What did Jesus Say About Marriage and Men Who Don’t Marry Women?

Today is Friday, October 10, 2014.

I blogged a few months ago about marriage equality and the problem many religious folks have with it and homosexuality, in general. This time I’ll just focus on the Bible, specifically the Book of Matthew, and re-post what I found there in Christ’s teachings about the subject. The country is in the throws of excitement for those who support marriage equality and those who oppose it are disgusted with the SCOTUS ‘non-decision’ earlier this week. I had an on-line discussion with someone who kept quoting from the Bible (mostly Paul’s letters) in which the word ‘homosexuality’ was used. I wondered how that was possible, since the word didn’t exist at all in any language until the latter 19th century and wasn’t used in the U.S. until the early 1900s. So, how could it show up in a Biblical quote? The answer is obviously a problem with translation. I looked into eighteen different translations of the Bible that are currently in use, and, although some translate Paul’s words as ‘homosexuality’, others refer to pedophilia, ritual sex at the alter, lust outside of committed relationships, etc. It seems all of these sexual behaviors are being lumped into the word ‘homosexuality’ in some translations.  This misleads believers to think that Paul was talking about same-gender sex in a general sense, but that is clearly not the case.

So, I decided to look further into the Bible to see what Christ actually said. I don’t have enough historical or theological background to tackle the Quran, so I decided to stay within the New Testament to find out what Christ said about the subject of love and sexuality. I was completely surprised to find that the Book of Matthew has Christ’s teaching on the subject!

But before I could really be sure I was reading things correctly, I had to go back and examine the multiple versions/translations and, boy, there is quite a difference from one to the other! I, therefore, decided to find a Vulgate Latin version to read something maybe a little closer to the original text. Then I looked at the German Luther version to read something not in English. All together, I examined 18 different translations of Matthew and discovered in Matthew 19 Christ’s view of male/female relationships, marriage, divorce and men who don’t associate with women. Oh, yes, indeed, He mentions the subject!!

The chapter starts out with Christ teaching the disciples about his view of marriage. They ask him about the issue of divorce, since they had heard He was against it. He said he was against it, in spite of Moses’ acceptance of it. He maintained that Moses only allowed divorce since men were so unteachable and emotionally unintelligent, there was nothing else he could do. But, in reality, it was never really meant to be, and in the new age He was going to ban divorce. The following are two translations of the conversation that followed, one Vulgate Latin and the other Luther’s German, and my analysis/commentary on them:

Vulgar Latin Matthew 19:10-12

10- dicunt ei discipuli eius si ita est causa homini cum uxore non expedit nubere 11- qui dixit non omnes capiunt verbum istud sed quibus datum est 12-sunt enim eunuchi qui de matris utero sic nati sunt et sunt eunuchi qui facti sunt ab hominibus et sunt eunuchi qui se ipsos castraverunt propter regnum caelorum qui potest capere capiat 

10-And then the disciples said to Him, “If that’s the situation between a man and woman, then it isn’t expedient (good, practical, appropriate) to marry. 11-He said to them in response, “Not just anyone can grasp (understand) this proverb (idea, teaching), but rather only those to whom were given the capacity to [be with women will understand it]. 12-That is to say, some men were born from the womb eunuchs, some become eunuchs because of other people, and some cut themselves off [from women] for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever has the ability to understand this, understands it.

The first thing that occurs to me is the use of the verb ‘dare’ in the perfect passive ‘datum’, which literally means ‘to give’ and ‘has been given’, but also means ‘surrender; give over to’ or ‘attribute or ascribe to’. In this context, it seems to be saying that the teachings about marriage and divorce are attributed to, ascribed to or meant only for men who are oriented to women and marry them. If a man is meant to be with women, then this teaching about divorce is meant for him.

However, Christ leaves open the possibility that not all men are destined or meant to be with women when he talks about ‘eunuchs’. Clearly, the word ‘eunuch’ is used here metaphorically. Christ does not appear to be referring literally to men who have been castrated, because in the third example in verse 12, He doesn’t use the word ‘eunuch’. In the Latin, it’s expressed in a passive reflexive verb form (se ipsos castrav.erunt): “are cut off by themselves”, i.e., for their own reasons, and specifically for spiritual purposes (for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven). This suggests the word ‘eunuch’, as used in the first two examples, is a metaphor for men who do not relate sexually to women. In researching castration in 1st century CE Roman culture, I found that there were two meanings for eunuch: one that described a man’s sexual behavior as celibate or not active with women, and one that described a man who had been castrated. That carried over into early Christian culture and continued well into late antiquity among Byzantine Christians who also used the term in those two ways. So, we can safely say this Matthew 19:12 reference indicates celibacy or a non-heterosexual or non-sexual orientation to women.

