The Eunuch as a Rhetorical Trope in Matthew 19 and Its Afterlife in Early Christianity

Ian Thomas Kinman, Fordham University


As far back as the second century, early Christians began to read the eunuchs of Matthew19:12 as a simple cypher for celibacy. Many contemporary readings have challenged this viewby noting that eunuchs would have been a problematic exemplar for celibacy, considering thatthe trope of the eunuch operative at the time of Matthew’s gospel was of a hyper-sexualizedcharacter, frequently used as a rhetorical foil for celibacy, not a model. Yet modern biblicalexegesis of this passage depends on one obvious but oddly uninterrogated presumption: that theeunuchs in question still should be seen a model for discipleship. According to this presumption,the exegetical task concerning the passage is therefore to discern the otherwise enigmatic aspectof discipleship that the eunuchs are modeling. It is the argument of this dissertation that such areading is anachronistic and misguided: eunuchs were not seen by the author of Matthew’sgospel as a model, but an anti-type.With a review of numerous examples of first- and second- century literature of theancient Mediterranean world, and a detailed comparative exegesis of the gospel of Matthew, Idemonstrate how Matthew 19:12 presents eunuchs as an example of those who are not fruitful ofthe word of the kingdom, specifically in the context of Jesus’s challenging teachings on divorceand marriage. Instead, to use the language of Isaiah 56:3, “withered.” As such, eunuchs representnot an illustration of how one is to live in Matthew’s ἐκκλησία, but a caution against those whohave an incomplete acceptance of living out the challenging word of the kingdom of heaven.

Subject Area

Biblical studies|Classical Studies|Ancient history|Religious history|Theology|Religion

Recommended Citation

Kinman, Ian Thomas, "The Eunuch as a Rhetorical Trope in Matthew 19 and Its Afterlife in Early Christianity" (2021). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI28493365.