Given the current temperature of our culture there has been a large attempt at twisting biblical words to give acceptance to sinful acts. The word “eunuch” is no exception.
“Eunuch” is a relatively scarce term in the Bible. In the ESV the word “eunuch” only appears 38 times (28 in the Old Testament, 10 in the New Testament), so why talk about it? If you are a frequent listener of my podcast and live stream then you know homosexuality and the biblical response to it is a hot topic at the moment. There has been a large attack on this word eunuch and it’s meaning within the biblical texts. Today I ask two questions: 1. Were eunuchs homosexuals? and 2. How does Jesus use the word eunuch in Matthew 19:12?
Eunuchs in the Ancient World
The Lexham Bible Dictionary speaks of eunuchs being sought after for their loyalty and trustworthiness.
“Ancient Near Eastern cultures made frequent use of eunuchs, particularly in service to royalty. Royal leaders such as Cyrus the Great sought out eunuchs as servants because he perceived them as loyal, compliant, and trustworthy around women (e.g., Xenophon, Cyropaedia 7:59–65). Eunuchs could possess noteworthy roles such as statesmen, military generals, and palace officials; however, often they supervised the female quarters of a royal home or oversaw a royal harem.”
The trustworthiness of eunuchs around women in particular is what has lead most to believe that eunuchs were commonly referred to as homosexuals, or rather homosexuals were referred to as eunuchs. The sheer lack of historical evidence of homosexuals being referred to as eunuchs is enough to disprove the claim. Is it true that some eunuchs may have been homosexuals? Absolutely, but to assert that all (or even a majority) of eunuchs were homosexuals is simply a straw man built up by those hoping to render homosexuality a sinless act permissible in Scripture.
Eunuch in the Old Testament
The most frequent appearance of eunuch is in the Old Testament. The meaning of eunuch is someone who has been castrated and/or is incapable of reproducing. Most of the occurrences of the word are referring to a servant of the king and often times are found in a phrase such as “the king’s eunuchs.”
In fact the Hebrew word for eunuch comes from a word that translated literally means “he who is head to the king.” It would be safe to assume that most of the time (but not always) the word eunuch is used to refer to a servant of royalty rather than a castrated male.
It is good to note that verses such as Deut. 23:1 exclude eunuchs from the assembly of the Lord. This is most likely due to the fact that emasculation was a form of pagan worship and thus the intention was to keep pagan worshippers away from the worship of God. In addition this command communicates the goodness of God’s creation and how we should not seek to change or mutilate it. The prophet Isiah communicates Christ’s intentions and desires for eunuchs in Isa. 56:3-5, which leads us to our next point.
Eunuchs in the New Testament & Matthew 19:12
Eunuch is written as eunouchos (eunuch) and eunouchizō (castrate) in the New Testament greek. Eunouchos is translated literally as the guardian of the bed. Additionally eunuch only appears 10 times in the New Testament in only two separate passages (Matthew 19:12, Acts 8:28). The Lexham Bible Dictionary speaks about the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts saying,
“Scholars have debated whether the Ethiopian eunuch mentioned in Acts 8:28 was castrated. Baltensweiler argues that in this instance, the Greek term εὐνοῦχος (eunouchos) is an official title rather than a reference to a castrated male (Baltensweiler, “εὐνοῦχος, eunouchos,” NIDNTT 1:560). On the other hand, Marshall argues that that this individual was a eunuch: He notes that Philip discovered the Ethiopian reading from Isaiah, which suggests that the Ethiopian’s coming to faith in Christ was a fulfillment of Isa 56:3–5 (Marshall, “Acts,” 573).”
Christ’s use of the word eunuch in Matthew 19:11-12 is especially noteworthy for two reasons. First, because he differentiates between types of eunuchs and secondly because he states “those who have been made eunuchs by men” are recognized in the kingdom, confirming the prophet Isiah’s words in Isa. 56:3-5.
In Matthew 19:12 Jesus says, “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” In this passage we have three uses, or senses, of the word eunuch.
First Christ recognizes those eunuchs who have been so from birth. This refers to those who have the inability to reproduce. Second, Christ recognizes those eunuchs who have been made so by men. These are those who have been castrated and as said before his statement here confirms the prophet Isiah’s words.
Lastly, Christ recognizes those who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of God. This does not mean that they have castrated themselves for the kingdom, but rather they have committed to celibacy and single-hood as to be devoted to God and undistracted in his work. This verse can be compared to Paul’s passage in 1 Corinthians 7:25-40.
In closing we can state that the word eunuch does not refer to homosexuals. Christ’s words in Matthew 19:12 do not mean you can be born homosexual (can you be born homosexual? As of now my answer is yes) and his words do not warrant same-sex relationships or same-sex marriage. In fact most eunuchs in scripture were actually royal servants and not even castrated males. Further more there is no evidence in history that a vast majority of eunuchs were homosexuals.