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Religious Tolerance logo


Did Jesus forbid masturbation?

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Some Christian theologians reason that

bullet Masturbation usually involves sexual fantasy

bullet According to Matthew 5:27-28, Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) stated that sexual fantasy equals adultery .

bullet Adultery is a very serious sin.

Thus masturbation is generally a very serious sin.

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About adultery:

It is a two step procedure for present-day Christians to determine whether adultery is a sin:

  1. They first have to ascertain what the Bible says about the practice.

  2. Assuming that the Bible condemns adultery, they will then have to figure out why it was classified as a sin, and determine whether those reasons are still applicable today. After all, the Bible condemns the eating of shellfish and the wearing of clothing made from mixed textiles -- like cotton and polyester. The reasons for these two prohibitions are no longer valid. Thus they are not considered sinful today -- at least by most Christians.

One of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:14 states: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Adultery was a very serious sin in biblical times. There was no sacrifice in the temple that would erase the transgression. The penalty was rather serious: the perpetrators were executed by stoning.

The seriousness of the sin in ancient times was aggravated by a number of factors which created social problems:

bullet There was no really effective method of birth control available at that time. An unmarried women could easily become pregnant through adultery, have the baby. and be in dire straights because she would have no reliable method of supporting herself and her child financially.

bullet Children born out of wedlock were looked down upon. They were considered outcasts by the rest of society. They had a very hard life.

bullet In a society in which the husband was considered to own his wife as a piece of property (along with his house, human slaves, animals, etc), adultery was unacceptable. It was a form of stealing a man's asset.

bullet In ancient time, human sperm was believed to stay active for years. Thus, a woman could have intercourse outside of marriage, conceive at any time over the next few years, and give birth to a child which was not her husband's. A husband could not be certain that his wife's children were his. Prohibiting adultery, and punishing it with very strong penalties, was one method of reducing this uncertainty.

bullet There was no effective method of detecting or preventing the transmission of sexually transmitted disease (STDs). If the society allowed adultery, STDs would have propagated and reached epidemic proportions.

bullet There was no effective method of curing STDs. Many could cause death or infertility. These were major concerns, because the Hebrews were continually attacked by neighboring tribes and needed to maintain a strong army.

bullet Committing adultery often profoundly destabilizes marriages.

The first six factors listed above have vanished or are diminishing in importance. Currently, most people have access to devices that exhibit a high efficiency at preventing pregnancy and the transmission of STD's. With the exception of HIV -- the virus that causes AIDS -- the most common STDs are now curable. DNA testing is available to determine paternity. The general mood in society is to treat women as equals rather than as a piece of property. However, adultery continues to have a profoundly destabilizing influence on marriages, and continues to be a serious social problem.

Most Judeo-Christians agree that adultery remains a serious sin today, even if for no other reason than its negative effects on marriages.

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Feeling lust is equivalent to adultery:

In Matthew 5:27-28, Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) is reported  as saying:

"Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (King James Version).

In the past, many Christian theologians extended this teaching to even include husbands who had feelings of sexual lust towards their wives. They regarded all sexual intercourse as sinful to some degree. It was regarded as a necessary evil to prevent the human race from dying out. Spouses were expected to try to suppress sexual feelings and thoughts as they had sex. This belief is a minority position today.

Beliefs about sexual lust differ among Christians:

bullet Most conservative Christians believe that the authors of the Bible were inspired by God to produce writing that was free of errors when interpreted as the author intended. They generally accept the literal meaning of this saying: that a man having feelings of lust towards a woman has already committed adultery. Most extend it to also include persons of all sexes (male, female and intersexual) who have even brief feelings of lust for another person.

bullet Many liberal Christians reject this belief.

bullet Some note that lust is an emotion that comes from a more primitive part of the brain that is not under a person's conscious control. The triggering of feelings in general are beyond a person's influence. A person's hormones naturally causes them to have feelings of sexual attraction to persons of the opposite sex (if they have a heterosexual orientation) or to the same sex (if they have a homosexual orientation) or to both men and women (if they are bisexual). These feelings only become a sin if they result in inappropriate action, such as sexual behavior that is coercive, manipulative, not consensual, or unsafe. Most probably also include as a sin sexual activity which is outside of a committed relationship.


Some regard many of the sayings attributed to the words of Yeshua as actually having been created by the authors of the Gospels. They reflect the teachings of the early Christian movement more than the beliefs or statements of Yeshua. The Jesus Seminar, for example, rejects Matthew 5:27-28 as not reflecting Jesus original words or beliefs. They commented:

"On lust: The injunction against lust occurs commonly in Israelite tradition. ('You must not covert your neighbor's wife' appears as one of the Ten Commandments) and so this admonition did not originate with Jesus."

bullet Some have noted that the original Greek implies not simple lust, but overwhelming feelings of lust extending over a significant interval of time. Thus, they believe that a passing feeling of lust would not be equivalent to adultery.

bullet Most Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists and other secularists probably agree with liberal Christians and reject the validity of this passage.

There is thus a considerable disagreement among the public with regards to the linking of feelings of lust with the practice of adultery.

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Does masturbation necessarily involve feelings of lust?

A person who is masturbating frequently fantasizes about a person of the appropriate sex. However, they can often find an alternative focus. For example, they could concentrate on their body's physiological responses, on an impending orgasm, or on some other thought not involving a human sexual object.

So, masturbation does not necessarily include lustful thoughts, and thus cannot always be interpreted as adultery, even by the most conservative Christians.

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bullet For many conservative Christians, masturbation that includes feelings of lust towards person as a sexual object is a form of adultery, as proscribed by Jesus. However, this would probably not apply if a person is able to focus on thoughts that do not involve another person. They might consider masturbation sinful for other reasons unrelated to sexual fantasies and adultery.

bullet For many liberal Christians, secularists, etc., lust is not normally a sin unless it harms someone. Many reject Matthew 5:27-28 as having been created by the anonymous author of the Gospel of Matthew, and not from the mind of Yeshua. Thus, masturbation is not equivalent to the sin of adultery, even though it may involve sexual fantasies.

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  1. Editorial staff at the Catholic University of America, "New Catholic Encyclopedia," McGraw-Hill, [1967 edition]
  2. Bryan A. Garner, "A Dictionary of Modern American Usage," Oxford University Press, (1998), Page 20.
  3. "Fornication: What It's Not," at:
  4. "Uncleanness," The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, at:

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Copyright © 2005 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2005-FEB-21
Latest update: 2011-MAR-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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