Matthew 19:12
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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(12) There are some eunuchs.—The words are singularly startling in their form, and bear upon them an unmistakable stamp of being a true report of teaching which, in its depth and originality, went beyond the grasp of those who heard and reported it. What they teach is, that only those who are in some sense “eunuchs,” who are, i.e., without the impulses that lead men to marriage, either naturally, or by the mutilation which then, as now, was common in the East, or who have conquered those impulses by the power of self-consecration to a higher life, can safely abstain from marriage. The celibacy of self-indulgence, or even of selfish prudence, tends but too fatally to impurity of heart or life. The man who thus makes himself as the eunuch, must do it “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,” not, as too many have understood the words to mean, in order to win heaven for himself (that aim is not excluded, but it must not be the only or chief motive), but for the sake of all that the kingdom of heaven implies, in order to enlarge its range, and more effectually to bring the souls of men to receive it. Those who heard the words could hardly fail, as they thought over them, to look on their Master’s life as having been the great perfect example of what He thus taught as to the higher form of holiness. The motives which St. Paul states as determining his own choice of the celibate life (1Corinthians 7:7), or the counsel which he gave to others (1Corinthians 7:32-34), are identical with this teaching in their principle. They have influenced men in all ages of the Church, leading them to sacrifice the life of home, with all its blessings, for their work as pastors or evangelists. The Church of Rome and the founders of monastic orders were not wrong in their ideal of the highest form of life. Their mistake lay in enforcing that ideal as a rule on those who had not the power to realise it. The boldness (as it seems to us) of our Lord’s language seems intended to teach men that the work must be done as effectively as if, like Origen, they had obeyed the implied commandment in its letter. If the impulses still remain; if life is made miserable by the struggle with them; if they taint the soul by not being allowed to flow in their legitimate channel, the man is, ipso facto, disqualified for the loftier ideal. He has not made himself a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven’s sake, and he is therefore among those who “cannot receive the saying” that it “is not good to marry.” On such grounds the conduct of those who have married after pledging themselves, as priests of the Church of Rome, to vows of celibacy is amply justified. The vows were such as ought never to have been imposed, and men ought never to have taken, and therefore, like the tetrarch’s oath (Matthew 14:7-9), when they were distinctly found to clash with the higher law of Nature, and to narrow what God had left free, their obligatory power ceased. The case of the monk who enters deliberately into an order of which celibacy is a condition, may seem at first to stand on a different footing; but here, also, though celibacy may legitimately be made a condition of continuing to belong to an order, the vow of a lifelong celibacy must be held to have been such as men had no right either to impose or take, and therefore as binding only so long as a man chooses to continue a member of the society which requires it.

Matthew 19:12. For there are some eunuchs, &c. — Our Lord here shows that the fore-mentioned gift of continence is given to three sorts of persons: 1st, To some by natural constitution, without their choice. 2d, To some by the violence of men, against their choice: and, 3d, To others by grace, with their choice; who steadily withstand their natural inclinations, that they may wait upon God without distraction, and may glorify him in a single life, judging it to be a state more free from worldly cares, and more friendly to devotion, than that of marriage. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it — He that has this gift, in any of these ways, whether by natural constitution and disposition; or by the injury of human force used upon him, rendering him incapable of the matrimonial union; or by an ardent desire of promoting the interests of religion, animating him to subdue his natural appetite, and enabling him to live in voluntary chastity, unencumbered with secular concerns; such a person will not sin though, he leads a single life. The words, however, let him receive it, must not be referred to the clauses immediately preceding them, as if our Lord had meant to say, He that is able to become a eunuch by any of the ways I have mentioned, let him become one; for the second way, namely, through violence offered to men’s bodies, is absolutely unlawful: but they must be referred to Matthew 19:11, as is plain from the words themselves; and the meaning of them is, He that can receive the saying there mentioned, and live chastely without marriage, may receive it; and, as many commentators understand the words, ought to receive it. “They who have the gift of continency,” says Henry, “and are not under any necessity of marrying, do best if they continue single, 1 Corinthians 7:1; for they that are unmarried have opportunity, if they have but a heart, to care more for the things of the Lord, how they may please the Lord, 1 Corinthians 7:32; 1 Corinthians 7:34, being less encumbered with the cares of this life, and having greater vacancy of thoughts, and time to mind better things.” The word eunuchs, from the Greek ευνουχοι, eunouchoi, means having the care of the bed, or bed-chamber, (from ευνην εχειν,) this being the principal employment of eunuchs in the eastern countries, that is, of such as our Lord says were made eunuchs by men, merely for the purpose of attending in the apartments of queens and princesses.

