Recently, someone came to the blog inquiring about the "inclusion of eunuchs." Those search terms linked to some reflections of mine from 2011 on three texts regarding the exclusion and inclusion of eunuchs in the People of God.
The reflection starts with this passage from the Torah excluding eunuchs from the assembly of the Lord:
Deuteronomy 23.1 (NIV)For the translationally curious, The King James Version renders this verse in a memorable way:
No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD.
He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.The New Living Translation I think is the most straightforward, avoiding the NIV's use of the loaded word "emasculated":
If a man’s testicles are crushed or his penis is cut off, he may not be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.So that's the starting point, the exclusion of eunuchs from the Assembly of God.
But later in Isaiah we encounter a great many passages where Zion, the temple and the assembly of God is universalized. All nations will come to Zion to worship God. And in the middle of these texts eunuchs are specifically mentioned. Previously excluded, eunuchs will now be included in the coming Messianic Kingdom.
Isaiah 56.3-5Okay, now let's jump ahead to the New Testament. In Acts 8 we find Philip baptizing the first non-Israelite in the book of Acts. The man is from Ethiopia. Interestingly, the man is reading Isaiah. And he's a eunuch.
Let no foreigner who is bound to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
“I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the LORD says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.
Acts 8.26-39And thus, in fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, eunuchs gain access to the Kingdom of God. That which was excluded has now been included.
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.
In sum, this seems to be a pretty clear theological story about eunuchs moving from exclusion to inclusion. Persons who were sexually Other and were excluded in Deuteronomy 23.1 now find themselves included in the wider embrace of the Kingdom.
To be sure, people will have various opinions about what eunuchs symbolized regarding the sexual or gendered Other.
Regardless, we know this much for certain:
Those who were previously excluded eventually become included in God's ever widening circle of love.