The filmmakers insist 1946 is “not an attack on Christianity or the Bible” but rather “a quest to discover biblical truth and honor God’s Word.” However well-intentioned the film might be, its ultimate claim does not stand up to linguistic and historical critique.
“What if the word ‘homosexual’ was never meant to be in the Bible?” That is the question the new documentary 1946: The Mistranslation that Shifted a Culture is dedicated to answering.
The documentary explores the linguistic history of the word “homosexual” and its appearance in the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible, first published on February 11, 1946. In short, the film seeks to show that the RSV’s use of the term “homosexuals” instead of “sexual perverts” is an inaccurate translation of the Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai. (It is worth noting that although recent editions of the RSV have reverted to using “sexual perverts,” many other translations still translate it as “homosexuals.”) According to the documentary, homosexual sex is biblically permissible, and the RSV’s “mistranslation” has influenced subsequent English translations of the Bible, resulting in Western society believing that “sexual and gender minorities must choose between their faith and their identity.”
The filmmakers insist 1946 is “not an attack on Christianity or the Bible” but rather “a quest to discover biblical truth and honor God’s Word.” However well-intentioned the film might be, its ultimate claim does not stand up to linguistic and historical critique. 1946 undermines biblical sexual ethics under the guise of honest hermeneutics.
Evaluating the “Mistranslation” Allegation
Alan Shlemon from the Christian apologetics ministry Stand to Reason writes that, despite 1946’s captivating premise where power-hungry white men oppress “sexual minorities” through Bible translation, “Even if the film’s claims are true, it doesn’t matter. The entire documentary is a non sequitur.”
There are many reasons the film 1946 fails to be intellectually compelling, including:
- subsequent Bible translators did not use the RSV’s English translation unchecked;
- the prohibition of homosexual sex is found elsewhere in the Bible and is well-attested throughout church history, not just since 1946; and
- one young seminary student, whom the film follows, would not have had the expertise to truly dispute the RSV translation committee.
Despite these realities, the documentary is often cited as proof that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality and that the church should re-examine its view on sexual ethics.
To address the film’s claim that same-sex relations are not prohibited in the Bible, we will answer three questions:
- What do the allegedly mistranslated words in 1 Corinthians 6:9 mean?
- What is the biblical sexual ethic?
- Why is the biblical sexual ethic good news for everyone?
By answering these questions, Christians can refute the radical claim that the Bible permits homosexual sex with knowledge, clarity, grace, and love.
What Do the Allegedly Mistranslated Words in 1 Corinthians 6:9 Mean?
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 states:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (ESV, emphasis added)
The contested phrase translated “men who practice homosexuality” comes from the Greek “ο¿τε μαλακο¿ ο¿τε ¿ρσενοκο¿ται,” transliterated as oute malakoi oute arsenokoitai. The phrase oute…oute means “neither…nor,” so the verse is saying “neither _____ nor _____ … will inherit the kingdom of God.” So, we must fill in the blanks. What do malakoi and arsenokoitai mean?
In his book The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon explains that the term malakoi can carry a variety of meanings depending on the author and context. Often it meant “soft” or “effeminate.” In ancient usage, malakos could range from those who had a penchant for “soft” or decadent living, to those averse to the rigor of a philosopher’s life, to the passive partner in homosexual intercourse. Thus, while at first glance it might seem challenging to know exactly how Paul is using the term in this passage, context is key. Based on the context of 1 Corinthians 6:9—a list of unrepentant sins displayed by those who will not inherit the kingdom of God—and Jewish understanding of the term at the time, Paul’s intent is clear. As Gagnon summarizes, “In 1 Cor. 6:9, malakoi should be understood as the passive partners in homosexual intercourse” (p. 312).