The word ‘homosexual’ is in the Bible by mistake: The explosive documentary that is under attack

The word ‘homosexual’ is in the Bible by mistake: The explosive documentary that is under attack

The first time the word “homosexual” appeared in the Bible was in 1946. That year, a committee gathered to translate an updated English version of the book from the Greek. Religious scholars, priests, theologists, linguists, anthropologists, and activists have done decades of research and investigation into the instances where the word appears in the book. Their conclusion is that it was a mistranslation.

In other words, the Biblical assertion that homosexuality is a sin—the catalyst for an entire shift in culture, with political repercussionsreligious implicationsconsequences for LGBT rights and acceptance, and, frankly, deadly results—was, they allege, a mistake.

As a new film asserts, it was “the misuse of a single word that changed the course of history.”

1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture is a new documentary directed by Sharon “Rocky” Roggio. Ahead of its premiere this week at the DOC NYC festival, it has, as one might expect, gone viral within the conservative and Christian communities.

A grassroots campaign to promote the film on social media has gotten its official TikTok account more than 185,000 followers. That makes sense. For most people—practicing Christians or otherwise—what the film is stating 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 in the process. That may be obvious, but it’s eye-opening. Moreover, there’s coming to terms with the notion that human error could be responsible for the stoking of 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 debunk the film’s claims. Roggio and others involved in the making of the documentary have received threats. Campaigns have been waged to get even innocuous social media posts taken down. An entire book was published to refute the evidence—even though the film has yet to be screened.

“The opposition is quite vocal about our film, trying to debunk it because they’re afraid,” Roggio tells The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview ahead of 1946’s New York premiere. “We’re literally unmooring them and pulling the anchors out from underneath.”

Those attacks are coming from all sides.

“We’ve been hit by the conservative audience,” Roggio says. “We’ve been hit by the atheist audience. We’ve been hit by LGBTQ people who have been hurt by the church and who have now left the church, because they feel that we are subscribing to religious supremacy by even playing along in this dialogue.”

1946 takes a journalistic, academic approach to substantiating these claims. Poring over thousands of historical documents, centuries of ancient texts, and Bible translations in many languages, the experts in the film conclude that two Greek words were mistranslated to mean homosexual. One more accurately means effeminate. The other connotes a person who was a sexual abuser and who had harmed someone.

As the film outlines, years after the translation, when the mistake was pointed out, the committee recognized and attempted to correct it. But, by the ’70s, the implications of those verses had become widespread. By the time the AIDS crisis arrived in the ’80s, that mindset was weaponized by the moral majority, particularly in the merging of politics and religion in the United States.

“A big point of our film has been biblical literalism,” Roggio says. “We do just think that it was a magical book that was just dropped down to us, but these are real people who have made these decisions that impact our real reality. People are going to feel unmoored by this idea that it’s man that has messed up, not God. As much as we are combating biblical liberalism, we want our conservative audience to journey with us, in the sense that this is not an attack on God. This is not an attack on the Bible. This is a real issue of a mistranslation.”

Before 1946 premieres at DOC NYC on Nov. 12, we spoke with 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 getting through to a Christian community that refuses even to hear the evidence, and how a documentary like this could change the world.

I grew up in the church, but I am still someone who found the idea of “homosexual” being a mistranslation in the Bible to be shocking. What has been people’s response to this?

We’re talking about the biggest book in the world. This impacts the three largest religions in the world. This impacts 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 because I’m a member of LGBTQ community. Realizing that the word homosexual wasn’t in the Bible until 1946, that was a click for me. I think that it’s gonna be a click for a lot of people.

Even the basic principle that the Bibles we read were 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 that we see in America today is Christian nationalism and people using the Bible who are saying that it is inerrant. They are biblical literalists. It has sovereignty over us. It can’t 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 call that religious supremacy, really. My idea in finessing these themes is to hopefully get the conservative audience to join with us and be honest about this. Words have power and words have meaning. The way that we use the Bible and use these old texts is very important. So what we try to do is contextualize.

What is the goal of that contextualization?

Our movie is more than just theology. It’s history. It’s society. It’s politics. It’s law. It’s oppression. It’s how, again, these words have meaning. We as a group of people have had to negotiate the text. A group of people over time have had to pick and choose which verses stand out, which verses we follow—which verses play out in our land and our law. To really be an honest reader of Christian scripture, we have to find a way where we’re not oppressing people, where we’ve contextualized the text—we understand where it comes from and how it impacted a group of people.

When you’re introducing this idea, which is seismic and likely upsetting to a lot of people, how do you explain it to them at the most basic level?

1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture is about 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 that put the word “homosexual” in there, is that it was a mistake. Then it was discovered how the word “homosexual” went viral in print in the ’70s. That impacted the ’80s and the moral majority, and how we see the merger of politics and religion, specifically in America. What we now see today is the dangers of Christian nationalism, and it’s only grown.

Can you talk more specifically about the mistranslation of the word “homosexual” and what happened there?

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. It’s a very different connotation. So that was my drive for making the movie, because now I have tangible evidence, letters written from the committee [acknowledging this].

This translation committee also has not only recognized the error but continues to rectify it and make their translations reflect the connotation of abusive behavior. Whereas now we see malice in the conservative committees, who since the ’80s have done the opposite. They say it refers to consensual acts, so it’s been amplified as homophobia because of this mistranslation.

“This translation committee also has not only recognized the error, but continues to rectify it.”

From my experience, I know there are many Christians who are unmoving in their beliefs, who operate from a point of blind faith. What is it like to arrive with all of this evidence, research, and proof—even just an ask to listen to what the movie is alleging—but be met with that stubborn certitude?

It’s like hitting a wall. You get two kinds of Christians. You get people like my dad. [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 dad is very kind and he’s never hurtful. But there are other people that I’ll see, especially on social media, who turn their fear into anger and then hatred. They’re vicious. A lot of what I see on social media and TikTok is the epitome of the phrase “There’s no love like Christian hate.” They’re just so disgusting.

Is it ever productive? What is it like to encounter that, on a human level?

We have reached a couple of people who actually will listen and watch the movie. But there are so many people who are so close-minded. It’s heartbreaking that people aren’t even open to recognizing us as human. It’s just dehumanizing. With the church being comfortable othering people—it’s not us, it’s you—it’s easy for them to dehumanize the LGBTQ person. A key barrier is that even some of these theologians that will put out this harmful rhetoric, they don’t have relationships with LGBTQ people.

Do you think that makes a difference?

One reason why I wanted to put my dad in the movie and my story in the movie is because we are a prime example of that “hitting the wall.” Here’s an example of someone who I love very much, who is my biggest oppressor. There’s no getting through to him at all. And so the other thing is, you know, we’re not going to change everybody’s minds, and that’s OK. But at the end of the day, my dad needs to keep his beliefs where they belong, and stay out where my beliefs are.

I don’t impede his equal rights and he doesn’t need to impede mine. 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.

The post The Word ‘Homosexual’ Is in the Bible by Mistake: The Explosive Documentary That Is Under Attack appeared first on The Daily Beast.

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