Sexuality and Gender

Pro-Gay Theology, the Film 1946, and the Multiverse

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 08/08/2023

Multiverse movies are all the rage these days. Spiderman, Avengers, The Flash…everyone wants to go back in time, correct a mistake in the past, and then live in a new “corrected” timeline that is free of the perceived defect.

What if the pro-gay theology advocates of the film 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture were able to harness that same power? If they could go back in time, what changes would they make, and what kind of ripple effect would that have on the new universe they created? Specifically, how would their timeline’s changes affect the Bible’s teaching on marriage, homosexuality, and sexual ethics?

The film 1946 claims the translation team of the 1946 RSV Bible wrongly translated the Greek word arsenokoitai as “homosexuals” in the Bible (specifically, in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10). As a result, they claim, the mistaken translation inappropriately influenced future English versions of the Bible to also include the word “homosexuals,” which has led to homophobia and persecution of the LGBT community.

Imagine, then, that the makers of the film 1946 contact Tony Stark and Marvel’s Avengers and borrow their time machine. They assemble their own intrepid team, the Pro-Gay Theology Avengers, travel back in time, and show up at the RSV translation team’s meeting to prevent the committee from translating arsenokoitai as “homosexuals.” If they were to succeed, what would the new timeline of history look like? Specifically, if the word “homosexuals” never occurred in any Bible verse, what changes would result in the new future? What would the Bible’s teaching on marriage, homosexuality, and sexual ethics look like today?

Here’s what would change: Nothing.

There would be no difference in the Bible’s teaching on marriage, homosexuality, or biblical sexual ethics. Of course, some things in the universe would be different. Obviously, even making a tiny change in history would cause a ripple effect in the future. Biblical sexual ethics, however, wouldn’t change. There would be no new permissions and no new prohibitions. The Pro-Gay Theology Avengers would return to the present moment disappointed because their position would remain hermeneutically unjustifiable even after removing the word “homosexuals” from the Bible.

Here’s how I know. Even if you erased 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 (the two verses that contain arsenokoitai) from the Bible, two biblical teachings would remain unchanged: 1) Scripture’s teaching on sex and marriage and 2) Old and New Testament teaching that homosexual sex is sin.

The Bible would still teach what sex and marriage should look like. Shortly after the creation event, God made humanity as “male and female” (Gen. 1:26) and outlined his blueprint for sex and marriage, explaining that “a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). It’s worth noting that only a man and a woman (not two men, two women, or any other grouping) are described in Scripture as being able to create a one-flesh union. God “blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’” (Gen. 1:27–28).

Jesus also endorsed this view in the New Testament when he quoted both passages:

Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate. (Matt. 19:4–6)

Jesus cited the Genesis creation account of sex and marriage because he believed it’s still authoritative. His view can be summarized as one man, with one woman, becoming one flesh, for one lifetime.

The Bible’s (and Jesus’) teaching on sex and marriage alone disqualifies homosexual sex as an option. Even if there were not a single passage referring to homosexuality in Scripture, it would still be evident that homosexual sex is sin simply because it deviates from the Bible’s positive teaching on sex and marriage. We know, however, that Scripture also addresses prohibited sex acts, one being homosexual sex.

The Bible would still teach that homosexual sex is sin in both Old and New Testaments. Both Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 are similar verses and very simple in their formulation: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female,” and, “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act.” Notice how straightforward the prohibition is: If you’re a man, you can’t lie with a man as you would a woman. It’s simple.

Pro-gay theology advocates claim these verses only refer to coercive, exploitive, or abusive forms of homosexuality (e.g., master-slave sodomy, men who have sex with boys, etc.). They say that since modern gay and lesbian interactions are characterized by loving, consensual relationships, the Levitical prohibitions don’t apply.

The problem with this objection is that such an extrapolation goes beyond the words in the verse. Not only does Leviticus 18:22 not say that, but you couldn’t deduce that conclusion from the context. The verse before this passage is a prohibition against sacrificing your children to Molech. The verse after is a prohibition against sex with animals. Nothing in the context, then, indicates this verse is limited to abusive homosexual sex acts. Nor is there any exception made for loving, consensual relationships. In fact, Leviticus 20:13 implicates both individuals (“both of them have committed a detestable act”), indicating the act was consensual. Therefore, the Levitical verses categorically reject any type of homosexual sex.

