Did Jesus recommend celibacy in Matthew 19:12?

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Concerning celibacy Jesus said, “For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Matthew 19:12).

In the ancient Orient, chamberlains were invariably literal eunuchs. Those who were eunuchs were pitied by the Jews (Isa. 56:3–5). Priests thus physically mutilated could not serve in the priestly office (Lev. 21:20). In the later history of Judah eunuchs are mentioned in connection with the court (Jer. 29:2), but whether these were Jews or foreigners is not known (Esther 1:10; 2:3). At least one of them, Ebed-melech, was an Ethiopian (Jer. 38:7).

The Bible teaches that marriage is God’s original plan for man. The formation of character may be far more effective and complete in close association with another human being than when a man is “alone.” In the loving relationships of home life more can be done to soften the harshness of character and strengthen the better qualities than outside that realm. Those who are without the privilege of a home of their own can miss one of life’s best training schools for character.

According to the scriptures, celibacy is not the ordinary, normal state, and it is a deception of the devil that, of itself, it can lead to a superior state of holiness. Among the Jews celibacy was practiced only by extreme ascetic groups such as the Essenes. The Scripture record states specifically that Peter was married, and probably the other disciples were as well (Mark 1:30).

Jesus never recommended celibacy, either for Christians as a whole or for Christian leaders. It is not natural, and does not contribute to the development of a symmetrical character in the way that normal married life can.

The words of our Lord, if understood literally, would contradict the whole teaching of Scripture. So, it seems proper to see this statement as parallel to Christ’s declaration in Matt. 5:30 “And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”

Some commentators find also a parallel in Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 7:29 “But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none” ( vs. 1, 2).

Jesus honored the institution of marriage saying, “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:4-6).

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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