When it comes to temptations to sexual sin, Jesus said if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. He also says there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs. In reading these texts together, a listener writes to ask if Jesus is commending surgical or chemical castration as a winning strategy for men in the war against lust? No question is off limits for the Ask Pastor John podcast — but you all know that by now.
Here’s the email, from an anonymous man: “Hello, Pastor John. I’m a man who struggles greatly with pornography use. Even though I have come to know God and try to fight these temptations with Scripture, I cannot seem to win over my sexual immorality. Jesus said, ‘For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it’ (Matthew 19:12). I want to glorify God, and I’m willing to sacrifice everything I have to be with him. Jesus also said, ‘If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire’ (Mark 9:43). So is surgical or chemical castration a viable option here?”
In Matthew 19:9, Jesus limits remarriage after divorce so narrowly that, in verse 10, the disciples throw up their hands and say, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” In other words, if there’s no backdoor to marriage, better not to walk through the front door.
“Even if Jesus meant this literally, that’s not the same as saying you may or you should. Nor is it a prohibition.”
To this, Jesus responds by saying that not everyone can fulfill his radical view of covenant keeping in marriage. He says in verse 11, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.” In other words, marrying and staying married under these conditions of absolute faithfulness is a gift of God, and not everybody receives it.
Then, he describes three situations in which a man may be sexually pure, sexually continent, while not receiving the gift of marriage. In verse 12 he says,
1. “There have eunuchs who have been so from birth.” 2. “There are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men.” 3. “There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
In other words, there are four possible paths of faithfulness. First, you can receive Jesus’s radical teachings and live in a marriage according to those teachings. Second, you can be born with a physical inability that prevents sexual relations. Third, you may be prevented from having the ability for sexual relations in some way by other people. Fourth, you may make a choice that would prevent sexual relations outside of marriage.
Not a Mandate
Now, the man who sent us this question is asking whether this fourth option, which Jesus describes as making one’s self a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom, is in fact a legitimizing of physical or chemical castration. I think we need to respond at four levels.
First, even if Jesus meant this literally — physical castration literally — that’s not the same as saying you may or you should. Nor is it a prohibition that you can’t use physical means to dampen or remove your sexual drive. That’s the first observation. It’s not a mandate and it’s not a prohibition.
Second, Jesus does say in relation to sexual sin (and our questioner pointed this out), “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29).
“I don’t want to rule out taking physical steps to dampen sexual drive if the aim is spiritual victory over sin.”
Isn’t it remarkable that he only refers to the right eye, which would leave the left eye perfectly free to continue with lust? Now, this has led most interpreters to think (and I agree with them) that Jesus is not saying that gouging out your right eye is a good remedy for lust.
A literal taking of a screwdriver and poking it in your eye is not a good remedy for lust. It isn’t. The left eye will pick up right where the right eye left off. This is a call to the most serious spiritual battle of mortification, but probably not self-mutilation since that, in this case, wouldn’t do any good. The seriousness is no less, because he says heaven and hell hang in the balance. That’s the second observation.
Whatever It Takes
Third, this verse suggests to me that making one’s self a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom probably refers to a radical call to chaste celibacy — like Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 — rather than physical castration.
Fourth and finally, however, I don’t want to rule out the legitimacy of taking physical steps to dampen one’s sexual drive if the aim is spiritual victory over sin. We do this; all of us do this. At least if we’re smart and if we’re obedient, we do this.
We do this with other physical temptations. We get sleep to dampen the bent toward the sin of irritability. We jog to dampen my bent toward the sin of despondency. I take walks in the beautiful October weather in Minnesota and look at these gold and yellow trees to replace inward-oriented moroseness with outward-oriented joy. We drink a cup of coffee in the morning to make us more alert and effective in our working.
There’s a principle here that he’s on to that’s not wrong — namely, taking physical steps to mute the power of lust or of whatever impulse it is that is leading us into sin. But I would beware of procedures that have permanent and unknown personal effects.