Eunuchs, as Queer People

Every race, culture, socio-economic group, gender, and sexual orientation would like to see itself represented in the Bible. The human tendency is to look for ourselves in the Word, and to find ourselves there. That tendency is positive. When we see ourselves in the ancient stories, we are more able to make the Bible a living document, and let the Spirit shine through our lives.

There are times when we search to find ourselves in the Bible. We desperately look for proof we are present in the Word of God. Experiencing proof of God’s love is difficult for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans-identified people. Because pastors have often withheld grace and salvation from God’s queer tribe, the emotional and spiritual need for queer people see themselves in the Bible stories is very real. The good news is that God’s grace is not restricted to only the kinds of people we find in Biblical stories. Whosoever believeth, not whosoever is present in Biblical stories, will have everlasting life.

The problem one faces when trying to determine if the word eunuch meant gay people is different meanings attributed to the word eunuch. A eunuch could be a person who was castrated. The root word for eunuch in Biblical Hebrew means to castrate.
1 Eunuch came to be used for any high officer of the court, even those who were not castrated.2 The word eunuch could refer to a person in “position of high authority in a court, a ‘chamberlain’”.3

A similar problem might be faced if a person were to study documents from the 21st century and notice some people called gay. The question would be if the person was called gay, because the person was a homosexual, or if the person was called gay, because the person was not liked. Words with multiple, and very different meanings can be difficult translate properly, especially when hundreds of years passed from the time a document was written and when it was translated. Without the immediate context, we can be left guessing about what the word means.

In Matthew Chapter 19, Jesus talks about marriage and divorce. Within the context of a discussion about marriage and divorce, Jesus mentions eunuchs, by birth, by manufacture, and by choice.

Matthew 19:12 (KJV) 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.

There are times when we are a bit ethocentric. We do not think anybody other than us knows much, almost like we have a monopoly on knowledge. Sex sells in our society. Our culture is very sex oriented, so there are times when we are tempted to think ancient people knew little about sexuality. Because we do not think the ancients were very sexual, we do not think to look for sexual references in the Bible. We tend to gloss over all possible references to sex and sexuality in the Bible, because sex and sexuality do not seem spiritual enough for us. We fail to see that healthy sexuality is spiritual.

The ancients had a good understanding of sexuality and sex. Conservative Bible commentator J. Vernon McGee comments on the temple of Aphrodite in the city of Corinth. He says, “Sex was a religion. There were one thousand so-called vestal virgins there . . . Those temple virgins were nothing in the world but one thousand prostitutes. Sex was carried on in the name of religion.”4 Given the sex-filled atmosphered in some of the ancient temples, some of the ancients might be able to teach our society valuable things about sexuality. We will look at a couple of concepts of sexuality from ancient cultures, indigenous North American cultures, and ancient middle-Eastern cultures.

Some of the peoples living in North America before the arrival of Europeans seem to have had an understanding of a third gender. “Two-Spirited People,” an article on McGill University’s web site, says there is evidence that before European colonization indigenous or native people saw a third gender - a male/female gender.5 A term used in some indigenous North American populations to describe the third gender is Two Spirit. Because we do not have extensive written histories of the lives of indigenous North American peoples, we do not know a lot about Two Spirited people. We get the sense that Two Spirited individuals were considered to have the spirit of males and females. The McGill University article says being Two Spirited was considered to be a gift from the Creator. There is some thought Two Spirited people were respected community leaders. Two Spirited people were thought to be good mediators, healers, teachers, and spiritual leaders.6

Like Two Spirited people, eunuchs held positions of power and influence. We see that in conservative Bible commentaries. Albert Barnes comments, “Eunuchs were employed chiefly in attending on the females, or in the harem. They rose often to distinction, and hold important offices in the state. Hence the word sometimes denotes such an officer of state.”7 Adam Clarke adds that eunuchs were employed in the apartments of queens and princesses.8 Because eunuchs did not have their own families, some people think they made more devoted and dedicated servants.

