August 9, 2011

Hard Sayings VII: You Want Me To Do WHAT???


Content Notice: Metaphorical/literal sexual topics and sexual innuendo and material.

For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it." ~Matthew 19:12

Whaaaa? Say what? Its as if someone just bumped the record player and knocked the needle across the record....vrrrrrvrrrrrrrrrrpppp....or someone just pulled the plug on the TV just as the psycho killer opens the door.....**POOOOF**. The TV screen disappears into a glowing pinpoint of light in the center. Arrgghhhh. Then it pops back on as a test pattern.

I can imagine every man having read this is currently cringing. Relax! We'll get things cleared up rather quickly. I can state unequivocally that Jesus did not require followers to emasculate themselves. Again, we must look at the immediate literary context of the passage and what surrounds it. Right before this passage what do we see? A passage referring to Moses allowing divorce from marriage because of hardened hearts and stiff necked peoples. When Jesus told them they couldn't get rid of their wives by divorce, the disciples suggested that, in that case, it was better not to marry. Not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given' (Matt. 19:11).

This means that the only men who can successfully live a celibate life are those who have received the gift of celibacy. This obvious is contrary to priestly vows of celibacy in some denominations. To assume all spiritual leaders will be celibate is absurd. To impose it on men that need to be men (sexually active) will spell absolute disaster and goad otherwise decent spiritual leaders to seek sinful desires or outlets. They may even seek it in perverted and abomindable ways as we unfortunately read about in the paper and hear in the news.

This understanding then frames the verse in question. The verse is separated into two sentences the first containing 3 clauses.

(1) "For some are eunuchs because they were born that way
(2) others were made that way by men
(3) and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.

(4) The one who can accept this should accept it."

The first two clauses present no problem. Some men are born eunuchs, and as for being 'made eunuchs by men', that was not an unfamiliar practice in the ancient Near East. The hard saying is the third clause of the first sentence. What is meant by making oneself a eunuch "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven"? Frankly, it sounds pretty gnarly to me until I/we pick apart the passage. Sadly, Origen of Alexandria (A.D. 185-254) took this passage literally in his youth and didn't need to. Even he, realizing his mistake said in the interpretation of the words, acknowledged later in life that these words should be understood spiritually and not...

"according to the flesh and the letter". (Eusebius: Ecclesiastical History 6.8.2)

Jewish culture taught marriage was the accepted norm of religious/spiritual leadership and later came to be enjoyed in many parts of the Church post-Reformation. People such as John the Baptist that denied themselves comforts of marriage and family may well have aroused suspicions as he was not the norm. Even as a prophet we know that some of the Old Testament prophets which John the Baptist was a type of were married....such as Isaiah. The truth remains that some men and women have abstained from marriage (and supposedly sexual relations, in order to devote themselves totally to the cause of the Kingdom of Heaven.) There is nothing wrong with this but they need to assure they have this spiritual gift. If not their minds become the Devil's playground because eventually the flesh will get the better of the mind (Romans 7). The man who marries brings upon himself special responsibilities that will otherwise make full and absolute dedication to God impossible since he is responsible to his family as they are dependants and therefore his first church. A man if he is married has the responsibility of being a husband. A man who is a father has the responsibility of being a parent. This makes him the pastor and provider for His home spiritually and materially.

What then did Jesus mean? These words are no more to be taken literally than his words about cutting off the hand or foot or plucking out the eye that leads one into sin.

Jesus also makes it clear that celibacy is only for the "one who could accept it". He said "one."..which means a very small percentage. Not everyone that would be called. Obviously, for the rest, marriage would be the norm. This blows the idea of celibacy for all sky-high. It not only is not is not realistic...therefore this mandate for church leadership is unbibical as a requirement for discipleship or ministry. A few decades later Paul (although he practiced what amounted to celebacy) would repeat these same ideas, further expounded on the idea that forcing people into celibacy would be inevitably catastrophic. He stated:

"But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. ~1 Corinthians 7:2-7

So it is clear (to me) those that would be required to become celibate would be bestowed this "gift" from God directly. Happy (*ahem* or sad) to say this is not one of my gifts and it probably ain't yours either (but there is a slim chance it might be). So everyone can just chill out and calm down now and get back to your regularly scheduled Saturday Matinee or restart your Keith Green LP...

♫ "Oh no matter whatever the cost, I’m gonna count all things lost. Well I pledge my son, I pledge my wife, I pledge my head to heaven, I pledge my son, I pledge my wife, I pledge my head to heaven, for the gospel."♫

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