One of the things we have to do is our Christian culture and language is rescue the idea of Celibacy. I’ve tried to write quite a bit about this in the past but I realize that we need to talk about it even more. The good news is that more people are talking about it. The bad news is that a lot of us don’t realize what we are talking about including most of our “leaders”. We are going to need a more full theological and biblical understanding if we are going to lead in this conversation.
Most people tend to start in 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul talks about marriage, celibacy and the gifts. But I believe a better place to start is Matthew 19 where Jesus discusses the three eunuchs.
If you remember in this story the pharisees have come to Jesus and asked him about divorce. Now I haven’t talked much about divorce here and I do have some thoughts but we’ll come back to that another day. For today let’s just say that Jesus points the pharisees and others in the audience to idea that God did not intend divorce when he instituted marriage. He says almost no one should get divorced, which upset not only the pharisees but the disciples as well. They then say to him, “it is better not to marry then” which one could fairly interpret as, “if I can’t get rid of my wife when I want and hold that over her, then why get married.”
Jesus then follows that challenging teaching with a second one. He says that there are three types eunuchs (those who are incapable of marriage). There are those that are born that way, those that are made that way by men, and those that have chosen to become that way for the Kingdom.
The first thing that is important here is that Jesus is drawing a distinction between the three groups of people who are incapable of marriage. In other words, just because someone lives a life of celibacy doesn’t mean that they do it for the same reasons or from the same gifting. This means that we don’t just get to set up our theology of celibacy as “some have the marriage gift and some have the celibacy gift.” We have to look further than that.
This means a lot of different things. For starters it means that not everyone who ends up celibate gets to choose that. Not only that but not all celibate people have the supernatural call to it. Today I want to take a brief look at each of these three groups and then later I’ll have a separate posts diving deeper into the second and third group.
First Jesus says there are those that are born that way. In other words there are those who are born without the ability to marry.
Now typically everyone’s mind goes to the obvious here. That is that there is a physical deformity. In other words there are those that are born in such a way that they are physically incapable of having sex. For sure those people would be included in this group. But we also need to think of those who are mentally incapable. In other words there are those who have the physical ability to have sex who do not have the mental capacity to be married. By the way, to be clear, this does not make these people any less in God’s image or any less able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact all of the eunuchs that Jesus talks about can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Indeed the lame, disabled, deformed or otherwise impaired will be very much a part of the Kingdom. As we’ll see in a later post, this is part of what was so shocking to the disciples about this teaching.
The second group are those who “were made that way by men”. Now in Jesus’ day there were those who indeed had been physically castrated by other men. No doubt that is a part of what Jesus was talking about here. But I believe there is another way to look at the second group. That is that there are those who are made that way by the fall of man.
This plays out in many different ways and requires at least a post or two solely dedicated to the topic. But in broad terms there are people who have been sinned against in ways that may preclude them from being able to marry. And, because we live in a fallen world, and we are all born fallen, even if we are physically able to marry and desire marriage, for many reasons it might not happen. Again, more on this soon.
The final group are those that Jesus says choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom. These are people who have made the choice of their own volition. Jesus makes this clear by stating that they choose it. But it also a supernatural grace or gift which is made clear by the fact that Jesus says it is for the Kingdom. As we’ll see in a future post, this is the one that would have shocked the disciples the most as they had no category for this and all that it meant in their context.
This is the beginning of a biblical view of celbiacy. Jesus is widening the views of those walking with Him of the Kingdom – the door of which is open to all three of these groups. Celibacy itself points to the Kingdom and what is to come in the resurrection. However, not all of these are the same.