Sexuality and Gender

The Film 1946 Succeeds at Very Little

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 02/06/2024

“The only way I was going to be okay with being gay was if God could convince me through Scripture.” Ed Oxford utters those words towards the beginning of the film 1946: The Mistranslation that Shifted Culture. I agree with Oxford. Whether something is permissible or not should be determined through Scripture.

Unfortunately for Oxford and other pro-gay theology advocates, the Bible doesn’t teach that homosexual sex is permissible or that God is “okay with being gay.” Even Kathy Baldock, the other researcher in the film, admits that Scripture doesn’t contain any positive reference to homosexuality. What case, then, does the film 1946 make that homosexual sex or same-sex marriage is biblically permissible?

Now that I’ve watched this film, I can confirm that my previous two articles about it were accurate. In my first article, I claimed that the entire movie is a non-sequitur. Nothing follows from the fact that a seminary student called out the RSV translation team when they decided to render arsenokoitai as “homosexuals.” In my second article, I claimed that even if we used a time travel machine to go back in time and prevent the word “homosexuals” from appearing anywhere in 1 Corinthians 6:9, there would be no difference in the Bible’s teaching (and therefore the church’s teaching) on sex, marriage, and homosexuality.

Having now seen the film, are there any compelling arguments that deliver on Oxford’s wish that God could convince him through Scripture that being gay is okay? In short: no. The film’s core argument is based on the same argument that pro-gay theology advocates have advanced in the past. Their claim is that the Bible does condemn homosexual sex, but only abusive or exploitive forms. In particular, they argue the Greek word arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9 condemns pederasty, men who have sex with boys. The implication is that since men and women who identify as gay today don’t engage in such exploitive homosexual sex, the biblical prohibition doesn’t apply to them. The arguments in the film aren’t convincing for several reasons, three of which I’ll mention here.

First, the method the film 1946 follows to arrive at its interpretation is flawed. There is a tremendous amount of time spent tracing the history of how 1 Corinthians 6:9 has been interpreted. At one point in the film, Oxford pulls out a 1581 Greek/Latin lexicon and points out that the word arsenokoitai was translated as pedico, which he claims means “boy molester.” Oxford elsewhere points out that Martin Luther’s translation used the German word knabenschänder, which means “violators of boys.” Also, one of the heroes of the film is David Fearon who, as a 21-year-old seminary student, challenged the 1946 RSV translation team’s decision to interpret the Greek word as “homosexuals.”

That’s all very interesting, but it’s not relevant. Certainly, 16th-century Latin and German translations can be considered, but modern scholarship isn’t beholden to their conclusions. It’s also probably safe to say that biblical scholars don’t turn to 21-year-old seminary students for insights into the Greek prior to publishing a major Bible translation.

Modern Bible translation teams combine the best modern scholarship with the most current manuscript evidence. They’re aware of pro-gay theology claims but still dismiss them as unjustified. Their reasoning is not hard to understand. The word arsenokoitai is formed by combining two Greek words—arsen, meaning “male,” and koite, meaning “lying.” Arsenokoitai literally means “men who lie with a male.” It’s not surprising that the most prominent English translation today—the NIV (2011 update)—translates the Greek as “men who have sex with men.” Since such behavior is consistent with what male homosexuals do, it’s not difficult to understand why many translation teams (not just the 1946 RSV) chose to render the Greek word as “homosexuals.” Personally, I don’t care for that translation but instead prefer the more literal rendering of “men who lie with a male.”

It’s also worth noting that the Greek words arsen and koite appear together in two Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) verses:

kai meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gynaikos…
You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female…

kai hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gynaikos…
If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman…

These sentences are Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13—the very two verses in the Mosaic Law that condemn homosexual behavior. In other words, arsenokoitai literally means “men who lie with a male,” and the two component words used to create this new word are found together in the two Mosaic prohibitions of homosexuality. The connection of arsenokoitai to the homosexual prohibition in Leviticus further strengthens the argument that the word is condemning man-man sexual acts.

