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The film 1946 is wrong

No, the belief that homosexual behavior is sinful is not due to a translation error

Sharon “Rocky” Roggio Getty Images/Photo by Thomas Cooper

The film <em>1946</em> is wrong
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When the theatrical trailer for the gay-affirming documentary 1946 first appeared over a year ago, it landed with a splash. The filmmakers claimed that their project “casts significant doubt on any biblical basis” for condemning homosexuality as sin. Even though no one had yet seen the movie, the trailer alone generated an explosion of responses from both fans and critics. Many evangelical critics took to their keyboards and social media feeds to interrogate the film, some of them including the obvious caveat that they hadn’t viewed the actual documentary yet.

Over the last year and up until the film’s premier last month, 1946 has been screened in a variety of film festivals around the country and has racked up accolades, including the audience awards at Doc NYC, the Cleveland Int'l Film Festival, and OUTfest. Parade magazine has ranked 1946 among the top films of 2023. The director, Sharon “Rocky” Roggio, has said that she wishes to gin up enough interest in the film to have it distributed on major streaming platforms and perhaps even considered for an Oscar.

That may be wishful thinking. Nevertheless, The Guardian reports that the film has garnered an “outpouring” of support from viewers. It has taken in over 1,700 donations on GoFundMe in excess of $150,000 to publicize the film. The director Roggio aims to screen the film at “churches and community centers” and to distribute a new workbook so that churchgoers can do further study on the claims of the film. Roggio tells The Guardian, “We want millions of people to be able to access this information.”

The fundamental premise of the movie is that the Revised Standard Version’s (RSV) use of the term “homosexuals” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 set in motion a chain of events resulting in an alliance of evangelicals and Republicans coming together to mistreat homosexuals. This alliance has been devastating to gay people and is the direct cause of persecution and countless deaths by suicide within the gay community.

The sympathetic personal narratives of the central characters do most of the heavy lifting in terms of persuasion. The main characters in the film are the filmmaker and director Roggio, affirming activist Kathy Baldock, and gay activist Ed Oxford. All three of them have backgrounds in evangelical Christianity, and all three of them offer poignant personal narratives about how they moved away from the historic Christian faith to an “affirming” position on LBGTQ issues.

Along with the personal narratives, the film follows Baldock and Oxford as they do research about the RSV’s rendering of 1 Corinthians 6:9, which is the first English Bible version to use the word “homosexual.” The original 1946 RSV reads this way: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

Throughout the 2,000-year history of the Christian church, all Christians from every tradition (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant) have recognized that the Bible forbids sexual activity outside of marriage—including and especially sexual activity between persons of the same sex.

After poring over 60,000 documents in the RSV translation committee’s archives at Yale University, Baldock and Oxford discover that a young seminary student named David Fearon wrote to the committee in 1959 to complain that there is no justification for rendering two Greek words (malakoi and arsenokoitai) with the lone English word “homosexuals.” The head of the RSV committee writes Fearon back and concedes that it’s a bad rendering. In the second edition of the RSV (1971), the committee ends up dropping “homosexuals” altogether and replaces it with the generic expression “sexual perverts.”

The film contends that even though the second edition of the RSV dropped the word “homosexual,” the damage had already been done. Other English versions like the NIV, NASB, and the Living Bible followed the original RSV. This is the part where the film makes a wild jump. It presents the argument that because Billy Graham subsequently began recommending the Living Bible in his crusades, evangelicals began despising homosexuals based on a mistranslation of 1 Corinthians 6:9. They accuse evangelicals of weaponizing their disgust by teaming up with Republicans to wage a culture war on homosexuals.

The film’s argument is specious on its face. Throughout the 2,000-year history of the Christian church, all Christians from every tradition (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant) have recognized that the Bible forbids sexual activity outside of marriage—including and especially sexual activity between persons of the same sex. That recognition had been in place for nearly two millennia before the word “homosexuality” was even coined in the English language. In short, the Christian view on homosexual immorality predates the English word “homosexual” and is in no way dependent upon it—much less upon the RSV’s rendering in 1946. In other words, there is no there there when it comes to the central claim of the film.

The rest of the documentary parades a rehash of revisionist interpretations of the Bible that are commonly employed to deceive people into thinking that God blesses homosexual orientation and practice. The film features the teaching of Baldock and of leftist seminary professors to show that the so-called “clobber passages” don’t really mean what Christians think they mean (Genesis 19:1-38; Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:26-27). Never mind the fact that these hokey revisionist interpretations have been roundly refuted in the relevant theological literature. There is no attempt at all to deal with the orthodox view, and no non-affirming scholars are called in for an interview.

It’s no wonder that one of the affirming Bible professors interviewed in the film prides herself on informing her students that they would not be allowed to say “the Bible says” in her classroom. One gets the impression that the activists in this movie aren’t interested in what the Bible says so much as they are in making the Bible say what they want it to say—namely that gay is okay with God.

I am concerned about this film not because its arguments are compelling. They aren’t. I’m concerned because it is yet another attempt to manipulate viewers through sad personal narratives to abandon the teaching of Scripture. At the end of the day, that is what this film is. We live in a time when people are particularly vulnerable to this particular form of deception. Christians who care about the faith once for all delivered to the saints will resist this deception, and they will do so not because they hate homosexual sinners but because they love them and don’t want to see them drawn away from Holy Scripture by the lies of 1946.

Editor’s note: This column was updated to clarify the Christian backgrounds of the main characters in 1946.

Denny Burk

Denny serves as a professor of Biblical studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and as the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. He also serves as one of the teaching pastors at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. He is the author of numerous books, including What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Crossway, 2013), Transforming Homosexuality (P&R, 2015), and a commentary on the pastoral epistles for the ESV Expository Commentary (Crossway, 2017).


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