Can Christian Homophobia Really Be Traced to a Single Mistranslation? | Sojourners

Can Christian Homophobia Really Be Traced to a Single Mistranslation?

“1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture” only tells one part of the story about Christian bigotry against queer people.
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From 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture 

WHEN THE FULL Revised Standard Version of the Bible was released in 1952, the translation used “young woman” instead of “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14, which so enraged conservatives like Rev. M. Luther Hux that he publicly burned that page of the Bible. This would not be nearly the most impactful RSV translation, however, as the new film 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture seeks to explain.

1946 (named for the year the RSV New Testament was released) aims to measure the drastic effects of the RSV being the first Bible translation to use the word “homosexual.”

The film follows the research by Kathy Baldock and Ed Oxford on the RSV translation, with supplementary scholarship from other academics who help explain the RSV’s rendering of the Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai as “homosexual.” It also traces the cultural ripples of this translation, which the film asserts helped anti-LGBTQ+ Christians demonize and ostracize queer people. Finally, it shows the relationship between the film’s director Sharon “Rocky” Roggio, a lesbian, and her father Sal Roggio, a conservative pastor.

Translating portions of the Bible can be tricky business. As scholars note, arsenokoitai is a word with few other uses across the ancient world and may have been invented by the apostle Paul. Literally, it is a combination word that means “man who beds with males,” connotating a sexual usage. Malakoi means “soft,” and is understood as referring to “effeminate” men.

In the American Standard Version, a common translation that preceded the RSV, the translation used for arsenokoitai is “abusers of themselves with men.” The RSV later changed its translation to “sexual perverts,” though at the time, this was code for LGBTQ+ people. After the RSV, the New International Version used “men who have sex with men,” while the New Revised Standard Version used “sodomites.” The NRSV’s Updated Edition, released in 2021, uses “men who engage in illicit sex,” while noting that the meaning of the Greek is uncertain.


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