God and Homsexuality: Part 4 – “Eunuchs Who Have Been So From Birth” Matt 19

* WARNING* Today’s post is rather lengthy but, in my defense…it needed to be. 😉

Another week has gone by and it is time to discuss another passage from the scriptures that relates to homosexuality. Today I want to cover Matthew 19:3-12 mainly because of the discussion about whether or not people are born homosexual as well as whether it is “natural” or against nature. it is vital to have this discussion as we move into the New Testament verses regarding same sex relations.

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

The context of this section is marriage and divorce, let’s start with that. Jesus is approached by the Pharisees about whether or not the divorce practices of the day were lawful. Jesus answers  by telling them what God said to Adam and Eve. The Pharisees are unsatisfied with this answer and say, “But what about Moses?”  Jesus tells them that the law of Moses in regard to divorce were given because of the hardness of people’s hearts not because God wanted people to get divorced. Jesus has in essence brought marriage back to before the law and said the ideal is for people to get married, become one and not to separate and return to the homes of their families. Once again, Jesus makes it about the law of love.

Now the disciples decide to get involved in the conversation, they say, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” What comes next has always seemed really odd to me. Jesus starts talking about eunuchs! What do eunuchs have to do with it? Is Jesus just changing the subject or what? No, he isn’t changing the subject he is just expanding it to include the sexual minorities of the day. This appears to be a list of the people who should not marry members of the opposite sex. So the disciples say to Jesus, “this is hard, maybe its better for men and women not to get married” and Jesus says, “No, this is hard but the reason not to marry isn’t because it is difficult but rather is because of: how one was born, something that was done to them, or their choice not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom.”  These three groups are listed as: #1. “eunuchs who have been so from birth”, #2. “eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men” and #3. “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”.

Ok, now let’s address these three groups in reverse order.
#3. “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” – This phrase is also translated as, “others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven”, “some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven”, and “others have decided to be celibate because of the kingdom of heaven”. It seems clear that these are people who have decided to abstain from sex with women for the sake of the Kingdom.

#2. “eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men” – This phrase referred to castrated males. This was a very common practice and was frequently done “early enough in his life for this change to have major hormonal consequences” and was “carried out on the soon-to-be eunuch without his consent in order that he might perform a specific social function.”

#1. “eunuchs who have been so from birth” –  AHA!!! Now we get to brass tacks! What exactly does this mean? Some say it means that Jesus is acknowledging that men can be born homosexual and some say that Jesus is merely referring to people who are born without testicles or who are impotent.

According to the Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Hebrew Lexicon, the Hebrew word for eunuch is saris and its derivatives. Saris is believed to be an Assyrian loan word. A secondary meaning of saris, from the Hebrew, is to castrate but Jesus speaks with divine authority when He teaches that not all eunuchs are castrated, Matthew 19:12. According to Jesus, some eunuchs are born that way, in distinction from a man who has been physically castrated.

Prominent evangelical professor, Dr. Robert Gagnon who believes all homosexual practice is sinful, put it this way,

Probably “born eunuchs” in the ancient world did include people homosexually inclined, which incidentally puts to the lie the oft-repeated claim that the ancient world could not even conceive of persons that were congenitally influenced toward exclusive same-sex attractions…

John J. McNeil, is a Jesuit Priest and also earned his PhD in Philosophy from Louvain University in Belgium asserts,

The first category, those born as eunuchs, is the closest description we have in the bible of what we understand today as a person with a homosexual orientation.

In the book, Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, Jack Rogers makes some very insightful points about this passage.

Many commentaries focus on the discussion about divorce and miss the larger point of the passage. But look carefully: Jesus is asked a question about heterosexual marriage and divorce and immediately broadens the conversation to acknowledge three different types of sexual minorities in that culture…That is stunning, especially given that “the eunuch was persona non grata both socially and religiously” in that culture.

It is clear that Jesus did not see humanity as universally heterosexual.  Jesus recognized and acknowledged many types of sexual difference–even in a society in which such difference would have been downplayed, hidden, or even punished.

…the text which immediately precedes Jesus’ discussion of eunuchs, Jesus stands up for women. As Boheche observes, “Jesus counsels mutuality between husband and wife, rather than affirming the traditional laws of divorce which favored the husband.” And in the text which immediately follows our text, Jesus blesses the little children, another group who would have been largely ignored at the time.

