CMDA's The Point

1946: The Mistranslation that Had Absolutely No Effect on Anything

January 2, 2024

by Steven Willing, MD

This December marks the official theatrical release of 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture. According to Tim Malloy of MovieMaker magazine, “This film may change your mind about homosexuality and the Bible—if you watch it.”[1] Will it? Should it?


The Claims

“1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture is a feature documentary that follows the story of tireless researchers who trace the origins of the anti-gay movement among Christians to a grave mistranslation of the Bible in 1946.”[2]


The basic premise is this: during the 1946 translation of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible from Greek into English, a bunch of old white men broke with two thousand years of tradition and translated the Greek arsenokoites in I Corinthians 6:9 as “homosexual,” somehow leading to evangelical opposition to homosexuality (and thus, all LGBTQIA+ identities) in ensuing decades.


“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” (1 Corinthians 6:9, RSVCE).


In the film trailer, the narrator frets, “How do we undo a lie that is so ingrained in our culture? All that damage that had been done over the last 60 years?”[3]


In big, scary block letters against a black background, the producers ominously warn,


“There are 45,000 evangelical churches in the United States.

They still believe being LGBTQ+ is a sin.”


This “conspiracy” is now supposedly exposed, thanks to the dogged research of a team of investigators who pored through tens of thousands of archived documents from the translation committee.


According to the film’s director, Sharon “Rocky” Roggio (the lesbian daughter of a Christian pastor), “We’ve already had major pushback, even before the movie has been released…. We’d love for them to watch the film and actually then maybe do a critique on it instead of prior to watching the film. And then whatever they think of the film, that’s their opinion.”[4]


Well, Sharon, that seems reasonable enough, except there’s already enough misinformation in the promotional materials to see where this is going and know it cannot end well. Usually, a wrong turn at the beginning just takes us further and further from our destination—the truth, in this case.




The basic premise—that the word was mistranslated—has considerable merit. It just doesn’t go where the producers wish to take us.


1946 spins a narrative around the translation of the koine Greek term “arsenokoites,” a compound word (possibly coined by the Apostle Paul) that literally means “men who have sex with men.” This word appears exactly twice in the original Greek, in I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:10. Both passages are lists of sexual and nonsexual sins declared to be incompatible with sound doctrine or entrance into the kingdom of God.


The table below lists how arsenokoites was translated into English, beginning with the first complete English translation by John Wycliffe in 1382. Prior to the RSV, most followed the lead of William Tyndale (1526) with some variation of “men abusing themselves with men.” There would never have been any confusion that this clearly meant men having sex with men. If the expression was not more explicit, that can only be attributed to the translators’ desire to maintain civility. The legacy of Tyndale is on full display here, as his phrasing dominated other English translations for over 400 years.


The Young’s Literal Translation of 1862 lived up to its billing by translating arsenokoites, well, literally as “sodomites,” an uncommon term but unequivocally including homosexual intercourse.


What 1946 gets right is that arsenokoites was indeed first translated as “homosexuals” by the RSV translation committee. As the table below shows, some later English translations followed that precedent.


Year Title Translation
1382 Wycliffe* “thei that doon letcheri with men”
1526 Tyndale “abusars of them selves with the mankynde”
1611 King James Version “abusers of themselves with mankind”
1862 Young’s Literal Translation “sodomites”
1890 Darby Translation “who abuse themselves with men”
1901 American Standard Version “abusers of themselves with men”
1946 Revised Standard Version “homosexuals”
1970 New English Bible “homosexual perversion”
1971 New American Standard Bible “homosexuals”
1978 New International Version “men who have sex with men”
2001 English Standard Version (ESV) “men who practice homosexuality”


*Translated from Latin Vulgate rather than original Greek.


Right beside arsenokoites in I Corinthians 6:9 is a proscription against malakos, sometimes translated as “catamite.” The two words encompass both aspects of same-sex male relations. Taken together, arsenokoites refers to the active role, while malakos refers to the passive participant.[5] Some translations simply merge both terms into “homosexual” (ESV, CEV) while others preserve a distinction (KJV, NKJV, NASB).


The (mis)translation


So, is arsenokoites correctly translated as “homosexual”? To be precise, there was no word for “homosexual” in ancient Latin, Greek, Hebrew or any other tongue. The origin of this word is attributed to Karl Maria Kertbeny (1824-1882), a Hungarian journalist and “human rights campaigner.” (The human right that concerned him most was the right to engage in the sexual practices of one’s own choosing). The word “homosexual” first appeared in printed form in 1869.[6] If there is no word for “homosexual” in the ancient languages, then how could anything appearing earlier than 1869 be translated as “homosexual”?


