By Dennis Franck
Answer: Jesus taught about three types of “eunuchs” in Matt 19: 12. The disciples were discussing marriage and divorce with Jesus. He explained that whoever puts away his wife and marries another, except for the cause of fornication, commits adultery. His disciples reacted, saying if this is the case it would be good not to marry. Christ ignored their possible cynical attitude and ignorance, and stated one principle which would lead a man to abstain from marriage by saying, “those to whom it is given,” are the individuals who can remain single. Simply stated, Christ was referring to those to whom are given the call and the grace to abstain from marriage.
The International Critical Commentary makes an excellent point regarding this:
It is clear…the disciples, instead of receiving an explanation and solution of their difficulty that marriage without facility for divorce would be a burden, receive what amounts to a commendation of abstention from marriage for the kingdom’s sake. In other words, while verses 1-9 are calculated to heighten the conception of marriage, verses 10-12 are clearly intended to increase respect for those who renounce marriage.
Jesus notes three classes of people to whom it is given not to marry:
1) Those eunuchs who were so born and were probably physically unable to consummate marriage; or had the ability but lacked the inclination.
2) Those who were made eunuchs by men and were physically castrated
3) Those who made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake
Succinctly stated, the ability to have a physical union can be summarized in this way. The men who were so born cannot because of birth circumstances. The men made eunuchs by others cannot because of physical circumstances. The men who made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake will not because of volitional circumstances.
The Gift of Singleness in the New Testament
It is interesting that Jesus added the third type of eunuch to the list. This kind of eunuch was not mentioned or illustrated in the Old Testament unless Jeremiah the prophet is considered to have been a eunuch for the kingdom’s sake and had the gift of singleness. Although God actually told him not to marry, it is possible and even probable that God equipped him with this gift. The same could be said regarding Ezekiel after his wife died.
The point is that in the New Testament, Jesus taught on the issue of singleness, something not seen in the Old Testament, and actually called it a gift as marriage is a gift. Matthew 19:11 says “not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.” Then in verse 12, “The one who can accept this should accept it.” Because of a different culture, time, audience location etc, Jesus was addressing and expanding an issue that had become a contemporary and relevant one. He felt it imperative to do so.
In the Old Testament the singleness of the prophets is descriptive in nature. In the New Testament, Jesus’ teaching was prescriptive for the current time and culture. I believe His teaching regarding the person who has chosen to make him/herself a eunuch for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake is also prescriptive for today (although the word “eunuch’ is rarely used).
I strongly believe the “gift of singleness” Jesus refers to is a valid, credible and biblical gift that is alive and resident in the lives of some single adults today. Although probably a very small percentage of single adults actually have this gift, it is necessary and wise to teach it from a biblical perspective along with the gift of marriage. It is possible that some who have remained single for many years may, in fact, have the gift of singleness and don’t know or understand the gift. They could benefit greatly from biblical teaching on this subject.
America is increasingly becoming a nation of single adults due to the realities of individuals marrying later and divorcing sooner. The average first marriage in the United States lasts eight years, while the average second marriage lasts six years. American culture postpones marriage till an average age of 27.1 for men and 26.0 for women, a five and four year increase respectively since 1970. Single adults desperately need and deserve this relevant biblical information and instruction concerning singleness.
Paul and the Gift of Singleness
The gift of singleness is also addressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:7-8.
I wish that all men were as I am (single and self-controlled). But each has his own gift from God, one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows, I say it is good for them to stay unmarried as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion (NIV).
What is Paul saying? The apostle wishes that all had the ability to remain single like he was for the following reasons:
1) To avoid the troubles in life that stem from marriage (7:28)
2) To be free from the concerns and anxieties that arises from the demands placed upon spouses to care for each other (7:32-34)
3) To devote oneself totally to the Lord, using the extra time wisely that results from not having to care for a spouse (7:34-35)
4) To be happier. Paul thinks the widow(er) would be happier in remaining unmarried (7:40).
Let me offer some concluding observations that have surfaced during my twenty-one years of ministry as a Singles Pastor to literally thousands of single and single-again adults. The following characteristics seem to be true of the person who possesses the gift of singleness.
He or she:
1) Has reached a place of contentment in being celibate (single)
2) Is not overly concerned with having a romantic relationship
3) Gives little thought to/about marriage
4) Finds much satisfaction in using spare time to serve the Lord
 Samuel R. Driver, Alfred Plummer, Charles A. Briggs, International Critical Commentary (Marion & Gibb LTD, Edinburgh, 1965): 205.
 D. M. Spence and Joseph S Exell, Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1950): 246.
 “Family”, Time Magazine (September 25, 2000).
 U. S. Census Bureau, Internet, http://eire.census.gov/popest/archives/2000.php#household (January 2001).