There is some thought eunuchs, like Two Spirited people, were considered to be a third gender. So far, only conservative Bible commentaries have been quoted. A more progressive Bible commentary, The Queer Bible Commentary, cites Will Roscoe. According to Roscoe, ancient Mediterranean societies saw eunuchs as a third gender, because eunuchs were seen as having “‘both secondary sex characteristics and psychological traits, labeling them in ways that distinguished them from both men and women.’”9 Kathryn Ringrose is cited in The Queer Bible Commentary as being a third gender is Byzantine society.10

Those who are made eunuchs could be a reference to men who were castrated. In ancient times, castration of men was not considered abhorrent, as it is generally considered today.

Those who chose to be eunuchs could be a reference to people who castrated themselves - possibly for religious reasons. A number of conservative Bible commentators describe those who choose to be eunuchs as people who are celibate so they can serve God. A few people took their faith to an extreme and an unhealthy level and castrated themselves.

The real question about Matthew 19:12 is who the people are that Jesus describes as being born eunuchs. We know Jesus is not talking about government administrators, because a person is not born an officer of the royal court. The Jamieson Fausset Brown Bible Commentary describes those who are born eunuchs as people who are born “constitutionally either incapable of or indisposed to marriage.”11 Some intersex people do not have genitalia that clearly define the male or female gender. They may have some male and female genitalia. Jesus might have been talking about intersex people. Trans-identified people may identify as and see the world from the perspective of a gender that is different from their gender of birth. Jesus could have been thinking of trans-identified people. Gay people can be considered to be “indisposed” to marriage. The ancients may well have understood some men just are not interested in women and were that way from birth. There was no word quite like homosexual in Biblical Hebrew or Greek. The word eunuch could be much like the contemporary word queer. Eunuch might have been an umbrella term referring to all non-straight people.

Eunuchs held very important roles in the Bible. A eunuch made sure Esther would be noticed by the king. His role helped ensure Esther became the queen.12 According to the book of Esther, eunuchs had important roles in protecting God’s people, Jews. One of the king’s eunuchs recommends to the king that Haman, who wanted to kill all Jewish people, be hanged.13 There is scholarly thought that Nehemiah was probably a eunuch.14 In this case, a eunuch, a sexual minority, played a very important role in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. The first Gentile convert to Christianity recorded in the Bible was an Ethiopian eunuch.15 The fact that a member of a sexual minority, possibly a trans-identified person, an intersex person, or a gay person, was the first recorded Gentile convert to Christianity shows the inclusion of sexual minorities in the Kingdom of God.

A promise of exists for sexual minorities. That promise is found in Isaiah 56:3-5 (KJV). Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. 4For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; 5Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.

In this passage, God speaks to sexual minorities. God’s message is to stop putting yourself down, to stop believing you are a second rate person, because God includes gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-identified, and intersex people in the Kingdom. The promises of God extend to queer people, to sexual minorities of all types. The God who used sexual minorities to do powerful things for the Kingdom in Biblical times is preparing you to do powerful things. And that can start with you taking a whole new attitude about yourself. You are a child of the Creator, of the Eternal Ruler of the Universe, so walk with your head held high.


1The Complete Word Study: Old Testament. (Iowa Falls, IA: Word, 1994), 2345.

2Spiros Zodhiates. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Pub.), 680.

3W.E. Vine. “An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1985), 208.

4J. Vernon McGee. Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee. Vol. 5 (Pasadena, CA: Thru the Bible Radio, 1983), 31.

5“Two-Spirited People. McGill University. 22 August 2006 <> 20 August 2008

6“Two-Spirited People. McGill University. 22 August 2006 <> 20 August 2008

7Albert Barnes. Notes on the New Testament: Matthew and Mark. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 196.

8Adam Clarke. Clarke’s Commentary. Vol. 5 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, n.d.), 191.

9Deryn Guest, et. al., eds., The Queer Bible Commentary. (London: SCM Press, 2006), 279-280.

10Guest, et. al., eds. 280.

11Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, and David Brown. JFB Commentary. Vol. 3, Part 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub., 1995), 98.

12Guest, et. al., eds. 284.

13Guest, et. al., eds. 285.

14Guest, et. al., eds. 270.

15Guest, et. al., eds. 572.