Did Jesus forbid masturbation?
Some Christian theologians reason that
Masturbation usually involves sexual fantasy
According to Matthew 5:27-28, Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ)
stated that sexual fantasy equals adultery .
Adultery is a very serious sin.
Thus masturbation is generally a very serious sin.
It is a two step procedure for present-day Christians to determine
whether adultery is a sin:
- They first have to ascertain what the Bible says about the practice.
- 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no longer valid.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:
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.
Children born out of wedlock were looked down upon. They were
considered outcasts by the rest of society. They had a very hard life.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Feeling lust is equivalent to adultery:
In Matthew 5:27-28, Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) is reported
"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:
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.
Many liberal Christians reject this belief.
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
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.
Most Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists and other secularists probably agree with liberal Christians and reject the validity of this
There is thus a considerable disagreement among the public with regards to
the linking of feelings of lust with the practice of adultery.
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
So, masturbation does not necessarily include lustful thoughts, and thus
cannot always be interpreted as adultery, even by the most conservative
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.
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
- Editorial staff at the Catholic University of America, "New Catholic Encyclopedia," McGraw-Hill, [1967 edition]
- Bryan A. Garner, "A Dictionary of Modern American Usage," Oxford University Press, (1998), Page 20.
- "Fornication: What It's Not," at: http://freedom2201.tripod.com/
- "Uncleanness," The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, at: http://www.studylight.org/
Copyright © 2005 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2005-FEB-21
Latest update: 2011-MAR-02
Author: B.A. Robinson