Rogers also ties this passage to the story of Philip and Ethopian eunuch. He makes several good points here as well. First that an “angel of the Lord” directed Phillip to go down the road that led him to the encounter. Then the Holy Spirit directed him again to, “Go over to the chariot and join it.” He goes on to point out that this eunuch was the first Gentile to be baptized, and he was not just a Gentile but was a foreigner of a different race and ethnicity who also belonged to a sexual minority who was not fully welcome in the worship community. His baptism signaled a seismic shift in who was allowed to be a part of God’s Kingdom (The True Magic Kingdom).

It is also significant that the Eunuch was reading from the book of Isaiah. Theodore Jennings Jr., professor of biblical and constructive theology at Chicago Theological Seminary, discusses this fact extensively. He makes the point, “The Isaiah being read by the eunuch is the same prophet who specifically includes eunuchs in the divine dispensation.” Let’s look at the passage from Isaiah that the eunuch was reading:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” (Isa. 53:8)

Nancy Wilson of the Metropolitan Community Church says,

The term ‘cut off’ is a reference to the curse that was placed on anyone that was exiled, executed by capital punishment, or did not reproduce. The Ethiopian eunuch was reading a prophesy of a Messiah with whom he could identify!”

Isaiah is also significant because it reverses previous prohibitions against eunuchs in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. In Isaiah 56:4-5 it says:

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.

The Eunuch had been visiting the temple in Jerusalem to worship, he was reading his own copy of the book of Isaiah (which would have been very rare) so it is quite likely he was aware of this text.
He was a man of faith and God honored it. The Holy Spirit could have chosen anyone to be the first Gentile convert and the Holy Spirit chose an black, African, sexual minority and his story was a picture of faith and commitment that was met with radical grace and inclusiveness.

In these two passages along with the parable of the good Samaritan we see God over and over expand the story. First he includes a hated, alien, outcast, “half-breed” Samaritan who exemplifies what it means to love your neighbor. Then he takes a question about heterosexual marriage and divorce and expands the conversation to include sexual minorities. Finally, the Holy Spirit guides Phillip to baptize the Ethiopian eunuch! In all three cases the formerly marginalized are welcomed and honored just as they are. That is the good news. Jesus welcomes the outcast, the marginalized, all races, all peoples, women, children, the disabled, the poor, the widow and even sexual minorities. The trajectory of scripture moves toward redemption. Isaiah makes it clear that eunuchs are being included in the Kingdom and Jesus makes it clear that there are “born eunuchs”; People whose natural attraction is not toward the opposite sex. From these passages we can conclude that at the very least, that Jesus was aware of sexual minorities, he didn’t condemn them, and that we are to welcome them into our worship communities.

God and Homosexuality: A Weekly Exploration

Last week my husband challenged me to explore this issue and share with him what I found. I decided I also wanted to share this journey with you. So today I am embarking on a new Monday series. For the next several weeks I will be exploring my understanding of the passages most often used to “prove” that homosexuality (or at the very least homosexual acts themselves) are sinful.

I feel it is important to start with an understanding of the way I read scripture and the way I don’t read scripture. When I pull up my Bible on my chosen Apple product, I no longer read it as a blue print, owner’s manual for life or constitution.  Instead, I try to read the Bible these days as a living breathing library of books. A library of books written by humans who were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Books not written in a vacuum, but written by a person with a specific set of talents, a specific vocabulary and a specific set of life experiences who lived in a specific time and in a specific culture. I no longer look at every word of the Bible as a telling of exactly what God wanted to happen; rather, I look at the Bible  as a collection of poems, prose, psalms and prophesies. Yes, some of them are history (they actually happened, some did not but are merely stories, and some we will never be sure). I believe that they all come together to tell an amazing story. It is a story of redemption, of love, of reconciliation. The books in the library we call the Bible tell the story not necessarily of what God wanted to happen but rather they tell the stories God wanted us to hear. Just like us, God tells us stories for a specific purpose. Sometimes to fill us with wonder and delight, sometimes to teach us a lesson, sometimes to stir our hearts against injustice, always to move us to action; always to move us toward love.

If you want to read a book that explains the way I look at the Bible you can check out The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight. I highly recommend it. In this book the author talks about how God spoke in Moses‘ days in Moses’ ways and in Paul’s days in Paul’s ways etc, etc.

I am looking forward to taking this journey with you. I hope that it is mutually beneficial for all of us.

Conversation Over.

Yesterday I took a road trip to Waco with one of my favorite people to hear Rachel Held Evans speak at Baylor University‘s chapel service. Let’s just say, I went expecting awesomeness and I was not disappointed. We didn’t just get to hear Rachel speak at chapel, we also got to head to “The Bobo” (The Bobo Spiritual Life Center) and participate in a brown bag lunch Q & R session. When I walked into the room I noticed there was an open seat next to RHE and well, I’m not gonna lie, I totally almost ran to sit in it. There were several things I took away from my day at Baylor.

