" His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with [his] wife, it is not good to marry.
But he said unto them, All [men] cannot receive this saying, save [they] to whom it is given. 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 19:10-12).
What about Potiphar? Was he a fourth kind of eunuch?
Click here for this website's 'FAQ' answer.



        If from the beginning man was expected to get married and replenish the earth with children (Genesis 3:16,17), it is no longer required under the New Testament. When Jesus explained that man could not divorce his wife for any and every cause, his disciples said to Him, "If the case of the man be so with [his] wife, it is not good to marry" (Matthew 19:10).

        " But he said unto them, All [men] cannot receive this saying, save [they] to whom it is given. 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 19:11-12).

        Jesus gives three categories of men who will not marry. He uses the term "eunuch"; i.e., Greek eunouchosStrong's G2135, that is used basically for a "castrated person". Some eunuchs are (1) born naturally emasculated; (2) some are manually castrated in order to serve as eunuchs historically in harems; (3) the last category is a person who voluntarily abstains from marriage (Thayer).

       Jesus is careful to point out that this last category is voluntary by one who "is able." He has the ability to abstain from sexual relationships. The apostle Paul identifies himself as having that ability and his voluntarily abstaining from marriage (1 Corinthians 7:7,8).

eunuch chart

        "For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I" (1 Corinthians 7:7,8). Paul had the authority to marry just as Peter and some others had done. "Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?" (1 Corinthians 9:5). But as Paul had explained in chapter 7, his was a gift to abstain. Not every one had that ability as he emphasizes. Jesus also emphasized saying, "He that is able to receive [it], let him receive [it]."

       The Roman historian Eusebius said that the scholar Origen (third century AD)i had himself castrated (literally); if he did, some say that later he regretted it when he learned that Jesus statement had been figurative. (In other words, all that Origen did was make himself the second type of eunuch; i.e. he became a eunuch made by men.) Unfortunately, some brethren also misinterpret and/or misapply Jesus' statement and use it to forbid marriage among members of their congregation. The apostle explains that to do this is to teach a doctrine of the devil: "doctrines of devil... Forbidding to marry" (1 Timothy 4:1-3). Jesus said, "All [men] cannot receive this saying, save [they] to whom it is given. ... He that is able to receive [it], let him receive [it]."

       "Save they to whom it is given" ( αλλ' οις δεδοτα).   A. T. Robinson says that this a "Greek idiom, dative case of relation and perfect passive indicative." [dative case is similar to the English indirect object that uses “to”; e.g., "threw the ball to James."/perfect passive is action completed at a specific point of time in the past with results continuing into the present. In certain contexts the results can be permanent. This is certainly true in this context when Jesus is talking about innate ability.

       A Biblical illustration for the perfect passive is 1 Peter 1:4 where it states that our hope is reserved in heaven. This is a confirmation that Jesus has definitely prepared a place for us (John 14:1ff).ii Our reservation is assured whether we arrive in heaven tomorrow or years from now.

       This Greek idiom for the third eunuch is specifying the ability or gift that permits a person to abstain from sexual needs. It is given by Jesus in verse 11 and repeated at the close of verse 12. "It is a voluntary renunciation of marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. 'Jesus recognizes the severity of the demand as going beyond the capacity of all but a select number.' It was a direct appeal to the spiritual intelligence of the disciples not to misconceive his meaning as certainly the monastic orders have done."iii

        The ability to abstain from sex and marriage is God-given and not something required for salvation. This is a good principle to follow: if you do not care for sex, you should not commit yourself to marriage. This is a purpose for marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1) and one should not fraudulently promise a man or woman marriage if unable to perform marriage duties (1 Thessalonians 4:6; Mark 10:19; Exodus 21:10). Defrauding, according to Jesus in Mark 10:19 is breaking one of the original ten commandments.

        Paul confirmed Jesus' statement in his first epistle to the Corinthians. So this solution given by Jesus is not a punishment as interpreted by some but is available to ones who voluntarily do not want to burden themselves with a spouse or family in their service to Jesus. "But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you [that, ESV]" (1 Corinthians 7:28). This ability was an advantage to a Christian during what Paul defines as "present distress."

iii A. T. Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Gaylon West

"Throw Out the Lifeline"
The Fourth Kind of Eunuch in the Bible

  There were at least four designations of the word "eunuch" in the Bible.
  Jesus listed three in Matthew 19:12.

(ASV) For there are eunuchs, that were so born from their mother's womb: and there are eunuchs, that were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs, that made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

The following translation is really what I would call a "paraphrase" for it is not a literal translation. Jesus uses "eunuch" 3 times but this translation doesn't indicate that He did. However, it does explain who each of the three "eunuchs" are that Jesus referred to and is therefore helpful to us in this way.

