Revelations from the Word

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Eunuchs and the Kingdom of God

by Jean-Louis Coraboeuf

"His disciples said to Him: If such is the situation of the man with respect to the woman, it is not worth marrying. He answered them: All do not understand [choréo, leave a place in the heart] this word, but only to those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs [eunouchos] who are so from their mother’s womb; there are those who have become so through men; and there are those who have made themselves eunuchs, because of the kingdom of heaven. Let he who can understand understand" (Matthew 19:10-12).

A eunuch is a man who has been castrated who fulfils a particular social function; it was true at the time of Jesus in certain civilisations of the East. The word 'eunuch' is formed from the Greek word euné meaning 'bed' and from the Greek word echo 'to keep', it therefore means literally 'keeper of the bed'. Men were usually castrated to make them loyal servants of the royal court. Since they had neither wife nor descendants, important responsibilities could be entrusted to them because of their loyalty and devoted faithfulness to their sovereign.

By extension, a loyal and faithful man can be called a 'eunuch', as in this example: "In Egypt the Midianites gave Joseph to Potiphar, an officer [saris] of Pharaoh, captain of the guards" (Genesis 37:26). The Hebrew word saris means 'eunuch'. It is used here to describe the function of Potiphar who was however a married man. The Israelites did not practice castration, for a castrated or genitally mutilated man could not enter the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:1).

It is therefore as a term for celibacy or consecration that Jesus used the word 'eunuch'. He then gave the following explanation to His disciples:

  • certain people are celibate from their mother’s womb because of God’s plan for their life, according to the example of John the Baptist and Jesus (Matthew 3 and Luke 1),

  • others have become celibate because of the hardness of men’s heart (Matthew 19:8),

  • and others have made the choice to be celibate for personal convenience, in order to serve God.

The apostle Paul also said that when a man married, his first duty was to his wife and that celibacy, in this case, was a gift of God (1 Corinthians 7:1-7). Then he added that the one who was celibate ought first of all to seek to please God and the married man his wife (1 Corinthians 7:32-33). It is because of their lack of spiritual maturity that the apostle Paul made these recommendations to the Corinthians, knowing perfectly well that God had said, "It is not good that man should be alone" (Genesis 2:18).