Vol. 4, No. 10
Since You Asked
~ Page 20 ~
Can you tell me what the word eunuch means please?
The simple standard dictionary definition adequately portrays the two ordinary meanings of the word "eunuch" as it is used in the Bible: "a castrated man placed in charge of a harem or employed as a chamberlain in a palace."1 (Emphasis added, ler.) Anciently, a castrated male was entrusted with the care and safety of females because he was personally incapable of compromising their chastity. Further, typically eunuchs were trustworthy and loyal toward their masters. Owing to their dedication, they often were employed in other capacities in the administration of a king. Sometimes, the word eunuch (or another English word that nevertheless is translated from an original language word meaning "eunuch") apparently does not refer to a castrated male. Therefore, a Hebrew, Greek or English word meaning "eunuch" may refer to a castrated male, a male not castrated but serving in a capacity of importance in a kingdom or a castrated male serving in some capacity of importance in a kingdom.
The usual, literal reference to a eunuch, though, was to a castrated male. This is evident from a portion of the discourse of Jesus Christ about marriage and divorce that appears in Matthew 19. "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" (Matthew 19:12). Those who are born eunuchs, from birth due to physical defect, will never be able father children. Those who are made eunuchs are castrated or neutered. Jesus mentioned these two ordinary, literary circumstances as the basis for making a figurative application respecting the context (Matthew 19:3-9) in which he discussed marriage and divorce. In this context, those who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom's sake voluntarily refrain from contracting unlawful marriages, that is, they have no approval from God to enter into another marriage if their divorce from the previous marriage was not because they were the innocent party of a divorce for the cause of fornication (Matthew 19:9). These following observations from various resources corroborate the data in the two preceding paragraphs.
Primarily and literally, a eunuch is an emasculated man (Deut 23:1). ... the kings of Israel and Judah followed their royal neighbors in employing eunuchs (1) as guardians of the harem (2 Kings 9:32; Jer 41:16), and (2) in military and other official posts (1 Sam 8:15 margin; 1 Kings 22:9 margin; 2 Kings 8:6 margin; 23:11 the King James Version margin; 24:12-13 margin; 25:19 margin; 1 Chron 28:1 margin; 2 Chron 18:8 margin; Jer 29:2; 34:19; 38:7; compare Gen 37:36; 40:2,7; Acts 8:27).2
... a male servant of a royal household in Bible times. Such servants were often emasculated by castration as a precautionary measure, especially if they served among the wives in a ruler's harem (2 Kings 9:32). The New Testament reported the conversion of a eunuch from Ethiopia under the ministry of PHILIP the evangelist (Acts 8:26-38).3
We must remember that both the Heb. and Gk. terms were sometimes applied to those filling important posts, without regard to bodily mutilation. ... Figurative. The term is employed figuratively by our Lord (Matt 19:12) with reference to the power, whether possessed as a natural disposition or acquired as a property of grace, of maintaining an attitude of indifference toward fleshly desires and temptations.4
... in Mt. 19:12 the meaning 'castrate' is beyond doubt. In this last passage three classes of eunuch are mentioned, namely, born eunuchs, man-made eunuchs and spiritual eunuchs. The last class includes all those who sacrificed legitimate, natural desires for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.5
Under Judaism, eunuchs faced certain restrictions respecting Tabernacle (and later Temple) worship (Deuteronomy 23:1; Leviticus 21:15), but being a eunuch did not alienate God's affection from this segment of his people (Isaiah 56:3). The Hebrew word "caric" appears 42 times in Old Testament and is often translated "eunuch," sometimes when it refers to castrated males (2 Kings 20:17-18; Isaiah 39:7). Other references, some of which are translated "eunuch" (Jeremiah 38:7; 52:25), "officer" (Genesis 37:36) and "chamberlain" (2 Kings 23:11), indicate important political or military responsibilities with which eunuchs were entrusted. The Greek noun for "eunuch" (a transliteration) appears seven times in the New Testament, twice in Matthew 19:12 and the balance in Acts Eight respecting the Ethiopian convert. The Greek verb for "eunuch" (also a transliteration) appears three times in Matthew 19:12. See Internet articles that also treat the subject of "eunuchs" at:
1 Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated) 1993.
2 International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia. Electronic Database. (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft) 1996.
3 Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers)1986.
4 The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press) 1988.
5 The New Bible Dictionary. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.
If we would consider drunkeness sinful enough for disfellowship, why would not smoking be considered for such also? ~ Rayford
The querist poses the above question after quoting from an article about discipline in the pages of Gospel Gazette Online: "This terminology is not meant to suggest that some sin isn't serious; it just acknowledges that not all sin requires discipline" and "a member of a church sins in some serious or obvious way."
