Q: #297. What is a eunuch in the Bible?
By: Steve Shirley
A: A eunuch was generally a man who had had his testicles removed (castration), thus making him sterile/impotent and unable to reproduce. If a man's testicles were crushed in some way, he was also considered a eunuch, and as such, God would not allow him to serve as a priest (Lev 21:16-20), nor could he have "membership in the congregation of Israel" (Deut 23:1). (This likely meant he did not have ALL of the religious rights and privileges afforded to Israel: i.e. he could not hold an office or marry an Israelite woman. God later extends grace and blessings to eunuchs in: Isa 56:3-5). In (Mt 19:12), Jesus extended the definition of a eunuch to include any man who was born unable to reproduce or a man who voluntarily lived a celibate life in order to do God's work (i.e. Paul was such a man: 1 Cor 7:7-9).
The Hebrew word for eunuch is "caric" and the Greek word is "eunouchizo." The meanings for these words are basically "bed-keeper," "to castrate," and "officer." In the Old Testament, the word "chamberlain" is the same Hebrew word "caric." A chamberlain/eunuch was a man who given responsibilities by an important official (usually kings or queens) for such things as guarding the bedroom (Es 6:2), attending to the needs of the king (Es 1:10)(Es 6:14)(Dan 1:3) or queen (Es 4:4-5)(2 Kin 9:32-33), or being in charge of the king's harem (Es 2:3,14-15).
A eunuch sometimes held an "official" position as well, as one of the definitions of caric as an "officer" denotes (12 times in the KJV). (Many times when the word "eunuch" is used in the KJV, it is translated as "official" in other versions.) One of King Zedekiah's eunuchs was in "charge of the men of war" (Jer 52:25). In the New Testament, the "Ethiopian Eunuch" is said to have been in charge of Queen Candace's whole treasury (Acts 8:27)! These eunuchs often had considerable influence with their masters. For example, Ebed-Melech, one of King Zedekiah's eunuchs went to the King and pleaded for the life of the prophet Jeremiah, and the King allowed him to save Jeremiah (Jer 38:7-13). Harbonah, one of King Ahasuerus' eunuchs convinced the King to hang Haman (Es 7:9-10).
Because of his position, which often entailed working with women (i.e. being in charge of the king's harem or working for the queen), a man was often made a eunuch (castrated) so that he would be unable to have sex with the women he was working around (this often removes the urge as well). This made the man more trustworthy. (Having sex with the wife or concubine of a king was considered making a play for the king's throne: 1 Kin 2:17-25, 2 Sam 16:21-22, 2 Sam 3:7.)
Today, there few eunuchs such as those in the Bible, but in some countries, (and a few states in the U.S.) men are forced to become eunuchs as punishment for sex crimes (i.e. rape or child molestation). However, this usually does not consist of removing an offender's testicles, but rather, "chemical castration" is done. This involves administering a drug (generally Depo Provera in the U.S.) at regular intervals (usually about every 3 months), which makes the man sterile/impotent. (Its effects can generally be reversed once it is no longer administered.)
Sadly, I should add here that some homosexuals have taken Jesus' words in (Mt 19:12) about "eunuchs" "who were born that way from their mother's womb," and come to the conclusion that Jesus was speaking about, and accepting homosexuality. I will address this in my next question.