Eunuchs in the Bible

In the New Covenant, marriage is not an expectation since we don’t make new kingdom members by making babies but rather by sharing the gospel. Jesus affirmed the option of being a eunuch in Matt 19:11-12 when talking about people made eunuchs (castrated by emperors), born eunuchs, (asexual or possibly intersex), or made themselves eunuchs (either through castration or will-powered celibacy) for the Kingdom. Paul was a celibate eunuch and even encouraged being celibate in his letter to the Corinthians when talking about marriage (1 Corinthians 7:8). However he never required it, and even suggested getting married if a person can’t control their sexual desires. He recommends celibacy so that Christians could focus on the work of the Kingdom because single people could focus on the Lord’s work without the distractions of familial obligations (1 Cor 7:8-9).

In the old covenant, it was expected that everyone gets married because of the command to be fruitful and multiply in Gen 1:28 and Gen 9:1. Castration (or injury to male genitals) is recognized as uncleanness that got a person restricted from the assembly worship (Deut 23:1). This rule from Deut 23:1 may be based on principles associated with health requirements for the priesthood (Leviticus 21:16-24). However, these are birth defects and major injuries. In this case, since castration is done on purpose, it was a choice and God restricts a man from the assembly in his presence since he made the choice to not participate in being fruitful and multiplying. The Torah never outright states that a person has to have children to be righteous. Some women were barren, some people died before having children, and others were celibate, so obviously that was not a command. In fact, there is a blessing for Eunuchs in Isaiah 56:1-8. Since Israel and Judah were monarchies they may have adopted some foreign Gentile monarchy practices from their neighbors, like having only Eunuchs in their inner court. Ebed-melech an Ethiopian in the court of Zedekiah is mentioned in Jeremiah 29:15-18 and he is given a blessing for trusting God. Considering his position in the kingdom he would have been a eunuch. Daniel and the Hebrew boys (and possibly Nehemiah) were also eunuchs since they worked in the inner court of Emperors. Eunuchs were often castrated in the ancient world, in order to prevent them from sleeping with the emperor’s harem of women.

In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, Nehemiah is described as such: eunuchs (eunuch), rather than oinochoos (wine-cup-bearer). This is a possible explanation for why he was allowed to be in the queen’s presence in Nehemiah 2:6. In Nehemiah 6:10-14, a man named Shemaiah, who was working for two wicked men named Tobiah and Sanballat, tried to trick Nehemiah into going into the temple by lying to him and saying that there were assassins after him and he should hide in the temple. He realized it was a scheme, to get him to go into the temple. If he was a eunuch and went into the temple, it would have been a sin and his enemies could have used that to get him in trouble and discredit him as a man of God. Another possibility he didn’t go into the Temple was that he was an uncircumcised Gentile. Either way, Nehemiah was the cupbearer of Artaxerxes and cupbearers like many men in the inner circle of ancient emperors of various cultures were often turned into eunuchs.

In Roman law of the 1st century, it was illegal for a man or woman not to be married between the ages of 25-60 (for men) and 20-50 (for women). So for the Romans celibacy was a crime, and there were restrictions on those who were celibate, this is one of the many issues that put Christians at odds with the Roman empire. God doesn’t hate eunuchs, in fact, Jesus approves of them in Matt:19:11-12. Ancient Israelites culturally would have frowned upon such a thing, because they believed it was imperative to have children if you were physically capable for the sake of growing and sustaining their existence as a nation. In the old covenant, the Israelites had a different obligation, they were to inherit the land and preserve the bloodline until the Messiah comes because through Abraham’s seed all nations will be blessed (Gen 12:1-3). So it makes sense that they should make babies. However, in the new covenant, we don’t have to make physical babies, to complete the great commission. We are to teach all nations (Matt 18:28) so that they can be BORN AGAIN, which is the spiritual birth that is necessary to be a citizen in the Kingdom (John 3:1-8). Eunuchs can make more covenant people at a faster rate by preaching the gospel than couples can reproduce, so it would be a benefit for the great commission.

A person’s value is not based on whether or not they have physical children. It is not a sin to go childless. The goal of the new covenant is to love God and our neighbors by sharing his truth. In doing so we help lead people to be “born” again. Let’s not punish people for not getting married or choosing to not have children even while married.