What is a eunuch in the Bible?

by | Aug 8, 2023 | Theology | 0 comments

In ancient civilizations, eunuchs typically referred to males that had been castrated. This was traditionally done in their youthful years to curtail their ability to reproduce. The practice of turning men into eunuchs was common in ancient civilizations like Persia, Mesopotamia, China as well as Rome. These eunuchs served diverse roles including advisors to the rulers, bureaucrats, palace guards, etc. Because Eunuchs couldn’t sire children, they were often entrusted with sensitive positions. This is because they were believed to be free of any conflicts of interest on matters of inheritance especially in royal families. 

The word Eunuch can be used to refer to an important official in a government especially in ancient civilizations. The term can also be used to refer to someone that leads a celibate life by choice. However, it could also refer to someone that had been castrated (mostly as a prisoner of war)

Eunuch examples in the Bible

The Hebrew word for Eunuch is Saris and it appears 45 times in the Old Testament. This word is translated to Eunouchos in the Greek Septuagint and it is the same word used in the New Testament. When used in Hebrew, Saris means an important person who may or may not be castrated. In the Greek translation, it could mean a chamberlain (a person that keeps the bed chamber of a king or queen), a castrated male, or someone that voluntarily stays away from marriage. 

Important Official

The word Eunuch has been used in several places in the Bible to refer to an important official in a kingdom or a court office. A good example of this is Potiphar, who is described as Pharaoh’s officer in (Genesis 37:36). The word used in the verse is Saris, which as we have seen, is the same word for Eunuch. However, there is no indication that Potiphar had been castrated or that he had any physical condition that made him impotent. In fact, as we see from Genesis 39, he had a wife which would indicate that he was functional sexually. 

Another illustration of how Eunuchs weren’t necessarily castrated can be found in 2 Kings 18:17 when “the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rab-saris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem.” The term Rab-saris is also translated as “chief officer” or “field commander” but it literally means “chief eunuch.” Chief eunuchs were common titles in Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms and the term is also mentioned in Jeremiah 39:3, 13. 

A castrated male

The word Eunuch is also used in reference to a castrated male. In the Prophecy of Isaiah, he warns that Israel will be taken captive and some of the men will be made Eunuchs in the kingdom of Babylon. 


And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. Is. 35:7

From the scripture above, it is clear that the Israelites in QWuestion were not Eunuchs back home but when taken into captivity, they will be made Eunuchs. This means they will be castrated to make them fit to serve the king as per the Babylonian customs. 

The prophecy of Isiah gets fulfilled in the book of Daniel when Daniel and his three friends align with other Israelites and are taken captive by the king of Babylon. Even though the Bible does not explicitly say it, there is a high probability that Daniel and his three friends were castrated to be made Eunuchs. In Daniel chapter 1, we see the king giving instructions on the selection criteria that would be used for the boys that were being selected to serve the king. In verse 3, the Bible says that the man who was in charge of the selection and preparation (Ashpenaz), was the chief Eunuch. 

In Esther 1:10, the Bible talks of the 7 Eunuchs that served the king. Even though it is not explicitly stated, we can infer from the context that the seven had been castrated. This was common practice for men that waited on kings and queens. Another Eunuch that served in a similar capacity but in a different kingdom is mentioned in the New Testament. In Acts 8:26-39, we see the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch who was a treasury official to the queen of Ethiopia. 

A celibate person

Another use of the word Eunuch was in reference to a person that was either unable to procreate or who had chosen a life of celibacy. Here is a scripture that illustrates this point:


For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it (Matthew 19:1-12).


In this verse, Jesus shows how one can become a eunuch by choice, be forced to be one (castration), or be born that way (impotence). Those who chose a life of celibacy can therefore be also classified as Eunuchs. 

Another example of the use of Eunuch to mean celibate can be found in Isaiah 56:3-5. In this passage, the Bible refers to the ones who had devoted themselves to observing the sabbath and keeping God’s covenant while staying away from marriage as Eunuchs. 

Conclusion

The words of Jesus in Mathew 19 give the best overview of the different types of Eunuchs in the Bible. As he said in the scripture, some Eunuchs were born that way, others chose to be Eunuchs, while others were made into Eunuchs by other people. In other words, Eunuchs can refer to those that were born with the problem of impotence, those that are physically okay but have chosen to lead a celibate life, or those that were forced (castrated) by other men. 

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About: Ronie

Ronnie Amaya has been actively involved in ministry since his high school and university days where he served as a Christian union leader. After graduation, he worked as an itinerary minister preaching in Schools, Universities, Street Evangelizations, and Churches. In 2018, he led a team in planting a new church in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the lead pastor.
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Ronie

Ronnie Amaya has been actively involved in ministry since his high school and university days where he served as a Christian union leader. After graduation, he worked as an itinerary minister preaching in Schools, Universities, Street Evangelizations, and Churches. In 2018, he led a team in planting a new church in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the lead pastor.

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