19:3-12 The Pharisees were desirous of drawing something from Jesus which they might represent as contrary to the law of Moses. Cases about marriage have been numerous, and sometimes perplexed; made so, not by the law of God, but by the lusts and follies of men; and often people fix what they will do, before they ask for advice. Jesus replied by asking whether they had not read the account of the creation, and the first example of marriage; thus pointing out that every departure therefrom was wrong. That condition is best for us, and to be chosen and kept to accordingly, which is best for our souls, and tends most to prepare us for, and preserve us to, the kingdom of heaven. When the gospel is really embraced, it makes men kind relatives and faithful friends; it teaches them to bear the burdens, and to bear with the infirmities of those with whom they are connected, to consider their peace and happiness more than their own. As to ungodly persons, it is proper that they should be restrained by laws, from breaking the peace of society. And we learn that the married state should be entered upon with great seriousness and earnest prayer.For there are some eunuchs ... - Jesus proceeds to state that there were some who were able to receive that saying and to remain in an unmarried state. Some were so born; some were made such by the cruelty of men; and there were some who voluntarily abstained from marriage for the kingdom of heaven's sake - that is, that they might devote themselves entirely to the proper business of religion. Perhaps he refers here to the Essenes, a sect of the Jews (see the notes at Matthew 3:7), who held that marriage was unsuitable to their condition; who had no children of their own, but perpetuated their sect by adopting the poor children of others. Eunuchs were employed chiefly in attending on the females or in the harem. They rose often to distinction, and held important offices in the state. Hence, the word is sometimes used with reference to such an officer of state, Acts 8:27. 12. For there are some eunuchs which were so born from their mother's womb—persons constitutionally either incapable of or indisposed to marriage.

and there are some eunuchs which were made eunuchs of men—persons rendered incapable by others.

and there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake—persons who, to do God's work better, deliberately choose this state. Such was Paul (1Co 7:7).

He that is able to receive it, let him receive it—"He who feels this to be his proper vocation, let him embrace it"; which, of course, is as much as to say—"he only." Thus, all are left free in this matter.

Ver. 11,12. Our Saviour, knowing the sinful custom and practice of the Jewish nation now for many years, and giving some allowance for that, and his disciples’ infirmities; so he doth not answer them severely, as what they said might deserve, but reproves them gently. What he saith amounts to thus much: You do not consider what you say.

All men, without sinning against God, cannot abstain from marriage. An ability to live chastely without the use of marriage is a peculiar gift of God, and your saying hath no place in persons to whom God hath not given that gift, for it is better to marry than to burn. There are some whom God by nature hath made unfit for marriage. There are others whom men (wickedly) make unfit for it, that they may gratify their own jealousy. (Thus several courtiers were made eunuchs, and so entrusted with the care of princes’ wives and concubines). And there are some who have made themselves eunuchs, not castrating themselves, (that is wickedness), but abstaining from marriage, and yet living chastely, (having mortified their lusts, and brought under their body), that they might be less encumbered with the cares of the world, and be more free for the work of the ministry, or be able more to give up themselves to a holy life and spiritual conversation. But God, who by his ordinance of marriage designed to people and continue the world, hath given to persons different tempers and constitutions; so as possibly the most of men and women cannot without making use of marriage govern their lusts. As to these, marriage is not a matter of choice and deliberation, and they may and ought to use it as an appointment of God, for the ends for which he hath instituted it. If there be any who can receive this saying, who can without marriage bridle his lust, and so live in a solute and single state as not to sin against God by any extravagance of lusts, and impure desires and affections, and desire, and shall do so, that he may be more spiritual, and serve God with less distraction, and be a more fit instrument to promote the kingdom of God in the world, let him do it.

For there are some eunuchs,.... Our Lord here distinguishes the various sorts of persons, that can and do live in a single state with content: some by nature, and others by violence offered to them, are rendered incapable of entering into a marriage state; and others, through the gift of God, and under the influence of his grace, abstain from marriage cheerfully and contentedly, in order to be more useful in the interest of religion; but the number of either of these is but few, in comparison of such who choose a conjugal state, and with whom it is right to enter into it, notwithstanding all the difficulties that may attend it. Some men are eunuchs, and of these there are different sorts; there are some,