(CEV) Some people are unable to marry because of birth defects or because of what someone has done to their bodies. Others stay single for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Anyone who can accept this teaching should do so."

(1) There is the physically impaired eunuch from birth.
(2) There is the other "physically impaired" eunuch who has had an operation "by men".
(3) Then there is the spiritual or metaphorical eunuch who has mentally determined not to marry for the kingdom of God sake.
    Paul identifies himself as #3 in 1 Corinthians 7. [ It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. (1 Cor. 7:8,9)]. As Jesus says, "This is for anyone who is able to accept it" (ERV). Paul calls on the Corinthian brethren to follow his example during the "present distress" (1 Corinthians 7:26) if they are able to "contain."

    Origen, or Origen Adamantius, was a scholar and theologian of early Christian interest in Alexandria, and one of the writers regarding the early Church. According to Eusebius, he interpreted Jesus' statement of "eunuch for the Kingdom of God" as being made so by physical operation. However, this only made him the eunuch of #2: "made so by men." If Origen had hoped to remove sexual temptation from himself, he might have been disappointed. "Most eunuchs who are castrated before puberty are not sexual" ( suggests that "some are". Boston Corbett, the soldier who shot John Wilkes Booth, is said to have castrated himself because of Matthew 19. Neither Jesus nor Paul told anyone to castrate themselves.

Number 4: "Potiphar type" of "eunuch"

    Now, here's the fourth kind of "eunuch": Potiphar. Potiphar was an eunuch (KJV: "officer") of the royal court of Egypt. This word is used several times in the Old Testament for literal castrated individuals and as a designation of royal office.

    "And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer1 of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither" (Genesis 39:1). Potiphar as an eunuch would not have been castrated physically nor a single male because he had a wife (Genesis 39:7).

1 Hebrew: (Strong's H5631)cariyc (saw-reece') (or caric {saw-reece'}) n-m.
saw-reece', saw-reece'
   "From an unused root meaning to castrate; a eunuch; by implication valet (especially of the female apartments), and thus a minister of state: - chamberlain, eunuch, officer. "

   This term H5631): saw-reece')or Saris appears over 42 times in the Old Testament and is translated "eunuch" at least 23 times. Six times it appears as sar-hassarisim (H8269, H5631), both labels meaning “chief eunuch.”

   Because of a possible double meaning here (“royal [uncastrated] official” or “castrated official”), many Bible interpreters have been hesitant about identifying eunuchs in the OT narrative, especially among the Israelites and even among later Jews who were taken captive and deported. Daniel is an example who is listed among those "eunuchs": "Now at the end of the days that the king had said he should bring them in, then the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar" (Daniel 1:18).

   To show the problem among translators, compareThe New English Bible (1970), which translates saris/sarisim as “eunuch(s)” in every instance, to the Contemporary English Version (1995), which avoids using "eunuch(s)" entirely, preferring general terms like "officer(s)" and "official(s)." Was the Ethiopian eunuch simply an "uncastrated officer" of the Queen's court?

    Finally, it is argued that since the Law (Deuteronomy 23:1) "stigmatized" the castrated male by banning them from taking part in Israel’s worshipping community, such physical eunuchs would have left ancient Israel. This argument is mute, however, when it is very evident that Israel did not obey God in every respect and like Jezebel would have copied the other nations in using eunuchs in the courts, especially in the harem. Josephus reports that Herod was well furnished with such eunuchs. I refer the reader to the article "eunuch" in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

    However, it is God opens his arms to Jewish eunuchs in Isaiah 56:3–5:

"Neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off."

    Was the eunuch of Acts 8 just an officer or was he a castrated eunuch?

    I found only two translations that I have that did not use "eunuch":

(BBE): "And he went and there was a man of Ethiopia, a servant of great authority under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, and controller of all her property, who had come up to Jerusalem for worship;"

(CEV) "So Philip left. An important Ethiopian official happened to be going along that road in his chariot."

   It is interesting that Luke, the writer, uses “eunuch” and “official” describing the Ethiopian in the same verse (8:27). If “eunuch” simply means “official” here, then Luke would be redundant. Because Luke used both terms in the same sentence, it seems that the Ethiopian is sexually mutilated. It is also true that in ancient times it was common for male servants of a queen to be physical eunuchs.

    It is unimportant whether the eunuch was a "real eunuch." All are invited to obey the gospel. Whether he was born a Jew or was a converted Gentile seems to me to be unsignificant. The official was "God fearing" and was so dedicated as to make the long pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship. To what extent he would have been permitted inside the Temple (as a converted Gentile or a "eunuch"), it is uncertain in current archeological material. He was influential enough to have a copy of the Scriptures while in journey.