My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.
Last week, we delved into word studies for the words chalaq (חָלָק) – smooth; and sa’iyr (שָׂעִיר) – hairy. This week’s article will be similar, but the word in question is the word saris (סָרִיס) – eunuch.
In the article, “God Made the Rainbow: Why the Bible Welcomes a Gender Spectrum,” Robyn J. Whitaker writes:
is not an isolated case of affirmation. Isaiah 56 speaks of God being pleased
with eunuchs who come to the temple and in Acts 8, a eunuch is fully included
in the new Christian community through baptism. In neither case is change
required of them before they can join the community in worship.”
There is so much wrong with this statement, I’m not even sure where to begin. Let’s start by examining the proof texts mentioned in Whitaker’s statement above. We will begin with Isaiah 56, specifically verses 3-5 (where eunuchs are mentioned).
“Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.”
Let’s begin with a few lexical housekeeping items.
- At the time of the writing of the book of Isaiah, Israelites were living under the Levitical law. According to the Torah (which was enforced during this time period), eunuchs (among others) were forbidden entrance into the temple (Leviticus 21:18-20). The Torah listed the eunuchs along with other disabled and deformed citizens (see verse below). Contextually, we see that the eunuchs who were outlawed from temple worship were specifically those with “damaged testicles.”
“No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand,or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles.”Leviticus 21:20
- Isaiah is a prophetic book. It is a prime example of what theologians refer to as an “already/not yet” passage—meaning, the text has a “right now” historical interpretation along with a secondary, “not yet” greater fulfillment.
An excellent example of an already/not yet passage is Psalm 22. David is clearly writing about his own experience of persecution, but woven within his “right now” woes are “not yet” prophecies of the things Christ would one day suffer on the cross. (See especially verse 1, where David cries, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And verse 8 where mockers say to David, “He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.” And verse 18, where David says, “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.”)
In addition, by simply noting the obvious shift of verb tense from Isaiah 56 verse 4 (present tense) to verse 5 (future tense) it should become immediately apparent that Yahweh is speaking to the eunuch’s present plight under the Levitical law in verse 4 (“For thus saith the LORD.” Saith is present tense). Whereas, in verse 5, Yahweh shifts to a future tense when he addresses the eunuchs twice, saying, “…I will give…”
- Whitaker states in her quote, “God [is] pleased with eunuchs who come to the temple,” and yet, her statement is not backed up in her proof text. The actual verse she is referencing (Isaiah 56:4) states: “For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant.”
While “professing to be a Christian” and “going to church” may go hand-in-hand in the United States of America in the 21st century—these two things were mutually exclusive at the time of the writing of the book of Isaiah.
Yahweh being pleased with those who:
(1) Keep His sabbaths
(2) Choose things that please Him
(3) Take hold of the covenant
DOES NOT EQUATE to Yahweh being “pleased with those who come into the temple.” At the time of the writing, it was strictly forbidden in the Torah for a eunuch to enter the temple—doing so would not have pleased Yahweh as it would have been outright rebellion against His law. And it is not possible to both please God via “taking hold of His covenant” while silmultaneously disregarding (“letting go of”) his covenant.
It is exegetical suicide to read ancient texts through the modern lenses of Declaration-of-Independence loving, Constitution-hugging citizens of the United States of America. From Day One, our country has revolved around themes of freedom and liberation—starting with the Mayflower all the way to the emancipation of the slaves, the right for women to vote, right up to the 21st century social issues of feminism and homosexual marriage.
But I dare say this is not a concept only dear to Americans or new to this century. Even back during the times of Christ, Israel didn’t want Jesus to be their Messiah or to die for their sins. They wanted a political leader. They wanted Jesus to be their king—to emancipate them RIGHT NOW from the tyranny of Rome. But Christ had a much deeper, much more drawn out plan of redemption in mind.
Isaiah 56 is no different. Yahweh was not abolishing the Torah in that moment and swinging wide the temple doors to let in all the riff-raff. But he was planting a seed—whetting gentile appetites for a future reality—something they could hang their hat on and long for with anticipation.
