A film better left to be experienced than for me to explain the ins and outs of this historical misfire, 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture is an important film that I pray will not be lost to those who need to see it the most.
I say that not as a critique of the film because Sharon “Rocky” Roggio’s award-winning documentary is well-made, informative, and incredibly valuable. I have read about this mistranslation in the past and even tried to convince relatives to vote against Prop 8 by educating them on the subject. (“We’ll take it into consideration” was the response I got.) But the pamphlet I read wasn’t readily available to the masses, so it’s a relief to see Roggio crafting the information into something that calmly and smartly explains what happened in 1946 and the changes it has traumatically engendered.
As a simple explanation, in 1946, a committee of 22 contributors (all middle-aged or older white men – shocker) were working on the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. They came across two ancient Greek words, “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai,” that were used to explain what Paul considered a sin. (Corinthians 6: 9-11). However, the meanings of these words are hard to pinpoint, but neither refers to consenting homosexuals. (Roggio interviews a handful of experts on this proving the point.)
Regardless, that committee decided to insert the word “homosexual” into the text, and thus the mistranslation was created.
Roggio follows a few key figures, including an ex-evangelical Kathy Baldock, who, upon befriending a hiking buddy that she found out later was a lesbian, decided to become a Biblical scholar so she could help people understand the Bible and what it truly was supposed to be teaching its followers.
She also befriends Ed Oxford, a Master of Divinity and a shy and apparently inexperienced gay man who suffered his whole life because of what the Bible purports to say about gay people. (At one point, someone logically points out that the Bible says nothing about lesbians, further driving the point home that something is amiss in the translation.)
The two believers find themselves on a journey to understand why the word “homosexual” was added to the Bible as recently as 1946, going to the Yale archives to see what the committee discussed and if there was any debate about switching the Greek words out. They find a letter from a Canadian seminarian that politely states that the committee has mistranslated the Greek text and that doing so will cause irreparable harm to a specific group of people.
The shocking thing is that the text WAS finally changed to “sexual pervert” rather than any reference to same-sex acts in 1971, but incredibly popular translations that were coming out at the time (“The Living Way” made famous by Billy Graham) were using the 1952 version of the King James Bible as reference. These texts, which were (for lack of a better term) “dumbed down” for a mass audience, doubled down on the homosexual references causing that community to be further scorned and ostracized.
Roggio’s film is a fascinating and enraging one. What is doubly fascinating about it is that her father, Salvatore Roggio, is a minister who adamantly believes homosexuality is wrong and points to the Bible as irrefutable proof. He knows his daughter is a lesbian and accepts her as only he can, but the two go head-to-head on the subject she is so passionate about. (He even writes a book discrediting the claims of the mistranslation.)
To her credit, Roggio must have a halo over her head because, despite her father’s immovable feet on the subject, she still loves the guy. And he, her.
Which is my worry for the film. Roggio’s father isn’t going to change his mind. And I wonder how many people who still believe homosexuality is a sin will bother to sit down and watch it. My wish is some will and that they will then share the film with others.
So, if you are as angry about the mistranslation as many are – and rightly so – take in the information that Roggio provides. Please share it with people you know. Tell them about the movie. Roggio is passionate about educating us and making a change. We should be too.