And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.
At a time of great revival among the Samaritans, Philip packed up there and traveled to where God told him.
The Greek word in Acts is eunouchos, which means literally “guardian or keeper of the couch.” They were placed in positions of highest trust in royal palaces and wealthy households. Eunuchs served and guarded the women in these households. Because of their intimate access to the royal courts, eunuchs often rose to senior government positions. They had to be men who could be trusted not to have affairs with the women — otherwise it might confuse both the line of succession to the throne and inheritance rights. Although the ancients did not have the same clear concept of heterosexual and homosexual that we do today, these were men who, as now, had a reputation for being disinterested in women as objects of sexual attraction.
In some cases where the master wanted to be extra cautious, eunuchs were sometimes castrated. (Please refer to the 3 different kinds of eunuchs described by Jesus in Matthew 19:11,12) Ancient literature indicates that various types of eunuchs were recognized. There were “Manmade eunuchs,” meaning those who had been castrated. But there are also references to so-called “natural” or “born” eunuchs. An ancient Sumerian myth about the creation of eunuchs says they “do not satisfy the lap of women.” It says they were specifically created to resist the wiles of women. The book of Sirach, in the Old Testament Catholic Bible, says that embracing a girl makes a eunuch groan. (Sirach 30:20)
Instead, eunuchs were commonly associated in ancient culture with sexual interest in men. The Kama Sutra has an entire chapter on eunuchs seducing men. Quintus Curtius, an historian who wrote about Alexander the Great reported that Alexander’s palace included “herds of eunuchs, also accustomed to prostitute themselves [like women].” Quintus Curtius also reported that Alexander the Great fell deeply in love with a eunuch named Bagoas and they entered into a relationship of mutual love. This does not mean that all natural eunuchs were gay, but as a group, they were strongly associated with homosexual desire, at least in the popular mind.
When the Ethiopian introduced himself to Philip as a eunuch, Philip would have immediately known he was dealing with a man who was part of a class commonly associated with homosexual desire. Acts 8:32-33 says the Ethiopian was reading from Isaiah 53:7-8. This passage was already seen by early Christians as a prophecy about Jesus. Verse 3 “He was despised and rejected by others.” Verse 7 “He was oppressed and he was afflicted.” That might be a strange passage for someone to read just after worshipping in Jerusalem, but it makes sense if the eunuch himself had found himself despised and rejected by the religious leaders in Jerusalem.
Eunuchs were the sexual outcasts of Jewish religious society. By the first century Deuteronomy 23:1 was interpreted to mean anyone incapable of fathering children (either physically or by reason of what we today would call sexual orientation). They would have informed the Ethiopian eunuch when he arrived in Jerusalem that he could not enter even the outer court of the temple. He would have been assured by the ‘people of God’ that he could not become one of them.
While reading about another who had been despised and rejected, oppressed and afflicted, it was at that moment Philip, guided by the Holy Spirit, came and asked “Do you understand what you are reading?” He answered “How can I unless someone guides me?” (8:31) So Philip began with the scripture he was reading, and proclaimed to him the good news of Jesus. Then they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is some water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Philip responded, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”
Whether the eunuch was gay or not, we do not know, but his sexual orientation was completely irrelevant to whether he could become a Christian.
If there were some authentic scriptural basis for excluding the Ethiopian eunuch because of the real possibility he was a homosexual, we can be sure that Philip, a man who followed God even when God led him into the wilderness, would have been quick to pursue it.