It’s for these reasons that some Bible translation teams chose to use “homosexuals” in 1 Corinthians 6:9. Even if you concede that’s not the most accurate rendering, the more word-for-word translation, “men who lie with a male,” doesn’t fare any better for pro-gay theology advocates.

Second, Paul wasn’t trying to condemn pederasty. According to the film 1946, Paul was trying to condemn men who sexually exploit boys. If that is true, why didn’t Paul use a word that communicated pederasty? Paul was highly educated, and there were multiple Greek words available to him to condemn such exploitive behavior. For example, he could have used paiderastai, which means “lover of boys,” paidomanai, which means “men mad for boys,” or even paidophthoroi, which means “corrupters of boys.”

Paul could have chosen any of those words that contain the root word paido—referring to “boy”—but he didn’t. He purposely avoided that word, thereby not limiting the condemnation to sex with boys. Instead, he used a word (arsenokoitai) that contained arsen, which means “male,” intentionally broadening the scope of its condemnation. Either Paul (and consequently the Holy Spirit who inspired his writing) is the most incompetent communicator on earth, or he purposely chose not to limit the condemnation to exploitive homosexual sex. Rather, he wrote in such a way as to condemn all male-male sexual contact.

Third, the film 1946 doesn’t succeed in making a positive case for homosexual sex and same-sex marriage. Rather, it merely attempts to undermine the case against homosexual sex. Recall that Oxford wants God to convince him through Scripture that being gay is okay. But is the pro-gay theology movement content with merely substantiating the claim that “being gay is okay”?

For pro-gay theology to succeed, advocates need to provide evidence that Scripture affirms both homosexual sex and same-sex marriage. If Scripture permits homosexual sex but prohibits same-sex marriage, then their case crumbles. Scripture reserves sexual activity for marriage. Therefore, if Scripture does not affirm two men or two women becoming a one-flesh union in the covenant of marriage, then they can’t engage in homosexual sex.

Alternately, if Scripture permits same-sex marriage but prohibits homosexual sex, then two men or two women can marry, but sexual intimacy in their marriage is prohibited.

Pro-gay theology needs a positive biblical case for homosexual sex and same-sex marriage to succeed. The film 1946 doesn’t even attempt to deliver on that lofty goal. It merely tries to tear down the case against homosexual sex—and fails (as I’ve argued). But even if we grant that it succeeds, the positive case for homosexual sex and same-sex marriage is still absent.

Does 1946 succeed at anything? Perhaps to appear fair or balanced, the film includes several interactions with the director, Sharon Roggio, and her father, Sal Roggio. Sal is a pastor who disagrees with pro-gay theology and consequently is at odds with his daughter’s lesbianism and her advocacy via this film. Sharon is to be commended for including her father in the film and poignantly capturing the tension between her and her father. She also gives him generous screen time where he explains his views, acknowledges the significant divide between them, and expresses his genuine love for his lesbian daughter. It’s a touching narrative that runs through the film and captures a real-world example of what happens in many families.

In terms of the case for pro-gay theology, though, 1946 repeats the same “the Bible doesn’t condemn that kind of homosexuality” type of argument but does it in film form. There are no new arguments I haven’t responded to before.

For 2,000 years, the church has held that Scripture teaches marriage is between a man and a woman, sex can only occur within the covenant of marriage, and any sexual activity—including homosexual sex—outside of man-woman marriage is sin. That’s what God has said. Pro-gay theology advocates are simply repeating the serpent’s lie, “Did God really say?” They question God’s Word, instill doubt in believers’ minds, and lead many astray. When Jesus was confronted with the devil’s half-truths, he responded with Scripture. We, too, should remember Paul’s charge to his protégé, Timothy: “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:13–14). We’ve been entrusted with God’s Word and commanded to guard his treasure. May the Holy Spirit grant us the discernment, courage, and wisdom to fulfill such a significant task.