The other way pro-gay theology advocates attempt to dismiss the two Levitical texts is by arguing that Leviticus does not apply to New Testament believers. Christ, after all, fulfilled the Mosaic Law’s requirements (which includes Leviticus) and established a new covenant. While I agree that the Levitical prohibitions of the Mosaic Covenant aren’t part of the New Covenant, three things are worth mentioning about this objection.

First, the objection acknowledges that these two Levitical texts prohibited homosexual sex during the Mosaic Covenant. Even if the prohibition only applied to then, it’s worth noting that God deemed homosexual sex a sin during that time.

Second, the prohibited acts in Leviticus 18 were not only sinful for Jews under the theocracy of Israel, but they also applied to non-Jews and other nations. After listing the various sins in chapter 18, God required the “alien who sojourns among you” to not violate these prohibitions (Lev. 18:26). God also held non-Israeli nations responsible for committing these sins and cast them out of the land as punishment (Lev. 18:24). Therefore, the homosexual prohibition had a broader application to more than just the Jews under the theocracy.

Third, some Levitical prohibitions represent universal moral principles that go beyond the Mosaic era. Murder, for example, is prohibited in Leviticus, but we don’t claim such a prohibition is no longer relevant. That’s because it’s a universal truth that human lives are valuable, and such a principle is expressed not only in the Mosaic Law, but also in the New Covenant era. The same is true with homosexual sex. It’s prohibited in Leviticus but also in the New Testament (Rom. 1:26–27). That’s because the Bible upholds the universal truth that sex should only occur between a married man and woman (Matt. 19:4–6).

Even if the Pro-Gay Theology Avengers successfully altered the past by removing the word “homosexuals” from the Bible (from 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10), Romans 1:26–27 would still teach that homosexual sex is sin. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote:

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

The word “function” is translated from the Greek word chresis, which, according to the standard Greek lexicon, means “use, relations, especially of sexual intercourse.” Paul, then, is making a design argument. Men are designed to sexually function with women. Women are designed to sexually function with men. The men he refers to in this passage abandoned the natural sexual function of the woman and engaged in a “men with men” act that Paul describes as “unnatural” and “indecent.”

Even though the word “homosexuals” doesn’t appear—and has never appeared—in any English translation of this passage, there’s little uncertainty as to what is condemned. That’s because Paul clearly describes the behavior that is prohibited: the behavior when a man abandons the natural sexual function of a woman and has sex with another man.

It’s worth noting that the context of this passage—a creation narrative—strengthens this interpretation. Paul explains how the evidence of God’s handiwork in creation is so obvious that mankind is without excuse for not believing there’s a God who made what we see (Rom. 1:20). Some people, however, reject the obvious evidence of God’s hand in creation and end up worshiping the creation rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). These rebellious people reject the truth of God. It is within the context of rebellious people who exchange the truth of God for a lie that men exchange the natural function and design of a woman for a man.

Therefore, even if the Pro-Gay Theology Avengers were to succeed in traveling back in time to prevent the word “homosexuals” from entering the Bible, it wouldn’t change the Bible’s teaching on marriage, homosexuality, and sexual ethics. Scripture would still tell us that Jesus’ design for marriage requires a man and a woman for the creation of a one-flesh union, and both Old and New Testaments teach that homosexual sex is sin.

This is why I’ve argued that the film’s claims are irrelevant. They’re attacking a straw man. Our view (which I’ve argued is the biblical view) is not that the Bible labels a person—a homosexual—as a sinner. Our view is that the Bible condemns a behavior, homosexual sex, regardless of who engages in it.

In fact, the Greek word arsenokoitai, which the film claims is mistranslated as “homosexuals,” is a compound word that literally means “men who lie with males.” So, in one sense, I agree with the film. “Homosexuals” is probably not the best translation. I prefer the NIV’s “men who have sex with men” because the claim is that the Bible condemns a behavior.

Either way, no matter the Pro-Gay Theology Avengers’ success or failure, pro-gay theology remains mistaken and homosexual sex remains sinful—both in our universe and in the multiverse.

(Please note that this is not a review of the film 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture. I have not yet seen the film due to its limited release at local festivals. I will see it when it is released more broadly.)