the text into context – we understand where it came from and how it affected a group of people.
When you introduce this idea, which is seismic and probably disturbing to many people, how do you explain it to them at the most basic level?
1946: The Wrong Translation That Changed Culture tells of the first time the word “homosexual” appeared in the Bible. We had a team of researchers who wanted to ask the question: who made this decision and why? What was discovered, through a series of letters written by the translation committee in which the word “homosexual” was placed, is that it was a mistake. Then it was discovered how the word “gay” went viral in print in the 1970s. That affected the 1980s and the moral majority, and how we see the merging of politics and religion, especially in America. What we see now are the dangers of Christian nationalism, and it has only gotten worse.
Can you talk a little more specifically about the mistranslation of the word “homosexual” and what happened there?
We are talking about a word, a medical term that has the connotation of a group of people with an orientation, contrary to what the original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic texts refer to, namely an aggressor, someone who is an abuser – someone who has abused, and there is a victim on the other side. It’s a very different connotation. So that was my drive to make the film, because now I have tangible evidence, written letters from the committee [acknowledging this].
This translation committee has not only acknowledged the error, but is continuing to correct it and ensure that their translations reflect the connotation of abusive behavior. Whereas now we see malice in the conservative committees, who have done the opposite since the 1980s. They say it refers to consensual acts, so it’s amplified as homophobia because of this mistranslation.
“This translation committee has also not only recognized the error, but is continuing to correct it.”
From my experience I know that there are many Christians who are immobile in their faith, who operate from a point of blind faith. What’s it like coming up with all this evidence, research, and evidence—even just asking to listen to what the movie claims—but getting that stubborn assurance?
It’s like bumping into a wall. You get two kinds of Christians. You get people like my father. [Roggio’s father is a pastor who appears in the film and repeatedly challenges its claims.] They want us to think they love us so much that they’re just trying to give us the truth. And my father is very kind and he never hurts. But there are other people I will see, especially on social media, who turn their fear into anger and then hate. They’re mean. Much of what I see on social media and TikTok is the epitome of the phrase “There is no love like Christian hate.” They are just so disgusting.
Is it ever productive? What is it like to encounter that on a human level?
We have reached a number of people who actually want to listen to and watch the film. But there are so many people who are so short-sighted. It’s heartbreaking that people aren’t even open to acknowledging us as human beings. It’s just degrading. Now that the church is comfortable with other people – it’s not us, it’s you – it’s easy for them to dehumanize the LGBTQ person. A major barrier is that even some of these theologians who put forth this harmful rhetoric have no relationship with LGBTQ people.
Do you think that makes a difference?
One of the reasons I wanted to put my father in the movie and my story in the movie is because we’re a great example of that “smashing against the wall.” Here is an example of someone I love very much who is my greatest oppressor. It doesn’t get through to him at all. And the other thing is, you know, we’re not going to make everyone change their mind, and that’s okay. But at the end of the day, my father has to keep his beliefs where they belong, and stay where my beliefs are.
I don’t interfere with his equal rights, and he doesn’t have to interfere with mine. I’m doing this to give everyone equal protection under the law, because if we don’t get this under control now, with the Bible in this country, we’re all in trouble – no matter what you believe.