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Three days ago I was reading Matthew 19:11-12 and it confused me as what the verse is talking about, can someone please explain to me what the verse means and it's context?

But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.

For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

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    It would help if you could outline your difficulty. The very text itself indicates that some readers will not be able to receive what is being stated, so some assistance from yourself would be useful to determine what, exactly, you find troublesome about the words on the page.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 3:27
  • Does this answer your question? Definition of Eunuchs in Matthew 19:10-12?
    – Michael16
    Commented Apr 15, 2023 at 3:08

8 Answers 8

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Jesus here acknowledged that marriage is not for everyone. This would correspond to Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7. However, both Paul and Jesus stressed that relatively few people were called to a life of celibacy. But - Paul, who advocated remaining single if a person was called to do so (1 Corinthians 7:24-28), also said that it was a doctrine of devils to forbid marriage to anyone (1 Timothy 4:1-3).

A “eunuch” was an impotent man (not capable of sexual relations) who usually had been castrated before puberty. Jesus said in this verse, however, that some men were born this way, some were made impotent by men (to serve as chamberlains and to care for harems, see Esther 2:15), and some made themselves impotent to better serve the kingdom of God.

In both the Old and New Covenants, eunuchs had the same standing in God’s eyes as anyone else (Isaiah 56:3-5 and Acts 8:26-39). Because they often served in the courts of kings, there are many Old Testament and New Testament examples of eunuchs with high positions and authority (example, Daniel 1:3-18 and Acts 8:27).

The Hebrew word translated “eunuch” in the Old Testament is the word “CARIYC,” and it means “to castrate” (Strong’s Concordance). This same word is translated “officer(s)” twelve times in the Old Testament (as in Genesis 37:36; 39:1; 40:2, and 7) and “chamberlain(s)” thirteen times (as in Esther 1:10, 12, 15; 2:21; and 4:4-5).

The Greek word translated “eunuch” in the New Testament is the word “EUNOUCHOS,” and it means “a castrated person...by extension an impotent or unmarried man” (Strong’s Concordance).

On the basis of these definitions, those who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake are simply men who remained unmarried to spend more time seeking the Lord and spreading the Gospel. Paul referred to this as a “gift” (1 Corinthians 7:7-9, 17, 20, 25-26, 32,35,and 37) and said those called to it should walk in that call (1 Corinthians 7:17 and 20). Jesus said the only men who could receive this saying are those “to whom it is given”.

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This subject is covered by Kaiser, W. C., Jr., Davids, P. H., Bruce, F. F., & Brauch, M. T. "19:12 Eunuchs for the Kingdom’s Sake?"(1996). Hard sayings of the Bible, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity. The difficulty is where the passage has "have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake."

It is reported that one eminent scholar in the early church, Origen of Alexandria (A.D. 185–254), took these words with literal seriousness in the impetuousness of youth, and performed the appropriate operation on himself. In later life he knew better; in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel he rejects the literal interpretation of the words, while acknowledging that he once accepted it, and says that they should be understood spiritually and not “according to the flesh and the letter.” -- Kaiser, pp. 388–389.

This passage should should no more be taken literally (that is to perform on your physical body) than Jesus' words to cut off your hand, foot, or gouging out your eye. Celibacy from the standpoint of not marrying was not highly esteemed by Jewish culture. However, John and Baptist and Jesus were celibate. Paul repeated this theme that celibacy is acceptable in 1 Cor. 7. "All men cannot receive this saying" is a disclaimer to celibacy, just as Paul had a disclaimer in 1 Cor. 7. The disclaimer is that celibacy is not for everyone, that is not to marry.

However, the point in Jesus' discourse in which this passage is contained is marriage should be permanent and not have divorce. The disciple's reaction showed that this commitment to marriage wasn't the norm for the culture at that time.

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The pretext is given in v10

10The disciples *said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” 11But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.

Then Jesus goes on to give an example of another matter (the eunuchs),

Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.

There are various roles we may find ourselves living out. In Jesus example, some eunuchs are born that way, some are made that way by others, and some choose this state for the Kingdom.

(God) made them male and female v4

Therefore, what God has joined together, no person is to separate. v6

God is the sovereign Lord who decrees some things to be a certain way. If we put our own purposes first, we may well find our lives at odds with His plan for each. The marriage is troubled, the eunuch is troubled, the person is troubled because they didn't seek God's will in their lives.

This is hard for some to accept, as he said. If the person has been given a role to live out before Him, they will understand and live it humbly and willingly ("only those to whom it has been given".). If we are not privy to God's call over us, we will often find trouble that we cannot easily bear or resolve.