It is true that all sins, regardless of what specifically the deeds may be, have the potential of condemning souls to spiritual death or hell: "For the wages of sin is death..." (Romans 6:23). For instance, lying is in the same list with the sins of murder and adultery, for which the impenitent doers of these things "shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone" (Revelation 21:8).
However, there are a number of factors that must be considered before biblical withdrawal of fellowship occurs. One, only sins for which sinners refuse to repent are subject to church discipline. Many brethren repent of their sins immediately upon realization that they have sinned, often before others are aware of those sins. Still others repent of their sins once those sins are brought to their attention. Any Christian who sins and penitently prays to God for forgiveness (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9) is not a candidate for withdrawal of fellowship.
Two, church discipline takes many forms and withdrawal of fellowship is the last and harshest aspect of church discipline. Repeated efforts to recover the fallen precede such a drastic measure (Titus 3:10). We need to make bona fide efforts to restore erring Christians (James 5:19-20) before 'delivering such a one to Satan' (1 Corinthians 5:5). "And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Jude 22-23).
Three, we are on the safest ground, biblically, when we consider exercising withdrawal of fellowship from impenitent persons whose sins are listed in the various catalogs of sins found upon the pages of the New Testament (Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:5-9; Revelation 21:8; etc.). For instance, Scripture definitively declares that some activities are sinful, such as, adultery, fornication, idolatry, witchcraft, murder, drunkenness, homosexuality, stealing and lying. On the other hand, we may suppose that some deeds not specifically mentioned in the Bible, owing to principles and a measure of subjectivity, are also sins. Using tobacco may fall into this latter category.
We must use caution that we sufficiently endeavor to recover fallen brethren from their sins; one of the objects of church discipline is the restoration of a fallen brother or sister (1 Corinthians 5:5). We must use equal caution that we refrain from going beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6) and becoming judges above the law (James 4:11), adding our own traditions (Matthew 15:1-6; Colossians 2:8; Revelation 22:18-19). Commonly, congregations miserably fail to exercise the obligatory church discipline about which we read upon the pages of the New Testament. Others, though, have abused the biblical doctrine of church discipline sometimes with haste and sometimes by proposing to eject brethren from the church for biblically indefensible reasons (3 John 9-10). We must pursue a biblical balance that rests solidly upon the Holy Word of God and leans neither to the left nor to the right -- in all things -- including church discipline.
Brother Rushmore: A question for your publication, if you wish to use it. The question was brought up in my Bible class. What light did God create in Genesis 1:3, if the sun and moon had not yet been created (vs.14ff)? ~ Rea Buttermore
First, let's notice the verses that pertain to the creative week and mention "light."
"And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day" (Genesis 1:3-5, emphasis added, ler).
"And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day" (Genesis 1:14-19, emphasis added, ler).
The commentator, Albert Barnes, understood the dual references to "light" in the creative week to involve the creation of light on day one and the assignment of two of those orbs of light on day four to shine on the earth. He supposed that a cloud canopy rolled back to allow the Sun and the moon to more easily been seen (later) by mankind, effecting the observance of the seasons and permitting the observance of time and navigation.1 Similarly, another commentary portrays the sun and moon as existing before being unveiled on the fourth day.2
The commentator, Adam Clarke, understood the dual references to "light" in the creative week to involve the creation of light on day one and the creation of the lights, sun and moon, on day four. Clarke supposed that the capacity for light to exist, such as can be demonstrated even without reference to the stars, was created on day one, whereas the heavenly bodies, including our sun and moon, were created on day four.