In the opinion of this writer, the translation committee did err, but not for the reasons alleged by the filmmakers. Arsenokoites can only be translated as such if “men who have sex with men” is equivalent to “homosexual.” But they are not, for three rather clear and simple reasons.


First, the biblical expression concerns behavior, whereas “homosexual,” as popularly understood, is an identity. A person could identify as homosexual but remain celibate. In that case, he would be condemned by the passage despite his chastity.


Second, the entire set of men who have ever had sex with other men is far greater than the set who exclusively have sex with other men. Merely translating arsenokoites as “homosexual” risks giving a free pass to bisexuals or opportunistic heterosexuals, since they would not self-identify as homosexual.


Thirdly, the concept of homosexuality did not exist in the first-century Roman Empire. The notion of men exclusively attracted to other men emerged as a social construction in the early 18th century.[7] It is not something based strictly on biology.[8] Some self-identifying homosexuals, in fact, freely admit it.


Thus, translating arsenokoites as “homosexual” penalizes the innocent, excuses the guilty, and shoehorns a modern social construct into a first-century document. It is a poor translation and ought to be rejected.


Why it made no difference.


The filmmakers would have its viewers believe that by translating arsenokoites as “homosexual”, the 1946 RSV translation of the Bible completely transformed Christian teaching on the matter of same-sex behavior.


Having grown up in evangelical circles during the heyday of the “Jesus Revolution,” the “Battle for the Bible,” and the culture wars, I can only chuckle at the notion that the evangelical world was so ensorcelled by the RSV that it would alter its doctrinal trajectory in a dramatic new direction.


Evangelicals loathed the Revised Standard Version.


What the RSV was truly famous for was its decision to change Isaiah 7:14 from, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive” (KJV) to, “Behold, a young woman shall conceive.” This was widely perceived in conservative circles as casting doubt upon the virgin birth of Christ.[9] (In fairness, they did not, because the more pertinent New Testament passages of the RSV still clearly affirmed the doctrine).


More importantly, however, the filmmakers seem utterly oblivious of historic Christian doctrine on same-sex sexual behavior. Sodomy was explicitly proscribed in the Mosaic law, the moral foundation of first-century Judaism, in which Jesus, His disciples, and all early Christians lived and breathed. It was specifically addressed and denounced by Josephus and Philo, the leading Jewish scholars of first-century Judaism. Had Jesus and His disciples tacked a different direction on sexuality, that would have been huge. There is no evidence whatsoever that such was the case.


Pronouncements against homosexual intercourse appear early and often in early Christian writings. They only differ in the degree of hostility toward the practice. Some of the most flowery denunciations were borne by the quill of Chrysostom (347-407 AD). In the words of Kyle Harper, a classicist at the University of Oklahoma:


“Chrysostom’s own preaching on same-sex eros is such a spasm of hatred that its logic is not always recoverable. His caustic fourth homily on the Letter to the Romans, possibly a specimen of extemporaneous moralizing, evokes the atmosphere of intense hostility that prevailed in late antique churches.”[10]


Over a thousand years later, John Calvin, in his commentary on I Corinthians, spoke of arsenokoites as “the most abominable of all—that monstrous pollution which was but too prevalent in Greece.”[11]


Either the church has always been opposed to same-sex intercourse or 1st-century church leaders were somehow influenced by time-traveling 20th-century Bible translators. I’ll go with the former.


Since opposition to homosexual behavior (as opposed to identity) has been the historic norm of all Christian traditions, why are the filmmakers so obsessed with evangelicals? My guess is that in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, evangelicals were most visible in their opposition to homosexual activism, while the mainline denominations were tripping over themselves in capitulating to the sexual revolution. And while Roman Catholic teaching remained unaltered, to protest too loudly could have been more than a little bit hypocritical.[12]


Identity versus behavior


In the promotional video, Kathy Baldock asserts, “What is in the Bible is a behavior. It’s a behavior that heterosexual people can do.” I could not agree more. Anogenital intercourse is indeed a common practice among some heterosexuals. In any context, it remains morally repugnant and medically dangerous.


It is unhealthy to wrap one’s identity around sexuality, especially when that sexuality deviates from God’s established order. Christian teaching is that we are something far, far greater than our genitals, hormones and behavior. “We are special and beloved beings, created in the image of God, that we may glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”[13] But we are also all sinners, slaves to our passions and appetites, and easily led astray by falsehood. The most appealing falsehoods are those we wish to be true. Same-sex attracted persons who reject the homosexual identity—yes, they do exist—fare just as well or better in parameters of mental health and social integration.[14]


Declares singer and songwriter Mary Lambert, “Two consenting adults that love each other is not a sin, but many Christians still believe that.” No, Mary, Christians do not believe that. We understand that while you talk of love, you really have something entirely different in mind.