Jesus' reply to the disciples, to partly correct their saying, 'not all should marry', is to remind them that sometimes it will not make any sense to say - 'don't marry'! Those with God in their ear and heart will understand and accept their place and life and be at peace with what God gives them to do and be.

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  • Some persons may have had things happen to them early in life which would unnaturally predispose them to never marry, or even refrain from any relationships with the opposite sex. Such a person might not consider this a "gift" so to speak, perhaps instead a handicap to mourn over. But from God's point of view, it could be seen as a "gift" as it might facilitate that person's salvation.
    – moron
    Commented Nov 13, 2021 at 8:20
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Matt 19:11, 12 cannot be divorced (pardon the pun) from the previous passage about marriage. Jesus sets out several fundamental principles of marriage:

  • V4-6 - marriage is permanent, and constitutes a more important relationship than the immediate family of either partner.
  • V8 - divorce was permitted and regulated as a practical measure in an imperfect world
  • V9 - divorce is only permitted in the case of πορνεία (porneia = "marital infidelity or fornication"). Further, anyone who marries a divorced person commits adultery

Now to V1 & 12, Jesus sets out several further principles:

  • Marriage is not for everyone
  • celibacy is an acceptable way to live
  • there are three types of eunuchs:
  1. eunuchs who were born that way - incapable of procreation and/or have no need of marriage and its associated coitus (see appendix below).
  2. eunuchs who were made that way by men (a reference to enforced castration or emasculation) and thus not the decision of the individual
  3. eunuchs who have voluntarily decided to be celibate for "the sake of the kingdom", that is, do not want the distraction of marriage and want to devote their full energy to proclaiming the gospel. John the Baptist, Paul, and Jesus were such individuals.

Note that Jesus does not say this is required of all Christians, as twice he says this,

V11, 12 "“Not everyone can accept this word,” He replied, “but only those to whom it has been given. ... The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Paul repeats the same idea in 1 cor 7:7-9 -

7 I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

8 Now to the unmarried and widows I say this: It is good for them to remain unmarried, as I am. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

APPENDIX - 1 Cor 7:1-6

1 Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good to abstain from sexual relations. 2 But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.

3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife.

5 Do not deprive each other, except by mutual consent and for a time, so you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again, so that Satan will not tempt you through your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command.

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The Words

Jesus said what is translated into Greek (we do not know the original wording in Hebrew):

Οὐ πάντες χωροῦσιν τὸν λόγον τοῦτον ἀλλ’ οἷς δέδοται.

(All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.)

saying is λόγος, which can also be word, thought, reasoning, or reason.

The word χωρέω has many meanings and translations:

  • literally: make room
  • have room for >> receive, contain,
  • make room by departing >> go
  • make progress, turn myself.
  • give room in the heart >> accept
  • give room in the heart >> to live with an open heart
  • give room >> let take place
  • Strong also suggests: embrace the "more important", not just the "urgent"

Many editions (like the one cited) translate it with receive, also in the closing sentence

ὁ δυνάμενος χωρεῖν, χωρείτω (He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.)

Finally, we find the word εὐνοῦχοι, which is usually understood as castrates.

The context speaks for understanding εὐνοῦχοι as "single", but the context is set by the tradition of Mark, and the passage in question is added by the author of the Gospel according to Matthew from another tradition.

Supposing this tradition is a Greek translation of an authentic speech of Jesus, Jesus has probably used the Hebrew word סְרִ֨יס.

In the LXX, this word is translated into greek by εὐνοῦχος, and the word also has the meaning "eunuch". However, if we have a look on the meaning in the context of the Tanakh, it almost always refers to ministers or high servants at the court of a king. Maybe, those kings really had castrates on this post, maybe those persons were just bound to practise celibate.

Interpretation

This is my guess for what Jesus intended to say:

Not all men can accept this reason, only those who are prepared for it:

Some may be born without any desire to marry, some have been made castrates (or to practise celibate) against their will, but some may decide to voluntarily practise celibate to be the high servants of the Heavenly Kingdom - but it is not given to everyone to live celibate, and only those who really want it with all of their heart should take this decision.

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  • Some may not want it, but conclude they have no other choice.
    – moron
    Commented Nov 13, 2021 at 8:22
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'Eunuch' (eunochos) refers to a special gender distinction & class from ancient times.

Basically we are talking about ancient transgender people

Not to be confused with people who have been castrated as a punishment as has proliferated in our time related to erasures of appropriate third gender categories being distinguishable from inappropriate (fraudulent) attempts at this power status (and/or for 'ritualised' sexual immorality, profane drugging, or for money in prostitution).