 1. Truett Seminary is emergent and egalitarian friendly! Who knew, right? Yesterday I met Ryan Richardson and his lovely wife Kristen. He is an Associate Chaplain and the Director of Worship at Baylor and she is an Associate Chaplain and Director for Formation and Baptist Student Ministries. He enthusiastically told me that Truett Seminary has been quite egalitarian for several years. Ryan is responsible for scheduling the chapel speakers and has brought in speakers like Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt and, of course, Rachel Held Evans (twice!).

 2. While Rachel was talking she said something that caught my ear. The Bible is a conversation starter not a conversation ender. We often make the Bible something it never says it is. We call it a guide book, a blue print, a manual and a constitution, when in reality it is none of these. I like McLaren’s picture of the Bible as a library.

 First, we must displace the habit of reading the Bible flatly. In a constitution, Article 5 has the same authority as Article 2. When the Bible is read this way, Jesus’ life and words are pressed down and flattened to the same level as those of Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul, and Jude. In this approach, the words of and about Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, and Jude are all “inspired Scripture,” so they all have the same value and authority. This elevation of the Bible above Christ is remarkably common in conservative churches, where it would never be stated so baldly, but is nevertheless rampant. In this light, it’s interesting to analyze the use of the words “Bible” and “biblical” in names and discourse. Think of the subtle (but potentially significant) difference between a Bible church and a community of disciples of Christ, or a Bible college and a discipleship college, or a Bible teacher and a disciple-maker. Think of the difference between arguing that an idea or behavior is biblical (meaning one can use constitutional reading techniques to justify it) and claiming that it is Christ-like. One might argue (by avoiding everything we’re recommending here!) that it is biblical to commit genocide by quoting Deuteronomy 7, but one could never claim it is Christ-like.

When we view the Bible as a library, we are free to place more importance on the words of Jesus over the words of Paul or the words about genocide. Jesus is -and was – God made flesh. He is the perfect representation of all we are to strive to become. We are encouraged to have the mind of Christ, not the mind of Moses or even of Paul. Rachel talked about this again in her post yesterday about Christian Smith’s book, The Bible Made Impossible. Please forgive the quote within a quote but I thought it was a good insight.

In The Bible Made Impossible, Smith tackles the problem of  “biblicism,” which he defines as “a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.”

Biblicism falls apart, Smith says, because of the “the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism,” for “even among presumably well-intentioned readers—including many evangelical biblicists—the Bible, after their very best efforts to understand it, says and teaches very different things about most significant topics…It becomes beside the point to assert a text to be solely authoritative or inerrant, for instance, when, lo and behold, it gives rise to a host of many divergent teachings on important matters.”

3. Another point she made that I loved was that the Bible does not layout one path to biblical womanhood (or manhood for that manner). She pointed out that often today, the 50s ideal of June Cleaver is lifted up as the model of biblical womanhood. In reality, the world and time in which the Bible was written had never seen the likes of June Cleaver. In fact, you can search high and low in scripture and you will not find a single woman who fits that model. The Bible is full of woman and about the only thing that is for sure is that every one of them is unique and different and has her own gifts just like all of us. I don’t know about you, but I am so comforted that God doesn’t choose to give women just one blueprint of what biblical womanhood is all about, but instead provides many vastly different examples of what it means to be an Aishat Chayil! Woman of Valor!!

4. I was also struck by the story Rachel told about the ceremony she and her friend had honoring the women of the Bible who were victims of violence perpetrated in the name of God. She talked about how we need to remember them, how we need to honor them by telling their stories. It is easy to read over the difficult passages of the Bible and forget that these were real people with real lives who were made to suffer in the name of God. I don’t think these stories are included in our library we call the Bible because it is the way things were supposed to be.  Rather, these stories serve as examples of what horrible things can be done in the name of God. I think these stories are warnings. God’s way of saying, this isn’t me, this isn’t what I want…stop it. “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” Ultimately, God sends his son because the message just doesn’t seem to be coming through. Jesus comes to love, to sacrifice, to ransom the captives and set at liberty those who are being oppressed. He comes to save not to condemn. He comes to forgive sin not to throw a stone.

There were many, many more things that I took away from my trip and hopefully I will get a chance to share more of them later. Suffice it to say that if Rachel is coming to somewhere close to you, I encourage you to take a little road trip to see her. Conversation over.