 In looking further into various translations of these verses, the German Luther Bible stays very close to the above Latin version—in fact, much closer in meaning than many early modern or modern English translations.

 Luther German Matthew 19:10-12

10- Da sprachen die Jünger zu ihm: Steht die Sache eines Mannes mit seinem Weibe also, so ist’s nicht gut, ehelich werden. 11- Er sprach zu ihnen: Das Wort faßt nicht jedermann, sondern denen es gegeben ist. 12- Denn es sind etliche verschnitten, die sind aus Mutterleibe also geboren; und sind etliche verschnitten, die von Menschen verschnitten sind; und sind etliche verschnitten, die sich selbst verschnitten haben um des Himmelreiches willen. Wer es fassen kann, der fasse es! 

10-And then the disciples spoke to him:  if such is the situation of a man with his woman, it is therefore not good to become married. 11-He spoke to them:  Not just anyone grasps the concept, but rather only those to whom it has been granted. 12- For there are some cut-off [from women], who were born that way from the womb; and there are some cut-off, who were cut-off because of people; and some are cut-off, who have cut themselves off, for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept [what I’m saying], should accept it.

Luther takes the Latin verb ‘datum’ (literally meaning ‘have been given’) and translates it directly with the German ‘gegeben ist’, meaning here something like ‘to whom it has been granted’ by God. This seems to be echoing quite directly what is intended in the original Vulgate Latin, that is, the teaching is meant for those men who relate to women and want to marry.

 As for those for whom the teaching is not meant, Luther doesn’t use the word ‘eunuch’ at all in his translation. He uses instead the verb ‘verschnitten’, meaning to have been ‘cut off or cut away’, a direct translation of the Latin ‘castrav erunt’ used in the 3rd example in verse 12.  Luther seems to be translating verses 10-12 to mean ‘removed from or cut off from’ relating sexually to women, because the word ‘Eunuch’ as well as the verb ‘kastrieren’, to castrate, existed in 16th century German. If he meant literally a castrated man, one would assume he would have used ‘Eunuch’ or ‘kastriert’.

I looked at over a dozen English translations of Matthew 19:10-12 including the following versions: King James, Wycliffe, American Standard, Revised Standard, New Revised Standard, New Century, Good News, Complete Jewish,  Hebrew Names, Common English, English Standard, Bible in Basic English, Tyndale, Weymouth, New International and God’s Word.  It is rather astonishing to me the variety of meanings given in these various translations. Some actually translate the verses to mean ‘castrated men’, which in the context of the teaching, makes no sense. Some just say celibate or renounce marriage. One version suggested that Christ said in the first example in verse 12 that some men were born without desire for sex, but then translated the second example as ‘castrated’ and the third as ‘renouncing marriage’.  In the end, I studied the Latin and Luther’s German versions, reviewed all of the above versions and came up with my own translation that I believe clarifies the teaching:

10-And then the disciples said to Him, “If you require this kind of relationship between a man and a woman, then perhaps it’s best not to be married to a woman at all.” 11-He said to them in response, “Not everyone can understand this, but If you are oriented to be with a woman, then this teaching is meant for you. 12- That is to say, some men are born not to be sexual with women, some men are socially conditioned not to be sexual with women, and some men cut themselves off from relating sexually to women for their own reasons, for example, for spiritual reasons. If you have an open mind about this, you should be able to understand what I’m saying.”

Christ seems to be telling his disciples there is an orientation to be or not to be with women. You can’t just decide that you are or aren’t going to be with a woman because you won’t be able to divorce her. You have the choice if you’re choosing celibacy for spiritual reasons, but otherwise He seems to be saying, you follow your nature and accept the responsibility. What I find fascinating in these verses is the subtle but clear message that a man’s sexuality is not a spiritual issue, but if he’s oriented towards women, then he’s obligated to get married and remain committed to her and the relationship to protect her from potential abuse and harm from society. It becomes a spiritual problem for the man if he divorces her for selfish reasons, leaving his wife to suffer the social consequences. Based on verses 1-9, it’s obvious that Christ is trying to protect unmarried and/or abandoned women from being socially ostracized and abused, suggesting that it’s the man’s fault if anything happens to her once abandoned and on her own. However, Christ makes it abundantly clear that not all men are meant to be with women and that is not, apparently, a spiritual issue. It’s a matter of your genetics (birth), or it can be a matter of learned, conditioned behavior, or it can be a choice. It’s not important. What IS important is how a married man treats a woman and how committed he is to the marriage.

