3 types of eunuchs in the bible

Eunuchs are a part of the Bible that often get overlooked. But they’re there—and their presence is significant.

In the Old Testament, eunuchs were typically men who had been castrated or who had undergone other forms of emasculation in order to serve as palace guards and attendants to the king. The word “eunuch” comes from the Greek word eunouchos, which means “bed chamber guard.” They were often people who had been taken away from their families at an early age and raised by the royal court.

In the New Testament, eunuchs may have been those who were born with ambiguous genitalia, intersex individuals (people whose sex characteristics don’t fit traditional definitions of male or female), or those who underwent surgery for non-religious reasons (like someone who was born with both male and female organs). Some scholars believe these eunuchs were either castrated men or those who voluntarily chose not to marry or have children because they wanted to dedicate themselves completely to God.

What Is a Eunuch?

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines eunuch as “a castrated man” and “a person or thing with some kind of incapacity.”[1] The word castrated means that a man’s testicles were removed or crushed so that they could not function. Consequently, castrated males lose their sexual drive and cannot procreate. Such men were commonly used to guard a king’s harem in ancient times (see the book of Esther). Acts 8:27 is the only time the New Testament mentions an individual who is a eunuch. He is an “Ethiopian eunuch, court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.” The second definition would include any man whose testicles failed to function properly resulting in insufficient or no male hormones.

“A “eunuch” is “a man who has been castrated (= had the sex organs that produce sperm removed).” Cambridge English Dictionary

The Hebrew word for eunuch is “sars, סָרִיס”  pronounced “saw-reece.” In the Old Testament that word is mentioned 45 times. Eunuch (in Greek eunouchos) is referred to in only two passages in the New Testament—Matthew 19 and Acts 8. The word, also, indicates an “official” who is castrated and put in charge of harems or other duties.

In c. 35 AD—After Philip (the Evangelist—one of the 12 Deacons in Acts 6:1-6) left Samaria, he was commanded by the Lord to go to the 50-mile stretch of road that led south from Jerusalem to Gaza where a Godly, seeking and eager black eunuch from Ethiopia became the first black Gentile whose conversion story is detailed in the New Testament:  

“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road, the desert road, that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. So (Philip) started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked. ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

The eunuch was readingthis passage of Scripture: ‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.’ (Isaiah 53:7,8) The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’

And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.” Acts 8:26-39

That unnamed, everlastingly renowned Ethiopian eunuch was chosen to be the first to bring the Gospel to Africa. Though he was castrated and unable to have children, the promises in Isaiah 56:3-5 aptly apply to him:

“…let not any eunuch complain, ‘I am only a dry tree.’ 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.” 

The billions who know this story over the millennia revere and know “that African eunuch” who had his genitals cut off but his “everlasting name will never be cut off.”

Interestingly, it was an Ethiopian eunuch in the Old Testament who rescued the prophet Jeremiah from certain death: 

“But Ebed-Melek, an Ethiopian, an ‘official’ in the royal palace (likely, also a eunuch), heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. While the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate, Ebed-Melek went out of the palace and said to him, “My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have thrown him into a cistern, where he will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city.”

Then the king commanded Ebed-Melek the Ethiopian, “Take thirty men from here with you and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.”

So Ebed-Melek took the men with him and went to a room under the treasury in the palace. He took some old rags and worn-out clothes from there and let them down with ropes to Jeremiah in the cistern. Ebed-Melek the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, “Put these old rags and worn-out clothes under your arms to pad the ropes.” Jeremiah did so, and they pulled him up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the courtyard of the guard.” Jeremiah 38:7-13 

Jezebel in the Bible was a wicked women who married the Jewish King Ahab in the 800’s BC. She had the king introduce to the Jews her pagan god Baal-Melkart and had most of the prophets of Yahweh killed. “Jezebel” has became a by-word for “a wicked woman.” Eunuchs caused her “down-fall.”

“Then Jehu went to Jezreel. When Jezebel heard about it, she put on eye makeup, arranged her hair and looked out of a window. As Jehu entered the gate, she asked, “Have you come in peace, you Zimri, you murderer of your master?”

He looked up at the window and called out, “Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked down at him. “Throw her down!” Jehu said. So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot.

Jehu went in and ate and drank. “Take care of that cursed woman,” he said, “and bury her, for she was a king’s daughter.” II Kings 9:30-34

Especially during the BC’s, most of the cultures in the ancient world had men whom they castrated and appointed as “officials.” The men were castrated so they would have no distractions other than the King’s business. All ancient civilizations have a history of “making” eunuchs—a long-storied history.

Eunuchs In the Bible — Created By God

The most significant passage in the Bible about eunuchs occurs in Matthew 19. Verses 10-12 capture an important statement made by Christ.

The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” But He said to them, “ 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 19:10-12 (NASB)

Here Jesus states there are three types of eunuchs. The first type of eunuch is a man who is a eunuch at birth. That is, he does not have any testicles at birth. Medical authorities refer to this as cryptorchidism. Technically, cryptorchidism can refer to a man who is missing one or both testicles.

Since some men are born without testicles, these men were made eunuchs by God. For in Exodus 4:11-12 God declares that He makes the mute, deaf and the blind.

The LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.” Exodus 4:11-12 (NASB)

He determines our physical condition at birth. God permits many things to occur in a believer’s life but it is always for our good (Romans 8:28). He also allows physical variations to occur to draw men and women to Himself. In John 9:1-3, we are told that God allowed a man to be born blind in order to give God glory. God was then glorified when Jesus healed Him. God was also glorified when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:40-45; 12:9, 17). We have discovered that sometimes men are born as eunuchs because God decided that they would be eunuchs. Only God knows the purpose (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Eunuchs In the Bible — Made By Men

The second type of eunuch is a man who was castrated (see previous section). Either his testicles were cut off or crushed so that they ceased to function. This is the type of eunuch we usually think about. Historically men were made eunuchs in the ancient world by castration. The testicles were removed or crushed; sometimes the entire penis and scrotum were removed. These men were surgically made eunuchs.

The Bible gives us warnings in Leviticus 21:17–21; 22:22–24 that men who have had crushed testicles could not serve as a priest in Israel. The warning does not appear to apply to the inability to procreate but to a man whose testicles had been intentionally crushed. Also, Deuteronomy 23:1 prohibits a castrated man from entering the Lord’s house. But most likely this was due to the pagan practice of castration for religious purposes in the Canaanite religion.[2, 3]

Eunuchs In the Bible — Made By Oneself

The third type of eunuch is a man who decided to not marry in order to be fully committed in service to God. This context helps us understand this statement because Jesus was just asked by the disciples, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” That is, some men may choose to not marry “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Paul the apostle states that he lived without a wife in order to serve the Lord. Notice his comment in 1 Corinthians 7:7-8.

Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 1 Corinthians 7:7-8 (NASB)

In these two verses Paul reveals that he was not married. Since these two verses follow verses 5-6, which discuss the need for regular sexual activity, we must understand that some men do not need regular sexual activity. The ability to be happy without being married is a gift from God. Thus the third type of eunuch is a man who has genitals but does not need to be married. He does not have a sexual drive.

Conclusion:

In 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 Paul teaches us that we do not have to be physical eunuchs. We can choose to be highly devoted to the Lord Jesus and serve Him. It is a personal decision between an individual and the Lord.

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. . . . 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 7:32, 35 (NASB)

One can be completely devoted to the Lord while married.  Paul’s point is that if one is not married, one can give even more time to the Lord.

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