Homosexuality is an identity that remains relatively new by historical standards and would have been unknown to first century authors. The relevant biblical proscriptions concerning sexual practices are against behaviors, and are every bit as authoritative today as they were two thousand years ago. The challenge for all concerned is to differentiate between behavior and identity. Not everyone may want to go there, but it’s the only means of framing this subject that is consistent with both Scripture and science.


Other resources:


Edward Andrews, CEO of Christian Publishing House, has an extensive discussion here in support of the RSV translation.


Alan Schlemon, with Stand to Reason, posted this rebuttal in May, 2021.

[1] “This Film May Change Your Mind About Homosexuality and the Bible – If You Watch It.” Accessed December 11, 2023.

[2] 1946 | The Mistranslation that Shifted a Culture. “1946 | The Mistranslation That Shifted a Culture.” Accessed December 10, 2023.

[3] 1946 Official Trailer 122022 16×9 1080p. Accessed December 11, 2023.

[4] “This Film”, MSN.

[5] Cook, John Granger. “μαλακοί and ἀρσενοκοῖται: In Defence of Tertullian’s Translation.” New Testament Studies 65, no. 3 (2019): 332-352.

[6] “Homosexual, Adj. & n. Meanings, Etymology and More | Oxford English Dictionary.” Accessed December 10, 2023.


[7] Adriaens, Pieter R., and Andreas De Block. “The evolution of a social construction: The case of male homosexuality.” Perspectives in biology and medicine 49, no. 4 (2006): 570-585.

[8] Barthes, Julien, Pierre-Andre Crochet, and Michel Raymond. “Male homosexual preference: Where, when, why?.” PloS one10, no. 8 (2015): e0134817.

[9] “Virgin or Young Woman in Isaiah 7:14: A Litmus Test for Bible Translations | The PostBarthian,” December 24, 2017.

[10] Harper, Kyle. From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013. p146.

[11] “John Calvin: Commentary on Corinthians – Volume 1 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library.” Accessed December 10, 2023.

[12] Rose, Michael S. Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church. First paperback edition. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2015.

[13] Ligonier Ministries. “The Westminster Shorter Catechism.” Accessed December 11, 2023.

[14] Rosik, Christopher H et al. “Sexual Minorities who Reject an LGB Identity: Who Are They and Why Does It Matter?.” Issues in law & medicine vol. 36,1 (2021): 27-43.

Steven Willing, MD

About Steven Willing, MD

Dr. Steven Willing received his medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia, and then he completed an internship in pediatrics from the University of Virginia, a residency in diagnostic radiology at the Medical College of Georgia and a fellowship in neuroradiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Dr. Willing spent 20 years in academic medicine at the University of Louisville, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Indiana University, followed by 11 years in private practice. During his academic career, Dr. Willing published more than 50 papers in the areas of radiology, informatics and management, and he authored the Atlas of Neuroradiology. He currently practices pediatric neuroradiology at Childrens of Alabama, while serving as a consultant in radiology at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya, a visiting scholar with Reasons to Believe and an Adjunct Professor of Divinity at Regent University. Dr. Willing is the author of Superbia: The Perils of Pride. The Power of Humility and The Top Ten Myths of the Sexual Revolution. His personal blog on science apologetics, “The Soggy Spaniel,” may be found at


  1. Avatar Logan Anderson on June 11, 2024 at 8:40 am

    A doctor of medicine, not theology. Enough said. You approach this subject not as a scholar, wishing to discern the truth, but as one whose opinion is formed beforehand.

  2. Avatar John on June 11, 2024 at 10:58 am

    Lol your main point to prove THEM wrong proves you wrong instead. If the word “homosexual” did not exist in ancient times, I can bet the culture and ideas surrounding same sex relations was also viewed differently. We know for a fact that the Greeks saw same sex relations as fairly normal. So these words likely referred to those acting deviantly — pedophiles or sodomites. Which you equate sodomite and homosexual…those are NOT the same thing and it’s disgusting you would even state so. You’re twisting the words of this documentary to assert your own opinions. It’s not a good look and highly hypocritical. I thought I’d find an actual interesting article here but just found a waste of time. Maybe just stick to Christian fanfic

  3. Avatar Wesley on June 22, 2024 at 8:59 am

    It is interesting how someone born into a theology, even if it was built on a lie, will continue to spout that theology even if they are wrong. Much like the dad in the movie 1946 sticking to a 6-day creation, and not willing to learn from new findings. Kind of sad.

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