which were so born from their mother's womb; meaning, not such who, through a natural temper and inclination of mind, could easily abstain from marriage, and chose to live single; but such who had such defects in nature that they were impotent, unfit for, and unable to perform the duties of a marriage state; who, as some are born without hands or feet, these were born without proper and perfect organs of generation; and such an one was, by the Jews, frequently called, , "an eunuch of the sun (n)": that is, as their doctors (o) explain it, one that from his mother's womb never saw the sun but as an eunuch; that is, one that is born so; and that such an one is here intended, ought not to be doubted. The signs of such an eunuch, are given by the Jewish (p) writers, which may be consulted by those, that have ability and leisure. This sort is sometimes (q) called "an eunuch by the hands of heaven", or God, in distinction from those who are so by the hands, or means of men, and are next mentioned:

and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: as among the Romans formerly, and which Domitian the emperor forbid by a law (r); and more especially in the eastern countries, and to this day among the Turks, that they may the more safely be entrusted with the custody of their women; and this sort the Jews call , "an eunuch of men", or , "by the hands of men". The distinction between an "eunuch of the sun", and an "eunuch of men", is so frequent with the Jews (s), and so well known to them, that a question need not be made of our Lord's referring to it:

and there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs; not in a literal sense, in which the words are not to be taken, as they were by Origen; who though otherwise too much pursued the allegorical way of interpreting Scripture, here took it literally, and castrated himself (t); as did also a sort of heretics, called Valesians (u), from one Valens an Arabian; and which practice is recommended by Philo the Jew (w), and by Heathen philosophers (x), for the sake of chastity. But here it means such, who having the gift of continency without mutilating their bodies, or indulging any unnatural lusts, can live chastely without the use of women, and choose celibacy:

for the kingdom of heaven's sake; not in order, by their chaste and single life, to merit and obtain the kingdom of glory; but that they might be more at leisure, being free from the incumbrances of a marriage state, to attend the worship and service of God, the ordinances of the Gospel church state, to minister in, and preach the Gospel of Christ, and be a means of spreading it in the world, and of enlarging his kingdom and interest.

He that is able to receive it, let him receive it: whoever is able to receive cordially, and embrace heartily, the above saying concerning the expediency and goodness of a single life, and having the gift of continency, can live according to it; let him take it, and hold it fast, and act up to it; he may have less of worldly trouble, and be more useful for God in the Gospel of Christ, and to the interest of religion; but this should be a voluntary thing: no man should be forced into it; and he that goes into it, ought to consider well whether he is able to contain, or not.

(n) T. Bab. Yebamot, fol. 75. 1. 79. 2. & 80. 1. Maimon. Hilch. Ishot, c. 2. sect. 14. (o) Maimon & Bartenora in Misn. Yebamot, c. 8. sect. 4. (p) Bartenora, ibid. & Maimon. Hilch. Ishot, ut supra. (q) T. Bab. Yebamot, fol. 80. 2.((r) Philostrat. vit. Apollon. l. 6. c. 17. (s) Misn. Yebamot, c. 8. sect. 4. Zabim, c. 2. sect. 1. T. Hieros. Yebamot, fol. 9. 4. Maimon. Hilch. Ishot, c. 2. sect. 26. & 4. 18. Mechosre Caphara, c. 3. sect. 6. Mishcabumoshab, c. l. sect. 5. (t) Euseb. Ecel. Hist. l. 6. c. 8. (u) Augustin de Haeres. c. 37. & Danaeus in ib. (w) Lib. quod deterius, p. 186. (x) Sexti Pythag. Sent. p. 8.

For there are some {l} 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 {m} made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

(l) A man can become a eunuch in one of two ways: the first is by castration or emasculation, and the other by natural causes, such as a rupture.

(m) Who abstain from marriage, and live as celibates through the gift of God.

Matthew 19:12 is an explanatory commentary on δέδοται.—εὐνοῦχος: keeper of the bedchamber in an Oriental barem (from εὐνή, ed, and ἔχω), a jealous office, which could be entrusted only to such as were incapable of abusing their trust; hence one who has been emasculated. Jesus distinguishes three sorts, two physical and one ethical: (1) those born with a defect (ἐγεννήθησαν οὕτως); (2) those made such by art (εὐνουχίσθησαν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων); (3) those who make themselves eunuchs (εὐνούχισαν ἑαυτοὺς).—διὰ τὴν β. τ. ο., for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. This explains the motive and the nature of ethical eunuchism. Here, as in Matthew 15:17, Jesus touches on a delicate subject to teach His disciples a very important lesson, viz., that the claims of the Kingdom of God are paramount; that when necessary even the powerful impulses leading to marriage must be resisted out of regard to them.—ὁ δυνάμενος χωρεῖν χωρείτω: by this final word Jesus recognises the severity of the demand as going beyond the capacity of all but a select number. We may take it also as an appeal to the spiritual intelligence of His followers = see that ye do not misconceive my meaning. Is not monasticism, based on vows of life-long celibacy, a vast baleful misconception, turning a military requirement to subordinate personal to imperial interests, as occasion demands, into an elaborate ascetic system?

