Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Language of Matthew 19:9-12

A story can be shared in different ways.

There are books: King James Bible

There are movies: Franco Zeffirelli directing Robert Powell in Jesus of Nazareth

There are photoshopped images: Hipster Jesus

There are paintings: Pieta by Vincent van Gogh

There are sculptures: Pieta by Michelangelo 

Nowadays, you can tell a story via lego:

Jesus replied, "There are some eunuchs who were born that way, and there are some who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven."

The same story can be shared in myriad ways to multitudes of people, and each one will have a different understanding of it. That's what artists do. Artists and spiritual leaders and philosophers and story tellers: they all want to understand and to be understood.

As a reader and as a writer, I find language to be a challenging way to communicate. Language. It's complex.

One word can have multiple definitions, so when you consider translating an oral story in one language to written text in another language, then translating it again to another language, you never get the "exact" meaning of the original word. To me, The Bible is just the gist of what Jesus was saying. If we listen to our inner energy, we understand the rest.

I understand it this way:

Love God, the creator of the universe, the origin of our inner energy, and love people, all people, family, friends, neighbors, and enemies.

That's it. So simple.

But language is complex. Let's take the word "gay" for example. In the English language alone it can mean 1) homosexual or 2) happy. Let's look at the word "queer". It can mean 1) homosexual or 2) odd. The word eunuch, in English, can mean 1) a castrated man or 2) someone who is ineffectual:

I googled the word eunuch and found this:


 1) a man who has been castrated, especially (in the past) one employed to guard the women's living areas at an oriental court. 2) an ineffectual person. "a nation of political eunuchs"

Old English, via Latin from Greek eunoukhos, literally ‘bedroom guard,’ from eunē ‘bed’ + a second element related to ekhein ‘to hold.’

image and definition via Google

And that's just one language. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, and Matthew translated the sermons into another language, and then it was translated into English.

So, when we read the word "eunuch" in Matthew 19:9-12 in our English language Bible, we cannot be certain of exactly what Jesus means. He could be speaking literally: someone who has been castrated, or he could have been speaking metaphorically: someone who has balls but does not have sex with women, either because they are celibate or because they are not physically attracted to women, because of spiritual reasons like priests and monks, or because of many other reasons. Human beings are complex. So is our language.

I like this essay about the topic:

"Some have taken Jesus’ statements in Matthew 19:9-12 about divorce and remarriage as an indication that he condemned homosexuality by omission, confirming that heterosexuality is the only “normal” relationship possible.  On closer examination, it would seem that just the opposite is true.  Jesus is talking about eunuchs and defines them as those who are unable (or unfit) to function in marriage for one of three reasons:

"They were born that way and so are intrinsically eunuchs.
They were made to be eunuchs by other men.
They made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

"In our culture, the word eunuch is commonly understood to be a reference to castrated males.  The Hebrew word saris (#5631) often translated to the English word eunuch, is used to refer to men, who sometimes for political reasons in some eastern cultures, were castrated to insure no threat through procreation.  But this condition was not synonymous with eunuchry in general.  Eunuchs were often trusted officials with great responsibility and political power.  The Old Testament often uses the word chamberlains, court officials or officers when translating the word saris and can easily be missed when reading the English versions.  This same meaning belongs to the Greek word eunukos (#2135).  Eunuchs were often in charge of harems; responsible for the protection and care of the wives of the king because they posed no threat sexually.  They were overseers of the beauty treatments for the women to make them presentable to the king (Esther 2:3, 12-13).  The Ethiopian Eunuch was the treasure keeper (Acts 8:27) for Queen Candace.  Often Eunuchs were recognized for their spiritual sensitivity and wisdom and were chosen to advise the king.  Daniel and the Hebrew children were eunuchs in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar..."

When Jesus speaks of eunuchs, does he literally mean "a man without balls" or is he speaking metaphorically to include priests and monks who take a vow of celibacy, heterosexual men who for whatever reason live a life of celibacy, and gay men who have a sex drive, just not toward women? What do you think?