Many have asked, "How could light be produced on the first day, and the sun, the fountain of it, not created till the fourth day?" ...the original word 'owr (OT:216) signifies not only light but fire, see Isa 31:9; Ezek 5:2. It is used for the SUN, Job 31:26. And for the electric fluid or LIGHTNING, Job 37:3. And it is worthy of remark that it is used in Isa 44:16, for the heat, derived from 'esh (OT:784), the fire. "He burneth part thereof in the fire: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha! I have seen the fire," ...caloric, or an additional portion of the matter of heat. I therefore conclude, that as God has diffused the matter of caloric or latent heat through every part of nature, without which there could be neither vegetation nor animal life, that it is caloric or latent heat which is principally intended by the original word.That there is latent light, which is probably the same with latent heat, may be easily demonstrated: take two pieces of smooth rock crystal agate, cornelian or flint, and rub them together briskly in the dark, and the latent light or matter of caloric will be immediately produced and become visible. ...The existence of this caloric-latent or primitive light, may be ascertained in various other bodies; it can be produced by the flint and steel, by rubbing two hard sticks together, by hammering cold iron which in a short time becomes red hot, and by the strong and sudden compression of atmospheric air in a tube. Friction in general produces both fire and light. God therefore created this universal agent on the first day, because without it no operation of nature could be carried on or perfected.3
Additional commentaries also view the creative week involving a dual creation of light on days one and four, respectively.4
The first thing created by the divine Word was "light," the elementary light, or light-material, in distinction from the "lights," or light-bearers, bodies of light, as the sun, moon, and stars, created on the fourth day, are called. ... After the earth had been clothed with vegetation, and fitted to be the abode of living beings, there were created on the fourth day the sun, moon, and stars, heavenly bodies in which the elementary light was concentrated, in order that its influence upon the earthly globe might be sufficiently modified and regulated for living beings to exist and thrive beneath its rays, in the water, in the air, and upon the dry land. At the creative word of God the bodies of light came into existence in the firmament, as lamps.5
The creation of light was the initial step in the creation of life. "Let there be light" (Gen 1:3) was the first word of God spoken after His creative Spirit "moved" upon the primary material out of which He created the heavens and the earth, and which lay, until the utterance of that word, in the chaos of darkness and desolation. Something akin, possibly, to the all-pervasive electro-magnetic activity of the aurora borealis penetrated the chaotic night of the world. The ultimate focusing of light (on the 4th day of creation, Gen 1:14) in suns, stars, and solar systems brought the initial creative process to completion, as the essential condition of all organic life.6
The commentator, Burton Coffman, views Genesis 1:3 to record the creation of light, including the population of the universe with stars on day one, then the creative placement of the earth with relationship to our sun and moon, as well as the placement of the sun and moon with relationship to the earth in the larger universe on day four.
The language here indicates that the stupendous acts of Creation were performed by fiat. God spoke the word, and it was done. Could any process of creating light gradually even be imagined? Any chain of events leading to the development of light is inconceivable, the very thought of such a thing being rejected by the intelligence. Primeval darkness demands just the fiat revealed in this verse as the only possible solution for it.
The more reasonable interpretation, it appears to us, is that of understanding this Day 4 as a record of God's positioning celestial bodies already created on Day 1 in such a manner as to make possible the creation and sustenance of human life on earth. That such a special act of this nature is meant appears from the declaration in Gen. 1:17 that "God set them in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the earth." Note that it definitely is NOT said that God made them in this statement of their utility, but that He SET them, or PLACED them. The importance of this is not offset by the fact that it is also declared here specifically that God made the sun, the moon, and the stars. This is partial recapitulation of what was revealed in Day 1, but that part must be considered parenthetical in meaning. Based upon what the holy text says, the creative act of Day 4 was the positioning of our solar system by Divine fiat in such a manner as to provide the environment for humanity.7
Forasmuch as Genesis Chapter One chronicles the creation of all that has ever existed in the material world, one can hardly escape the realization that light was created on day one. Further, throughout the chapter, creation is the object of every verse. It is reasonable, then, to view God's creative powers in verse four respecting the sun and moon. However, it may not be discernible from our vantage point whether verse four involves the creative powers of God unveiling the sun, moon and stars or creating the sun, moon and stars visible from earth by man's unaided eye or God's placement of the sun, moon and stars visible from earth by man's unaided eye.
Beyond acknowledgement that the days of creation are 24-hour periods (plant life, created on day three, could not live for eons without the benefit of the sun, created on day four), it may be neither possible nor essential to determine precisely what the creative powers of God did respecting the sun, moon and stars on day four. There are various words employed in the original language of Genesis for the creation recorded throughout Genesis One; so, no successful distinction can be made to provide a definitive conclusion respecting the creative powers of God on day four. Every proposition cited above by the commentators is well propounded in the respective sources without a clear frontrunner. Suffice it to say that light was created on day one and God's creative powers respecting light were further operative on day four.
1 Barnes' Notes, Electronic Database. (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft) 1997.
2 Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft) 1997.
3 Adam Clarke's Commentary, Electronic Database. (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft) 1996.
4 Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition, Electronic Database. (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.) 1991.
5 Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament: New Updated Edition, Electronic Database. (Seattle, WA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.) 1996.
6 International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft) 1996.
7 James Burton Coffman, James Burton Coffman Bible Study Library, Old and New Testaments. (Abilene, TX: ACU Press) 1989.