A more natural and rational understanding of Jesus talking of eunuchs

maj 4, 2011 § 2 kommentarer

The current understanding of Matthew 19:3-12 is paramount of the common Christian opinion that Jesus favors celibacy.

Anyone has the right to believe this, but I see this opinion as, not only cruel against humanity, but even irrational and against simple logic. The continual propagation of this strange interpretation of Matt 19:3-12 is just an example of the enormous power that interpretation has on the minds who interpret: who interpret not necessarily according to logic, but according to tradition.

So let me show you the absurdity of the celibate interpretation. Below, I will code the important statements of Matt 19:3-12. I will use the NASB translation, since its a fairly detailed translated version. The words in small caps are words quoted from Jewish scripture.

(A) – And some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?”

(B) – And He answered and said, “Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, ‘FOR THIS CAUSE A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE; AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’?

(C) – “Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

(D) – They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?”

(E) – He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

(F) –  The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.”

(G) – But He said to them, (a) “Not all men can accept this statement, (b) but only those to whom it has been given.

(H) – “For there are eunuchs[1] who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

(I) – “He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”

The understanding from (A) to (E) is unproblematic. The current interpretation of the rest is the following: (F) = marrying a wife will give problems for those who want to devote their lives for God; (G) = Jesus agrees, and says that such a high sacrifice is not for everyone; (H) = those who make such a sacrifice are called ‘eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’; (I) = Jesus makes this the highest manner of discipleship.

The problems with this interpretation is the following: Actually the disciples in (F) are of the same nature as the Pharisees: it is not worth the trouble getting along with and adapting to women. By making Jesus then agreeing with his disciples in (G), we are actually making Jesus agreeing in attitude to the Pharisees he just refuted, thus making Him contradicting himself. This results making eunuchs as the ideal, contradicting himself in (B) where he quotes the scripture where he says that God has made man male and female. Finally we make Jesus saying in (I) that Jesus holds to the ideal of egoistic manhood, actually the same stance as the Pharisees in (A).

This interpretation is totally absurd.

Compare this with the following rational interpretation:

The disciples in (F) show that they are of the same male way of regarding females. Jesus counters this in (G)(a) by saying that ‘not all men can accept this statement’, ‘this statement’ meaning, not what the disciples said but what he himself said that ‘what … God has joined togehter, let no man separate’.[2] And it’s true, the Israelite men could not accept marriage without divorce because of their ‘hardness of heart’ (E), and of course, the disciples were these same stubborn Jewish men that Moses (and God) had to compromise with.

Jesus continues in (G)(b) saying that ‘only to those to whom it has been given’ can accept living in a life-long relation with his wife, and that these  ‘to … whom it has been given’  are those Jesus has granted a higher level of living, which I see as a facet of the resurrection life Jesus is introducing in the gospel.

Then Jesus gives the exceptional examples (H) when one can impossibly live up to this high level of marriage relationship (G)(a) of which his own disciples are ample examples (F): the eunuchs, … which sounds a bit weird: eunuchs are extremely exceptional examples. But that’s exactly the twist of thought Jesus wants to convey: the absurd way of religion thwarts against the original plan of God (E).

And so Jesus gives the exceptional cases (H) when one cannot follow Jesus’ standard of marriage (G)(a): eunuchs of birth (fair enough), eunuchs who were made that way by men (fair enough), and ‘eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’, that is, his own disciples, a tragically ironic description of how far religious men, with too much ego, can go to justify their actions and egoistic mode of living.

And the most ironic and tragic response to this, is that His so-called followers through history have not detected Jesus’ irony, have not detected their own egoistic disposition, … and have even maintained a totally illogical interpretation to justify their hostile stance to God’s vision of man and woman.

But, quoting Jesus in (I), ‘he who is able to accept’ this high ideal for man and woman that God had from the beginning (B) and which Jesus is now restoring in the gospel (C), ‘let him accept it.’

_ _ _

… yes, I hear someone yelling back there: “But if a man does not marry (F), then one is not breaking Jesus ideal, because divorce is then not an issue (A)!”

But then you are disregarding Jesus quote from Genesis (B): ‘He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, … FOR THIS CAUSE A MAN SHALL … CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE’. Mark ‘He created them … male and female,’ and this ensued in a relationship. He didn’t create them not to marry.

… yes, I hear someone else yelling: “But Paul says that we shall not seek a wife if we are not married!”

Yes, but Adam never seeked a wife. He missed a wife, but never seeked a wife. On the contrary, in the beginning, THE LORD GOD MADE A WOMAN … AND HE BROUGHT HER TO THE MAN. (Gen 2:22). Adam didn’t seek, but God brought: ‘Male and female’ is totally on God’s own initiative, not man’s, which Jesus has come to realize: a life-long ideal with total respect and love for each other … simply because God made us male and female.

“He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”

_ _ _

Footnotes:

[1] Some translations replace ‘eunuch’ with something like ‘those who cannot marry’, which is misleading to say the least. Translators thus deny the possibility of letting readers of the holy writ understand for themselves the words of Jesus.

[2] This is attested in the Greek where the disciples’ ”like this” in v. 10 (F) and Jesus’ ”this” in v. 11 (G)(a) are the words stressed in Greek in these sentences; according to Gary Hills HELPS system in The Discovery Bible, Moody Press, Chicago 1987. Thus, Jesus is not referring to what the disciples are saying by his ”this”, but to the ”this” of the disciples, which is ”What therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate” (C).

_ _ _

Version update May 5: Divided (G) into an (a) and (b). Added footnote [2]. Made the small caps small. Added category and tags. Made the text more clear in places, especially telling more of the gospel of this passage.

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