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Dictionaries :: Eunuch

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International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia


u'-nuk (caric; spadon; eunouchos): Primarily and literally, a eunuch is an emasculated man (De 23:1). The Hebrew word caric seems, however, to have acquired a figurative meaning, which is reflected in English Versions of the Bible where "officer" and "chamberlain" are found as renderings (compare Ge 37:36; 39:1, where caric is applied to married men; Es 4:4). The barbarous practice of self-mutilation and the mutilation of others in this way was prevalent throughout the Orient. The religious disabilities under which men thus deformed labored under the Mosaic law had the effect of making the practice abominable to the Jews as a people (De 23:1; Le 22:23-25). The law excluded eunuchs from public worship, partly because self- mutilation was often performed in honor of a heathen god, and partly because a maimed creature of any sort was deemed unfit for the service of Yahweh (Le 21:16 ff; 22:24). That ban, however, was later removed (Isa 56:4,5). On the other hand, the kings of Israel and Judah followed their royal neighbors in employing eunuchs (1) as guardians of the harem (2Ki 9:32; Jer 41:16), and (2) in military and other official posts (1Sa 8:15 margin; 1Ki 22:9 margin; 2Ki 8:6 margin; 2Ki 23:11 the King James Version margin; 2Ki 24:12,13 margin; 2Ki 25:19 margin; 1Ch 28:1 margin; 2Ch 18:8 margin; Jer 29:2; 34:19; 38:7; compare Ge 37:36; 40:2,7; Ac 8:27). Josephus informs us that eunuchs were a normal feature of the courts of the Herods (Ant., XV, vii, 4; XVI, viii, 1). From the single reference to the practice in the Gospels (Mt 19:12), we infer that the existence and purpose of eunuchs as a class were known to the Jews of Jesus' time. There is no question with Jesus as to the law of Nature: the married life is the norm of man's condition, and the union thereby effected transcends every other natural bond, even that of filial affection (Mt 19:5,6).

But He would have His hearers recognize that there are exceptional cases where the rule does not hold. In speaking of the three classes of eunuchs (Mt 19:12), He made a distinction which was evidently well known to those whom He addressed, as was the metaphorical use of the word in application to the third class well understood by them (compare Lightfoot, Horae Hebrew et Talmud; Schottgen, Horae Hebrew, in the place cited.).

How Origen misunderstood and abused the teaching of this passage is well known (Euseb., HE, VI, 8), and his own pathetic comment on the passage shows that later he regretted having taken it thus literally and acted on it. His is not the only example of such a perverted interpretation (see Talmud, Shabbath 152a, and compare Midrash on Ec 10:7). The Council of Nicea, therefore, felt called on to deal with the danger as did the 2nd Council of Aries and the Apos Canons (circa 21). (Compare Bingham's Ant, IV, 9.)

It is significant that Jesus expresses no condemnation of this horrible practice. It was in keeping with His far-reaching plan of instilling principles rather than dealing in denunciations (Joh 3:17; 8:11). It was by His positive teaching concerning purity that we are shown the lines along which we must move to reach the goal. There is a more excellent way of achieving mastery of the sexual passion. It is possible for men to attain as complete control of this strong instinct as if they were physically sexless, and the resultant victory is of infinitely more value than the negative, unmoral condition produced by self-emasculation. These "make themselves eunuchs" with a high and holy purpose, "for the kingdom of heaven's sake"; and the interests created by that purpose are so absorbing that neither time nor opportunity is afforded to the "fleshly lusts, which war against the soul" (1Pe 2:11). They voluntarily forego marriage even, undertake virtual "eunuchism" because they are completely immersed in and engrossed by "the kingdom of heaven" (compare Joh 17:4; 1Co 7:29,33 f; 9:5 and see Bengel, Gnomon Novi Test. in the place cited and Clement of Alexandria., Strom., iii.1 ff).


Driver," Deuteronomy," ICC, De 23:1; Commentary on Mt, in the place cited. by Morison and Broadus; Neander, Ch. Hist, II, 493; Wendt, The Teaching of Jesus, 72 ff; The Expositor, IV, vii (1893), 294 ff; Encyclopedia Brit, article "Eunuch."

Written by George B. Eager



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