12. eunuchs = “unmarried.”

12. for the kingdom of heaven’s sake] In old days some men abstained from marriage in order to devote themselves to the study of the law, in later times men have done so for the furtherance of Christianity.

Matthew 19:12. Εἰσὶ, κ.τ.λ., there are, etc.) There are three kinds of eunuchs: the first and second of which are treated indirectly, the third directly, in this passage. For the two former are either produced thus by nature, or made thus by the hand of man: to the latter it is given from above, although they may have been endowed with a body capable of marriage. And these (the latter) can receive the saying concerning blessed eunuchism: whereas, of those (the former), it can only be said that they cannot receive the law concerning marriage; although they too may accidentally (per accidens) obtain blessed eunuchism.—ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων, by men) by whose art they are castrated, that they may act as chamberlains, singers, etc., or that they may, on some other ground, be prevented from contracting marriage, of which they had been previously capable. For these, also, are included in a perfect enumeration.—εὐνούχισαν ἑαυτοὺς, have made themselves eunuchs) which they alone can do, to whom it is given. It is not in man’s power thus to make another an eunuch; see 1 Corinthians 7:7.—ἑαυτοὺς, themselves) sc. by a voluntary abstinence from marriage; sometimes having even relinquished a wife for the name of Christ (see Matthew 19:29), and adding exercises calculated to preserve chastity, and subdue the fires of nature.—διὰ, κ.τ.λ., for the kingdom of heaven’s sake) Not because they can only be saved by remaining unmarried, but that they may be able to devote themselves more entirely to the contemplation and propagation of Divine Truth; see 1 Corinthians 7:32; 1 Corinthians 9:12.—χωρείτω, let him receive) A precept not addressed to all, but only to those who are able to receive it. Not even all the Apostles seem to have been able to receive it; see 1 Corinthians 9:5.

Verse 12. - Our Lord proceeds to note three classes of men to whom it is given to abstain from marriage. There are some eunuchs, which were so born. The first class consists of those who are physically unable to contract matrimony, or, having the power, lack the inclination. They are compulsorily continent, and are not voluntary abstainers. Neither is the second class: those which were made eunuchs of men. Such were common enough in the harems and courts of Orientals. The cruel and infamous treatment which such persons underwent was practised against their will, and consequently their continence had no sort of merit. The third is the only class which of choice and for high reasons lived a celibate life: which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. This is not to be understood of excision; for this would be a contravention of the order of nature and the good work of creation. Origen, who took the passage literally, and with his own hands mutilated himself, was justly condemned by the verdict of the Church. The verb is to be understood in a metaphorical sense of the mortification of the natural desires and impulses at the cost of much pain and trouble, the spirit conquering the flesh by the special grace of God. The motive of such self-denial is high and pure. It is practised "for the kingdom of heaven's sake," that is, to be free from distraction and the cares and dangers involved in a married life. St. Paul carries forward the Lord's teaching when he writes (1 Corinthians 7:32, 33), "He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife" (comp. Isaiah 56:3, 4). The celibate life, deliberately embraced for religion's sake, is here approved by Christ, not to the disparagement of matrimony, but as a counsel which some are enabled to follow to their soul's great benefit. It may be added that the counsel applies also to married persons who sacrifice conjugal endearments for spiritual reasons - "have wives as though they had none" (1 Corinthians 7:29). Let him receive it. This is not an injunction, but a permission; it is no universal rule, prescribed to all or to the many; it is a special grace allowed to the few, and by few attained. "Each man," says St. Paul, "hath his own gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that" (1 Corinthians 7:7, 26). Some think the Essenes are here referred to; but it is not likely that our Lord would endorse the practices of a sect which in some of its tenets was by no means commendable. Rather he is laying down a limitation that, while self-sacrifice and self-dedication to God are acceptable and fraught with peculiar blessings, none should attempt to win heaven in this way, unless they are specially prepared for such a life by the grace of God mastering the human will and controlling every earthly desire. The pre-eminent value set on celibacy by the early Church was learned from this and similar passages; but Christ institutes no comparison between the single and married states; and it would have been wiser to imitate his reserve in estimating the spiritual merits of the two conditions. Matthew 19:12
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