In Matthew 5, Christ also says that He fulfills the old Law, and that, as the Son of Man, he is the new archetypal man for the new age. He is the new model for a new spiritual culture and tradition. Then to back that up, in Matthew 15, He says we no longer have to adhere to Levitican Law to be ritualistically clean, for it is what’s in the heart and what comes out of your mouth that makes you ritually clean or unclean. It’s not the food that goes into your mouth or washing your hands that determines your level of cleanliness for worship, but rather the words, thoughts and ideas that come from the heart and come out of your mouth. He also criticizes people for being rigid  about following Levitican rules and not His ideas. Christ lays it out clearly in reference to this in Matthew 11, that even those communities previously destroyed by their own sin, for example, Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, will be forgiven before those who stick irrationally to old dogmas and don’t follow his new teachings. That’s a pretty shocking claim. Superficially, this often becomes interpreted as simply the punishment for turning away from Christ. However, there’s something deeper in the message. This is specifically about being dogmatic about Leviticus and the Old Testament rules for worship, and not just a general admonition for not following His teachings. 

The way I read it, the core message of Christ’s teachings has to become central to spiritual practice and we can now abandon the old ritualistic requirements for worship. The new standards still include some of Mosaic Law, for example, the Ten Commandments, but beyond that the only thing we need to pay attention to are the teachings of Christ, whose central message is ‘love’. In Matthew 5: 44-47, “ 44- But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45- so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil. 46- Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that! 47- And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that!” (Good News translation)

So, it’s clear to me that all of the listed abominations in Leviticus are no longer spiritual issues for Christians. Christ did not adhere to those rules and clarified why. The only specifically worded rule against same-sex behavior, other than Paul’s admonition of ritualistic same-sex behaviors at the altar, pedophilia and random acts of lust, is in Leviticus, and it seems Christ didn’t have much use for those rules. That being the case, and considering Christ’s teachings on male sexuality and marriage, where is the problem with same-sex relationships when they are based on commitment and love?  It is obviously a problem within Christianity for heterosexuals as well as homosexuals to give oneself over to sexual lust without an emotional relationship and some level of commitment between the two people.  OK, I can accept the premise that it’s a ‘sin’ to have sexual relations without the benefit of an agreed upon commitment between the consenting adults. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but I can accept the premise. But there is nothing in the New Testament and nothing in the teachings of Christ that would prohibit two adults of the same gender to commit to each other in a loving, long-term sexual relationship, for example, a marriage. In Paul’s letters, he talks about the sin of pedophilia or the sin of ritualistic sex at the church altar, or giving yourself over to lust randomly with someone of the same sex. But even Paul doesn’t say anything about a committed adult same-sex relationship.

So, where is this rigid, dogmatic fundamentalist anti-gay sentiment coming from within Christianity? Why are so many Christians not reading and following Christ’s actual teachings regarding such an attitude and such treatment of others, when the Good Book lays it all out quite clearly that such attitudes and treatment of others is, in Christ’s view, sinful? Certainly, there can be no confusion over the definition of marriage, since the only time Christ really focuses on marriage is when He says heterosexual men should be married to women and once they are, they must remain so for life. He does describe what the relationship should be like, but he doesn’t really define marriage at all.

My conclusion is that based on Christ’s actual words, a person’s sexuality is not a spiritual issue. It’s what one DOES with that sexuality that is or isn’t ‘sin’. Within a Christian context, a heterosexual shouldn’t be promiscuous, nor should a homosexual. A heterosexual should develop a durable, committed, loving relationship. A homosexual should theoretically do the same. It’s fascinating that in Christ’s teachings on love and marriage, He never once suggested that marriage’s primary purpose is procreation. His overriding concern was protecting women from societal abuse because of being unmarried or divorced.  I can only assume, our contemporary social problem accepting homosexuality as just another sexual orientation, and that same-sex marriage is somehow un-Christian, is a cultural tradition rooted in a long-standing homophobia and bigotry from the early Middle Ages, and it’s not specifically related to the teachings of Christ in the New Testament at all.

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