Saturday, September 10, 2005

About Eunuchs

I heard something interesting about the Bible's references to Eunuchs that I had never heard before. In addition to that, the inference about their significance was intriguing - enough to want to research the idea further.

Many people have made the assertion that Jesus never makes any reference to gay people as recorded in the gospels. (Note: i'm making a distinction between "gay people" as those who are sexually oriented towards the same gender and "homosexuals" that are condemned in the Bible in the context of those who engaged in idol worship, male prostitution, and violent sexual acts of humiliation - gang rape/sodomy.) The contrary to this assertion is that Jesus indeed made reference to gay people when He used the term "Eunuch".

In Matthew 19, Jesus is asked about the issue of divorce which He says is adultery except for the case of marital unfaithfulness. He references the Genesis 1:27, 2:24 accounts about male and female becoming one flesh and that what God joins together let no man separate. In verses 11-12, "Jesus replied, 'Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the Kingdom of Heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.' "

What are eunuchs? It is commonly thought that a eunuch is one who is castrated. This is the modern definition of the word. However, there are others who assert that castration does not primarily define a eunuch. If a eunuch has the genitals removed, then that wouldn't fit with what Jesus said that "some" were "born that way" (because then how can they be removed while still in the womb?). Faris Malik did some extensive research into this subject and discovered that eunuchs did in fact have genitals. He found that many eunuchs were used for sexual purposes for certain men. The assertion here would be that castration was not a defining attribute of what made eunuchs as a class of people. If this is true, then Jesus' statement makes sense that some eunuchs are born that way and some eunuchs are "made" eunuchs. Or in other words, there are non-castrated eunuchs and castrated eunuchs. Malik says that "born eunuchs" or "non-castrated eunuchs" are those who are gay.

If the term "eunuch" was a word in ancient times (Greek, Roman, Biblical times) that referred to the term we use today as "gay", then that effects how we look at Scripture and its acknowledgement of us. This would mean that there are a number of potentially gay men identified in the Bible (ie. the Ethiopian eunuch that Philip witnessed to in Acts 8).

I'm told by the pastor of the Tab that eunuchs often served in two capacities. The first was that they were set apart for service to false gods either as temple priests or as prostitutes. The second was that they were set apart for royal service in the king's court, staff, or military officers. I would suppose that the function of the eunuch would determine whether or not the eunuch was a castrated one or not.

This leads to Isaiah who referred to Israel's unfaithfulness, captivity, and freedom, the persistent idolatry (including the activities of the eunuchs in the idol temples), and foreigners (along with their false gods). Isaiah discusses the Servant (or Messiah or Savior) and the salvation through Him, then in chapter 55 invites the "thirsty" to come. Ah the awesome redemption plan of God. But He goes further in Isaiah 56:3-5 talking about the foreigner and the eunuch who have chosen God:

"Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say 'The Lord will surely exclude me from His people.' And let not any eunuch complain, 'I am only a dry tree.' For this is what the Lord says: 'To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant - to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off...' "

At the time eunuchs were never allowed any where near the temple - not even the very outer courts. Here He's saying that he will be given a place within His temple and that they will be given a name better than sons and daughters. Much like today, the mainstream Church's refusal to allow those dirty impure gay people into the Body parallels the eunuchs being denied access to the temple of God. The passage in Isaiah suggests that those eunuchs who choose to serve the one true God rather than the false gods will be allowed in. Those gay people who choose to be Christ-centered and worship Him will be welcomed into the Body.

So now, back to Matthew 19 and Jesus' statement about marriage and divorce and adultery. He says that not everyone can accept this word but only those to whom it has been given. Then He mentions the eunuchs (gay people) who may not be able to accept this word about marriage because they were born that way (gay), or made that way (castrated), or chosen to stay single (gay or straight) in order to serve Him. And so He says, "the one who can accept this (regarding marriage and divorce) should accept it."

I thought these were some interesting assertions so I'm going to look into it further.


JJ said...

Yeah, I found that whole eunuch thing to be fascinating too... I still haven't gotten around to doing my own research on it though. I will get to it. The idea that Jesus Himself may have acknowldged that some people were born gay is rather overwhelming.

Of course, the question I'm asking -- whether or not this interpretation of eunuch is correct -- is what does that mean for us? I still don't know.

Anonymous said...

It is an interesting thesis, and worth investigating, but be sure to look at it with a critical eye. From a purely academic standpoint, some of the supporting claims seem a bit tenuous, in the sense that the alternative explanations are not well explored. That is not to say the claims are necessarily wrong, only that they do not make a sound basis for argument. Similarly, while the commentary on the nature and role of eunuchs in various societies is interesting, those which are distant from biblical society are largely irrelevant. Although we translate them the same, 'eunuch', we cannot blindly assume that their use of the word is the same as the biblical use translated 'eunuch'; only that the concept of a natural eunuch has existed at many times and places. The rather naive comments regarding genetics bothered me more than they would most people, just in their naivete (my undergraduate degree was in molecular biology, although I've specialized away from the genetics end of that now).

That aside, I really appreciate the journey you are sharing here. I really believe that not enough people honestly question their own beliefs to see if they actually match up with the will of God. That you are taking your time to really pursue this issue is very encouraging to me, and I wish you great discernment and understanding. I don't have any great advice or insight to give you, only encouragement to continue. For what it's worth, I don't believe that same-sex attraction is a sin at all, just a part of who a person is. But beyond that, when you want to consider Godly thoughts and actions, it gets all muddy. Clearly celibacy is a 'safe' option - to stay single for the work of God is clearly and repeatedly affirmed. Yet to assume all Christian gays are called to celibacy is an enormous leap. On the other hand, to assume that God blesses gay relationships and marriage is a loooong way from God blessing gay people.

Eric said...


Thanks, you make a lot of good points. I appreciate your encouragement for the journey and i'll keep in mind many of those things as i continue looking into the whole 'eunuch' theory.


JJ said...

Just realized I should probably put this here, instead of just leaving it as a a comment on my own blog. The book with the section on eunuchs that I read is The Children are Free

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for that.
I always believed that Eunuchs were eunuchs because of castration.
But now I see those passages in a brand new light.
As someone coming to grips with being gay, and Christian, it makes me feel better.