While surgical & other medical procedures which transformed the body of the person were common, such was not always required (and not just because some people are born androgynous or with differences in gender development as noted).

Nor was celibacy always required, the Bible (Genesis) mentions at least one married eunuch (Potiphar) in Egypt (and of course, there are a number of specially gendered persons throughout the scriptures mentioned in overwhelmingly positive terms as they are mentioned here).

Nor was the androgynous, transgender, third-gender designation limited to transfeminine persons, nor were such individuals limited to 'harems' or management of royal females. There were entire schools of religious thought & sacred practice quite specific to specially gendered individuals (women, too, separately and/or in association with transfeminine persons esp).

There was a near & sometimes fully royal-like status expected & given to people who were born different. Seen as special & holy gifts from God, much was expected of these individuals who often achieved very high status in powerful positions within their community both civil & military (not limited to transmasculine or androgynous persons but also including transfeminine persons).

What I find most relevant in the core meaning of this passage is the extreme devotion & intensive rites of passage as it relates to the ancient transgender person, rendered here 'eunuch'. They essentially, as high-status persons across the area, were subject to a higher level commitment & way of being. So they would be committed to marital fidelity or abstention outside of marriage & distinguishing themselves completely from the lawless frauds who selfishly pretended to be transgender. Ancient eunuchs (or saris, etc, depending on the language/culture/time) were devoted to selflessness being servants of the living god and/or devoted to assisting god's chosen leaders (or whoever happened to be in positions of authority).

In fact, many pharaohs, kings & queens of Egypt (also other places in the area where Hebrew & related language/culture proliferated) were effectively transgender or achieved androgyny over time & this was seen as being a full & complete person, not unlike unifying in marriage. As Jesus mentions, this is not required, but it is not to be scoffed at or misaligned & is in fact a blessed, holy achievement to be accepted, affirmed & awarded.

So, for clarity, three types of third-gender people

  1. Made that way in a woman (in the womb)

    by birth androgynous or transgender in spirit, heart, soul, mind, etc

  2. Made that way by men Physicians and/or kings/authorities/society (mankind) establishing further special (gender) status generally based on special rites, rules & responsibilities

  3. Made that way by them People who receive/achieve such a special gender & status, in this case perhaps outside the other two tracks & specifically to serve heavenly purposes (in a 'kingdom' not dominated by earthly kings of men)

(Might be possible to be all of them at once, I suppose)

The context is notable for speaking on this during the Roman occupation & the diminishment of the Jewish religious rites & spirituality, the movement of the eunuchs (and the state powers) at the time more towards political purposes away from the spiritual essence of this especially distinguished classification. Jesus is adding context on third-gender types by defining this third-way concept, importantly, having corrected the questioners on 3 consecutive points.

It should also be noted that Jesus (Yeshua) can be & has by some been seen as having a special status as it relates to gender, such as is exemplified by being able to privately speak to a woman about her sex life or step in & call off an execution (traditional role/capability imbued in communities wise women or wise ones, including ancient specially gendered persons). It also must be noted that the creator is not a man nor a woman but oftentimes takes on either, neither, or both gendered attributes in ancient text. There continues to be a discussion (since very ancient times) about whether Adam & Eve were each individually androgynous (male + female) & how unity in any marriage (including two transgender persons) should be best understood in the context of sex & gender.

Obviously, up to this point in time, there have been massive amounts of ongoing confusion, controversy & debate related to the attempted genocidal erasure of transpeople, including erasures/eugenics measures by Nazism & misogynistic Fascisms in recent history. There is real, intergenerational trauma & damage to this special class of people & we must tread much more cautiously when it comes to scriptural interpretation & implementation of concepts deriving from ancient tradition & law to prevent inverting or confusing masses of people towards injustice & error. While it is not okay to pretend to be a different gender than you are, transgender people are supposed to be seen and treated as special & that distinguishment must be recognised and no longer confused.

Not every marriage results in androgyny through unification.

Not every androgynous person must abstain from marriage

Likewise not every androgynous (or transgender) person should be automatically subject to medical procedures or otherwise 'required' religious rites.

Just as there can be no compulsion in religion or into rites like marriage.

What there should be is sure & complete devotion in the unity (& androgyny) of marriage & towards serving heaven with distinction & honor, as is referred to in this major statement.

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in Roman age the Eunuch word was used to call to an homosexual, so if you read the verse knowing that you can understand that Jesus was talking about homosexuality and all the verse get sense!

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    Commented Apr 15, 2023 at 2:02
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Some translations have 'men who never marry, instead of 'eunuchs'. Both terms were used as euphemisms for homosexual men. I believe Christ is talking about homosexuality here using Eunuchs as a metaphor.

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