This passage has always meant a lot to me. I was born with a birth defect that severely deformed my face. I underwent 15+ years of reconstructive surgery, and even more years of being bullied, rejected, and sidelined by a shallow society that enforces beauty expectations that less than 1% of women could ever hope to live up to.
I deeply understand and empathize with the shame and isolation these eunuchs must have endured. Imagine being a man who kept the sabbaths, chose things which pleased God, and who took hold of the covenant (this is describing a very devout individual!) but being exiled from community and fellowship simply because he was not a biologically perfect specimen. This is one of the gray areas of living in a fallen world. This is a perfect example of the futility that mankind has been subjected to (Romans 8:20). But that is where the mystery (and the seeming injustice) of Isaiah 56 lies—it lies, not in isolation and rejection—but in HOPE. We are subjected to futility (injustice, rejection, isolation) SO THAT we will long for the return of our Messiah, who will make all things new, and at the point in time when Christ ushers in HIS kingdom, the eunuchs, the foreigners, the outcasts, the riff-raff, the lonely, the forgotten, the unloved, the deformed—we will be welcomed—at last!—into the sanctuary and into Christ’s open arms!
Whitaker then brings Acts 8 into the mix. This is her proof text that eunuchs can immediately be baptized and join fellowship without any change being required.
Let’s start with Acts 8:27 where we are introduced to the eunuch in question:
“And he [Philip] arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship.”
The exegetical key lies in the phrase, “…of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians.” More on that in a moment….
First—let’s bring some culture, context, history, geography, and language into the discussion. The English word eunuch derives from the Greek word eunouchos (Greek Strong’s 2135). The word has multiple definitions: (a) a chamberlain, keeper of the bed-chamber of an eastern potentate, eunuch, (b) a eunuch, castrated person, or one who voluntarily abstains from marriage.
Using Jesus Christ’s own words, we learn in Matthew 19:12 that there are three types of eunuchs.
- Those that were born that way (impotent, zero sperm count, or disfigured)
- Those that were made that way by men (castrated)
- Those who make themselves that way (spiritual vow of celibacy)
Sarah Bond, in her article, “What Game of Thrones Gets Right and Wrong About Eunuchs and Masculinity,” writes:
“A lot of misconceptions about eunuchs have proliferated since the premiere of Game of Thrones in 2011. A look back at the history of eunuchs allows us to explore what they really were, how they were castrated, and the ways in which we define masculinity in pop culture.”
Bond goes on to quote ancient historian Pierre Braint, who stated:
“Greeks likely weren’t always referring to a physical condition–i.e. castrated individuals missing their testes or (more rarely) their penis–when using the term: It is in fact fairly likely that, as in the Assyrian Court, the word had become a court title that did not refer to any particular physical characteristics.”
Briant’s assessment matches, not only the definition of the Hebrew word saris (which simply means “court official” or “court officer”) but it also brings the Acts 8 passage into clearer focus. When the text offers additional contextual support of the word eunuch by telling us that the Ethiopian eunuch was a man, “…of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure.”
Given the context of Acts 8, the biographical information provided
therein, the original meaning of the Hebrew word, as well as historical
evidence provided by ancient historians, there is absolutely no way of
concluding one way or the other that the Ethiopian eunuch mentioned in the book
of Acts was a man who had underwent castration, engaged in homosexual acts, or
identified as gender non-conforming.
But let’s say for a moment that he was castrated. The very reason that the ritual of castration was at some point in time enforced was so that virile (read: horny) men who were employed in royal courts, in some cases (such as the book of Esther) to supervise the harem – would not help themselves to the buffet.
This would seem to infer that the castrated eunuchs were likely men who had very healthy attractions toward females and in no way would identify as homosexual (or gender non-conforming). If homosexual men were chosen for such posts, why would castration even be necessary—the homosexual men that I know are repulsed by the thought of engaging in sexual relations with a female.
