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Overcoming Bible Abuse about Homosexuality
a Bible Study for God’s Rainbow People
revised to include verses directed toward the Transgender Experience
by Jim Manchester
copyright © 2007-2010 and 2017 • Jim Manchester & St. John’s MCC • All Rights Reserved

About the Eunuchs: Deuteronomy 23:1

LGB | TQI

Introduction

Since the concept of homosexuality didn’t exist in either Old or New Testament days, we already know we won’t find any of the LGBTQI words in the Hebrew or Greek texts. But that doesn’t mean that LGBTQI people weren’t in our Bible stories. They were! Lots of them!

Joseph's Coat of Many ColorsFirst, there was Jacob himself, otherwise known as “Israel” – the patriarch of the Jewish nation, who changed his preferred gender role as a stay-at-home, fair-complected, smooth-skinned young man to look more like his ruddy, hairy, go-out-and-earn-a living brother Esau in order to fool their father, Isaac, into giving Jacob his birthright. See Genesis 27. In Isaac’s family, Esau was living in the gender confirming, cisgender role; not Jacob.

And then Jacob’s youngest son, Joseph, was prone to dressing up in colorful, attention grabbing clothing which, along with his dreams of becoming a ruler, earned him the ire of his brothers. See Genesis 37. Perhaps Jacob saw something of himself in his youngest, favorite son, so he gave Joseph that famous “coat of many colors.”

We have already talked about young David … before he became king of Israel … who had a torrid sexual relationship with King Saul’s much older son, Prince Jonathan.

Over the course of these classes, we will see many, many more of our people in the faith stories we hold dear.

The Focus Verse

One of the verses that some would use to abuse Transgender, Questioning, and Intersex members of our Community sounds rather clear. Deuteronomy 23:1 says,

He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord.
– Deuteronomy 23:1 (KJV)

The New Revised Standard Version says it in clearer language:

No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.
– Deuteronomy 23:1 (NRSV)

The Ancient Story

The New Revised Standard Version says that this chapter is about “Those Excluded from the Assembly,” and some would say that it is talking about people who God hates. Let’s look at the rest of that section.

Those Excluded from the Assembly

No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.

2 Those born of an illicit union shall not be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.

3 No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord, 4 because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam son of Beor, from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. 5 (Yet the Lord your God refused to heed Balaam; the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you.) 6 You shall never promote their welfare or their prosperity as long as you live.

7 You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin. You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land. 8 The children of the third generation that are born to them may be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.
– Deuteronomy 23:1-7 (NRSV)

So, according to this, not only does God seem to hate people who are Transsexual, but God doesn’t like any children born “out of wedlock,” and God doesn’t like anybody who didn’t give the Israelites food and water on their journey out of Egypt. Since there is no one alive today who was hospitable to the Israelites during that journey, it would seem to mean that God doesn’t like anyone now – IF we were to take this literally.

Let alone any bastard children.

Setting the Stage for the Ancient Story

Eunuchs were as important in the ancient world as LGBTQI people are today. Society counted on eunuchs to provide many services with which straight people would never be trusted. Jesus acknowledged eunuchs in his society:

11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”
– Matthew 19:11-12

And, before we go too far away from this, let’s note that Jesus of Nazareth, himself, appears in the Christian testament to be a 30-year-old virgin.1 That isn’t gender-conforming either. Just sit with that for a minute or two.

Deuteronomy was the first book of the Pentateuch, the first five books of our Hebrew testament, to be written. It first came to notice in the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah, king of Judah, and it was the only book found by the high priest Hilkiah when he was cleansing the temple, as described in 2 Kings 22. This was in the year 621 B. C., or about eight hundred years after the death of Moses. The book had been written but a short time when it was found. Critics vary in judgment as to the exact time but all agree that it had been composed within the previous seventy-five years. These years were occupied by the idolatrous reigns of Manasseh and Amon, and the first eighteen years of Josiah.2

It was written as a summary of history of the Children of Israel at that time. A lot of the stories found in Deuteronomy were later expanded and additional narratives were collected to form the other four books of the Pentateuch.

This story is just one of many of the ones collected in Deuteronomy, and it was about how the priests were to decide who gets to partake of the generous support of the Temple and who doesn’t. There was only so much barbecue to go around on Friday nights. They had to have a way to decide who could come to the table.

Because of movies like The Ten Commandments, we have illusions of the Children of Israel being a huge group of people. But they weren’t. They were a very small tribe – or group of tribes – that had wandered into the land, and they were afraid that their cultural identity could be wiped away.

They were as protective of their children as we are of ours. They wanted their sons and daughters to find suitable mates who would raise their grandchildren up knowing about their history, language, and culture. So, they developed these Exclusionary Laws to make sure everyone understood who was In and who was Out.

How the Story Got Twisted

In order to use Deuteronomy 23:1 to tell a Transgender person that they are somehow not worthy of God’s love and care is to ignore almost everything else in the Bible.

Were these Exclusionary Laws meant to be enforced for all time? Certainly not!

Isaiah the prophet, who lived just a few generations after Deuteronomy was written, foresees a time when many more people would be added to “The Assembly.”

The Covenant Extended to All Who Obey

Thus says the Lord:
    Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
    and my deliverance be revealed.

2 Happy is the mortal who does this,
    the one who holds it fast,
who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it,
    and refrains from doing any evil.

3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say,
    “I am just a dry tree.”
4 For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.

6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
    to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
    and hold fast my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.

– Isaiah 56:1-7 (NRSV)

So, the very people who had to be Excluded in earlier days would soon be able to be Included … including the eunuchs.

By the time that Philip was teaching the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-39 a few generations later, it was clear that no one was to be excluded from God’s treasured people.

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
    and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
        so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
        For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

– Acts 8:26-39 (NRSV)

Baptism, not one’s parents nor the existence of one’s testicles nor any other external rule, had become the symbol of Inclusion into the Assembly of the Faithful.


Footnotes:

1 Chelsea Kingston, “Jesus, Eunuchs, and the (Almost) 30-Year-Old Virgin,” July 24, 2014. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/jesus-eunuchs-and-the-almost-30-year-old-virgin

2 John William (J. W.) McGarvey, The Analytical Theory of The Pentateuch, Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing, 1902. http://www.dabar.org/Critical/McGarvey-Dt-3.htm