When God established rules for who could – and who could not – enter into or serve within the Tabernacle, and later the Temple of God, He made a curious prohibition against those who were castrated, or who “had their testicles crushed”. [See Lev. 21:20]
These people are more commonly referred to in the Scriptures as “eunuchs”.
Later, through the prophet Isaiah, God made these eunuchs a promise:
“Let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” [Isaiah 56:3-7]
God’s promise is to give these people, who were formerly outcast, a place of honor in God’s House. However, it was never fulfilled under the Old Covenant.
So, was this promise left unfulfilled? Not at all.
You see, when Jesus is responding to the Pharisee’s question regarding divorce, his disciples throw up their hands in exasperation after hearing Him say that a man may not divorce his wife other than for the sin of adultery. They exclaim, “Why even get married, then?” To which Jesus replies:
“Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.” [Matthew 19:11-12]
Curiously, Jesus seems to make a statement that he realizes will be difficult for His disciples to wrap their minds around. “Tuck this one in your back pocket for now,” he seems to say. “This won’t make any sense to you now, but later on this concept will become more clear.”
So, what is a eunuch? Is it simply someone who has no interest in the opposite sex? Or in marriage? Is it someone who has no functional genitalia [as in Lev.21:20]? And, what is the difference between a eunuch who is “born that way” and those who are “made eunuchs by men” and “those who made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom”?
Jesus bookends this statement with the warning: “Not all men can accept this. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”
Whatever a eunuch might be, we see that Jesus is referencing the earlier promise made by Isaiah. Jesus honors those who are eunuchs – whether because they were born that way, made that way, or for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In the context of his dialog with the Pharisees and the Disciples, Jesus seems to place the emphasis on those eunuchs who choose not to marry – not to participate in the normative practices of the culture – but who instead devote themselves totally to the Gospel and the Kingdom of God.
Keep in mind that, in Jewish culture, a woman had no value apart from child-birth. A man without male children was a disgrace and most likely cursed by God. Even the “Chosen” status of the Children of Israel was tied to giving birth to the eventual Messiah. How could anyone choose to disengage from that most natural and holy endeavors as being married and having children in a culture like this?
As we’ve already noted, that promise in Isaiah to eunuchs being granted a “monument and a name better than sons and daughters” was never fulfilled in the Old Covenant “House of God”, but it was certainly fulfilled in the New Covenant “House of God”, which is the ekklesia, or Body of Christ.
Who was the first non-Jewish convert baptized into the new Temple of God? A eunuch from Ethiopa. [See Acts 8:27]
When the evangelist Philip met this man he was reading from Isaiah 53:7-8. Imagine this eunuch’s surprise after his baptism when he, no doubt, continued on reading in the scroll and discovered the promise of God to him – and to every other eunuch – a few chapters later in Isaiah 56:3-7.
Who else has made themselves a eunuch for the Kingdom of God?
Well, Jesus, for one. He abandoned his identity as a potential husband or a father, in the natural sense, to embrace the title of Bridegroom for a people who would become his Bride through faith in Him. His only “Bride” or wife is us, the Church.
Paul was also a “eunuch for the Kingdom” who remained celibate for the sake of the Gospel, and urged others to do the same:
“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. . . But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried…is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.” [1 Corinthians 7:8, 32-33]
What of those who embrace their natural identity and who become fathers and mothers, or husbands and wives? Those labels will vanish and fade away in the age to come:
“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” – Jesus [Matt. 22:30]
But for those who do embrace this calling to become eunuchs for the Kingdom, there is a promise that is eternal and that will never be taken away.
Jesus gives us three categories of eunuchs: Those who were “born that way”, those who “were made that way by men” and those who “are eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom”.
Eunuchs who are “made that way by men” are undoubtedly those who were castrated. This tells us that the Ethiopian eunuch, and the eunuch who lived and served in the Temple [see 2 Kings 23:11] were both “born that way from their mother’s womb”. How do we know this? Because if they had been “made that way by men” [i.e. “castrated”] then they wouldn’t have been admitted into the Temple, according to the prohibition commanded in Leviticus 21:20.
So, what does it mean to be someone who is a eunuch “from their mother’s womb”? Many believe that this would be a reference to what we would call someone with a same-sex attraction. Why? Because these people did not exhibit what would have been seen as a “normative” sexual orientation.
The third category that Jesus mentions is someone for whom the expected sexual norms and usual gender roles do not apply. Furthermore, it is someone who has embraced a new identity in Christ to become a eunuch for the Kingdom, by choice.
This is what Jesus did. It’s what Paul the Apostle did and urged others to do, “if they can receive it.”
What greater calling can there be than to become, like Jesus our Lord and the Apostle Paul, one of the eunuch’s for the sake of the Kingdom of God?
Note: I say this only to remove dishonor from those who have willingly chosen such a life, or who have been born this way. This is not an attempt to recruit people into a life of celibacy, nor away from – or towards – any sort of lifestyle.
Granted, not everyone is “born this way” and few of us are “made this way by men”, but there are several who do not value traditional marriage as much as others do. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Christians for whom the traditional role of husband or wife, or mother or father, is not an option. Whether by sexual attraction or by lack of opportunity, these men and women are on the outside of the cultural norms and sexual identities that our society has imposed upon them. Many of them are ok with this identity. Others wish they could change their condition. But, my point is, that they need not feel condemnation from God regarding their condition.
So, rather than endure the shame that is often tied to this classification, these dear people are among an elite tribe of human beings who have been given a promise, and a monument, and an everlasting name that will be, in the House of God, one of honor and of high esteem. Our Lord Himself has identified with them and stands beside them as one who is on the outside of normative cultural expectations for gender and sexuality and identity.
Now, I also know that many who are Gay and Christian who want nothing more than to find another person to share their life with. This is a common, human desire. My hope is to share another possibility that they might consider embracing – a promise from God to step into a place of exceptional service for their Lord and King. However, this is only one option, not the only option.
As much as we might not want to believe it, celibacy is not a death sentence. For many in the Kingdom of God, it is a high calling and a position of great honor. But, celibacy need not become a dead-end option either. If God does not condemn those who are outside of the cultural norms of gender and sexuality, why should we?
Is there anyone, today, who has abandoned their normative cultural – and natural – identity as a husband or a wife? If so, they may now embrace the example of Jesus and of Paul the Apostle who served as “eunuchs for the Kingdom” and experienced the promise of God through the prophet Isaiah to receive a “a monument and a name better than sons and daughters” and “an everlasting name that will not be cut off.”
Is there anyone who has been born different than others around them; with a sexuality that doesn’t seem to conform to commonly-accepted norms? Then find yourself deep in the arms of blessing from your Abba, Father who draws you close and whispers:
“I will give to you, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give you an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”
Let those who can receive it, receive it.
Keith Giles is a former pastor who left the pulpit 11 years ago to start a church that gives away 100% of the offering to the poor in their community.
His new book “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.
He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb” with a Foreword by Greg Boyd.
Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho.
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