This article is an installment of Holy Joys Questions. Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: I recently saw a Huffington Post article that claimed that (1) Jesus’ statement, “There are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb… He who is able to accept this, let him accept it” (Matt. 19:12, NASB), includes people who are born transgender and that (2) expressing their transgender identity is acceptable. Is this true? Also, what is your opinion of the Nashville Statement?
To answer your question, I looked at the occurrences of the word eunuch in Greek up to and just shortly following the time of Jesus. I also checked all the classical, NT, and patristic Greek lexicons I could access.
What I found was that eunuch is consistently used in two ways in Greek. First, to designate a court or palace official (Gen. 39:1; 40:2, 7; 1 Sam. 8:15). Second, to denote a male who had been castrated (Xenophon, Cyropaedia, 5.2.28) or was born without the ability to beget children (Matt. 19:12).
In the Mishna and its associated literature, Jewish rabbis discussed eunuchs, intersex persons, and androgynes. In all cases, the rabbis distinguished eunuchs, whether born so or castrated, from persons whose gender was confused due to the development of both male and female sexual features (intersex) or whose gender was uncertain due to other physical reasons (androgyne).
They never used the term eunuch to refer to transgender persons, and they prescribed the death penalty for eunuchs who engaged in homosexual behavior.
The ancient world was familiar with all forms of transgender and homosexual behavior. However, the term eunuch was never used to label such persons. While undoubtedly there were eunuchs who engaged in sexual perversions, they weren’t called eunuchs because of their sexual behavior; they were called eunuchs because of their physical condition.
The ancient world was familiar with all forms of transgender and homosexual behavior. However, the term eunuch was never used to label such persons.
It is true that various ancient authors believed that eunuchs were neither male nor female but somewhere between, or something else altogether (e.g., Philo, Lucian). However, these beliefs were rooted in non-biblical ideas about what constitutes male and female. Scripture knows of only two genders/sexes: male and female. Eunuchs are males with damaged or missing sexual organs.
The bottom line is that all the evidence, both biblical and extra-biblical, indicates that the term eunuch was not used to refer to intersex, androgynous, or transgender persons, let alone those practicing homosexual behavior. All the standard Greek lexicons come to this conclusion as well.
We can, therefore, confidently say that Jesus was not referring to or implying anything about transgender behavior or persons when he said, “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” (Matt. 19:12, NASB).
The last phrase means some non-eunuchs will be able to be as though they are eunuchs, i.e., not marry, for the sake of the kingdom.
The Huffington Post article you referenced raises another issue. Our culture currently uses the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, etc. to establish a person’s identity based on their sexual orientation or practice. I believe Christians must resist cultural pressure to identify people on the basis of sexual practice. Our sexual practices do not determine our gender or our identity.
Further, a person who practices homosexual behavior is still a human made in God’s image, the object of God’s love, someone for whom Christ died, and one who by God’s grace may be washed, sanctified, and justified, thus becoming our brother or sister (1 Cor. 6:9-11). God does not determine people’s identities or their gender by their sexual practices. We should not either.
Christians must resist cultural pressure to identify people on the basis of sexual practice.
The Nashville Statement affirms traditional Christian values on sexuality and gender roles. It outlines Scripture’s positive view of human sexuality and marriage and its negative view of all sexual behavior outside of heterosexual, monogamous marriage (see esp. Article 6).
It also addresses how Christians should express Christ’s love to those who suffer from same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. I believe the statement is well-crafted, doctrinally sound, irenic, and worthy of support.
Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.