But I also find it baffling that a man—whether born impotent or disfigured, castrated purposely or accidentally, or who has taken a vow of celibacy automatically assumes a gender non-conforming self-identity or a same sex attraction.
We would never accuse a man born (or who went) blind of “preferring darkness.” So, why do we assume a man who is physically unable to biologically copulate with a woman as being in that situation out of some sort of choice or preference?
I found a most-fascinating comment on the Experimental Theology website. A man posting under the screen name of “Keith” leaves a lengthy, emotional response to the article entitled, “The Exclusion and Inclusion of Eunuchs.” The author’s (of the article) conclusion is, in essence, that “born eunuchs” (Matthew 19:12) was Jesus’ (wink wink) gay code for telling homosexuals that they were “born that way.”
Keith very forthrightly explains that he was born a eunuch, which he defines as having been born with zero sperm count, a low libido, and a biological inability to vaginally engage with a woman. It is also abundantly clear that Keith is upset, angry, and frustrated with this “eunuchs are homosexuals” theory—a theory that he has no doubt heard one too many times and it is on his last nerve. Here is an excerpt (warning—he is blunt).
“Now I will address your theory that homosexual men are eunuchs because they don’t find women sexually attractive, eunuchs do find women sexually attractive, but either by being born eunuch or by the hand of man or their own hand, they may or may not be able to penetrate a woman sexually, but can pleasure her in other sexual ways that don’t involve penis insertion into the woman vagina. Homosexual men find the female body repulsive, not attractive, they prefer to penetrate men for the pleasure of sexual intercourse, they deposit their sperm inside each other, rather than inside a woman for procreation. You see a homosexual man or men, still have the ability to produce sperm (seed) for procreation, even though they don’t use it for procreation, they still have it, the sin of homosexuality or men laying with men, has nothing to do with men loving one another it has to do with wasting your sperm (seed) inside of a man, rather than depositing it inside a woman where it was designed by God Almighty to go for the purpose of creating offspring. So, it is ok to love your fellow man, but not to unload your sperm inside of him, sperm is for the creation of offspring.”
Within the same comment section is a theological response offered by MarkP1971. In response to the claim that “born eunuch” equates to “born that way” in the homosexual sense, Mark replies:
“A very tempting path if I understand where you are heading, but I think Matt 19 on marriage, divorce and eunuchs need to be pulled in. Jesus restates there the ontological foundation of marriage as one man and one woman from genesis. Which is in a pre-fall state also which is almost impossible to think about. The Pharisees (and the disciples) want divorce – they want a law because of the hardness of their hearts. Jesus’ reply is not to relax that fundamental definition of sexuality and marriage, but to say that being the eunuch is the other option and not a redefinition of marriage and sexuality. In fact, it is Jesus who is the eunuch for the kingdom – the one crushed for our iniquities and cut off without descendants. And that act is salvific – fulfilling the promises to Abraham of many children and securing the bride the church.”
In other words, in the spirit of, “This is my story and I’m sticking to it”—when engaged in an argument with religious leaders who want to relax the strictness of the Torah regarding marriage and divorce—Jesus reiterates what His Father has said about it all along. Jesus verifies the unchanging nature of God’s design for marriage but throws out a facetious option (with the assumption that there will be no takers). In laymen terms, Jesus is telling the Pharisees, “If you don’t like what the Torah has to say about marriage and divorce, you could remain single and abstain from sex for the rest of your life instead.” This was not a suggestion that they go emasculate themselves so that they could “lawfully” indulge in homosexual sex acts. This was simply a snarky way of saying, “My way or the highway, boys!” [Mic drop].
This article has already exceeded its intended length and I only addressed half of Whitaker’s assertion. The second part of her claim is that the eunuchs mentioned in Isaiah 56 and Acts 8 were, “In neither case required [to change] before they joined the community in worship.” This is a preposterously unbiblical declaration worthy of its own article and I plan to tackle it in Part Four.