Lying with the Truth: Was Bible made “anti-gay” in 1946?

Over the past few months I’ve seen quite a few posts, ranging from TikTok videos to pieces seeming to be investigative journalism, reporting that the Bible was ‘made anti-gay’ in the 20th century. There’s even a movie coming out called 1946 based on the claim that “The first time the word ‘homosexual’ appeared in any bible was in the Revised Standard Version (RSV) published in February 11, 1946.”

As far as that sentence goes, it’s factually correct, but one of my pet peeves is when people lie using truth (I wrote on another instance of spreading lies by misusing truth this past summer – the issue was race and racism). It is true that the word homosexual did not appear in any Bible until 1946. But, what these posts aren’t telling you is that word didn’t appear anywhere in English until 1890s! So did the King James use the word ‘homosexual’? No…it couldn’t have.

“The term “homosexual” was first coined by the Austrian-Hungarian Károly MáriaKertbeny (Benkert) in 1869 (two pamphlets in German). It was then introduced into English in the 1890s by Charles Gilbert Chaddock in his translation of R. Krafft-Ebbing’s PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS (2nd edition of the German original of 1887).”

– John Elliot, “No Kingdom for Softies? Or What was Paul Really Saying? 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 in Context”. Biblical Theology Bulletin A Journal of Bible and Theology. February 2004

Ok, so point made. It is true that the Bible didn’t use the word homosexual until 1946, but that truth is being used in a deceitful way – to claim that the Bible didn’t really have anything to say about homosexual practice until the mid-twentieth century. That’s dishonest.

The most common verse brought into this discussion is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which the RSV renders “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 the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

The Greek word that causes fits is ἀρσενοκοίταις, (arsenokoitēs). This word is a Pauline invention – it appears nowhere in Greek literature prior to Paul’s use of the term and he uses it just twice, here in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and in his letter to Timoty (1 Timothy 1:10). The word is a compound word: arsēn meaning ‘men, male’ and ‘koitē‘ meaning ‘bed’. Together, the word means “men who bed men.” I’m not big on using etymology in this way. I mean, a ‘butterfly’ isn’t butter that flies (and ecclesia doesn’t mean ‘called out ones’, but that’s a different post) . However, it seems fairly certain that Paul is recalling two passages from Leviticus to create this word.

Leviticus 20:13 says, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.” The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew) reads “κοιμηθῇ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός, βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι”. The bold words are the words Paul uses to create arsenokoitēs, arsēn and koitē. In addition, in 1 Corinthians 6:9, Paul combines this term with μαλακοὶ to describe the active and passive male partners.

Here’s how some translations prior to 1946 translated the words of 1 Corinthians 6:9:

  • Latin Vulgate (4th/5th century) – neque molles neque masculorum concubitores (neither effeminate nor liers with men)
  • Syriac Bible (463) – neither sexual molesters, neither males lying down with males
  • Wycliffe (1384) – “neither lechers against kind, they that do lechery with men”
  • Tyndale (1526) – “nether weaklinges nether abusars of them selves with the mankynde ”
  • Coverdale (1535) – “ner weaklinges, nether abusers of them selues with mankynde”
  • Geneva Bible (1560) – “nor wantons, nor buggerers”
  • Douay Rheims (1609) – “Nor the effeminate nor liers with mankind”
  • King James (1611) – “nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind”
  • Webster’s (1833) – “nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind”
  • English Revised Version (1885) – “nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with men”
  • American Standard Version (1901) – “nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with men”
  • RSV (1946) – “homosexuals”

And of 1 Timothy 1:10

  • Wycliffe (1384) – “and lechers, to them that do lechery with men”
  • Tyndale (1526) – “to them that defile them selves with mankynde”
  • Coverdale (1535) – “to the that defyle them selues with mankynde”
  • Geneva Bible 1560 – “buggerers”
  • Douay Rheims (1609) – “them who defile themselves with mankind”
  • King James (1611) – “them that defile themselves with mankind”
  • Webster’s (1833) – “for them that defile themselves with mankind”
  • English Revised Version (1885) – “for abusers of themselves with men”
  • American Standard Version (1901) – “for abusers of themselves with men”
  • RSV (1946) – “sodomites”

This is a small sampling of NT texts for sure, and doesn’t address Paul’s teaching in Romans 1, the bigger issues related to sexual morality, or even the Old Testament. Nor does it answer important questions of hermeneutics – i.e. why we still think this prohibition is applicable today but not, for instance, the prohibition against charging interest. And, it doesn’t address the issues of orientation, simply homosexual practice. All these issues should continue to be fleshed out in loving, winsome ways which uphold a love for our neighbor AND a solid commitment to teach and obey the word of God.

But, all of these conversations are made more challenging when we obscure what the Bible actual says or lie about what it says.