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How a Bible Error Changed History and Turned Gays Into Pariahs

Bible and translation

In a new book and documentary, two researchers claim the original bible never condemned homosexuality.

The words "homosexual" and "heterosexual" were first coined as German nouns by Austrian-born Hungarian psychologist, Karoly Maria Benkert, in the late 19th century, who wrote under pseudonym K.M. Kertbeny.

Ed Oxford is a scholar and researcher. A gay Christian, as well as a graduate of the Talbot School of Theology, his specialty is the history of the Bible, focusing on Bible translations, with a focus on the Greek and Hebrew translations, especially those that relate to human sexuality. Kathy Baldock is an LGBTQ+ advocate and executive director of Canyon Walker Connections, an organization dedicated to repairing "the division that exists between social and Christian conservatives and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through education, training, and dialogue in both secular and religious environments."

Each had been dedicated to researching the roots of antigay theology, and together have written Forging a Sacred Weapon: How the Bible Became Anti-Gay, and they are also the researchers behind the documentary, 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture. In the process of this research, they discovered boxes and boxes of notes in the Yale University archives, among them a half-century old letter written by a young seminarian named David S., to the RSV -- Revised Standard Version of the Bible -- committee.

Now, the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, is, according to the National Council of Churches, the "authorized revision of the American Standard Version, published in 1901, which was a revision of the King James Version, published in 1611."

This is important to know, because the actual word "homosexual" appears for the first time on February 11, 1946 in the Revised Standard Version. In it, their translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9, they substitute the word "homosexual" for the the Greek words "malakoi" and "arsenokoitai."

Further, as Oxford shares with Forge, a nonprofit organization that "that creates space for post-evangelical conversations, which includes tools and resources for lgbtq+ inclusion in the church," "...we went to Leviticus 18:22 and [the translator is] translating it for me word for word. In the English where it says, 'Man shall not lie with man, for it is an abomination,' the German version says, 'Man shall not lie with young boys as he does with a woman, for it is an abomination.' I said, 'What?! Are you sure?' He said, 'Yes!" Then we went to Leviticus 20:13-- same thing, 'Young boys.' So we went to 1 Corinthians to see how they translated arsenokoitai (original Greek word) and instead of homosexuals it said, 'Boy molesters will not inherit the kingdom of God.'"

Further from there, Oxford shares, "I then grabbed my facsimile copy of Martin Luther's original German translation from 1534. My friend is reading through it for me and he says, "Ed, this says the same thing!" They use the word knabenschander. Knaben is boy, schander is molester. This word 'boy molesters' for the most part carried through the next several centuries of German Bible translations. Knabenschander is also in 1 Timothy 1:10. So the interesting thing is, I asked if they ever changed the word arsenokoitai to homosexual in modern translations. So my friend found it and told me, 'The first time homosexual appears in a German translation is 1983.'"

Although the mistake was corrected from "homosexual" to "sexual perverts" in the Revised Standard Version in 1971, the damage had been heavily done, with the word "homosexual" appearing in most translations of the Bible, mostly in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. This became the fuel for the antigay movement embraced by American conservative Christians, as well as others around the world.

The documentary, 1946, explores and enlightens about this issue, using research and physical evidence, as well as the testimony of scholars, academics, and experts in the field. The movie also features an original score from celebrated queer musician Mary Lambert.

As the director, Sharon "Rocky" Roggio, has said, "It is my goal to change the Christian narrative and liberate the many LGBTQIA+ people living in the dark; oppressed by bad theology. I want us all to live and be acknowledged as equals, under God's love. There are truths that must be shared."

Check out for ways to watch the documentary.

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