Masturbation has long been a topic of debate within Christian theology. Is it always a sinful act, or is it sometimes a natural, even healthy expression, of how God made people?
The answer to these questions often depends on one’s interpretation of Scripture, theological perspective, and personal convictions.
In the article, we will explore the arguments on both sides of the issue, using comparison charts and concise summaries and explanations.
You will gain insight from examining the biblical basis, theological arguments, and pastoral advice offered by those who view masturbation as sinful and those who do not.
Contrasting Views of Masturbation in Christian Theology
It’s important to note that both views on masturbation agree when it comes to rejecting the use of pornography. Both see pornography as exploitative and degrading, and its use is considered incompatible with Christian teachings on love, respect, and the sacredness of human beings.
|Masturbation is Sinful||Masturbation isn’t Sinful|
|Biblical Basis||Often argues that masturbation is sinful based on passages that condemn lust (e.g., Matthew 5:28) and sexual immorality (e.g., 1 Corinthians 6:18). They may also cite the story of Onan (more below).||Often argues that the Bible does not explicitly mention or condemn masturbation. They contend that the passages cited by te other side are taken out of context or do not directly address the issue.|
|Theological Arguments||Many argue that masturbation is inherently selfish and does not align with self-giving love. Others contend that it can lead to lust, pornography use, or other sinful behaviors.||Often argues that masturbation can be a natural and healthy expression of sexuality, especially when it does not involve lust or pornography. Others contend that it can be a way to explore one’s body and to practice sexual self-control.|
|Church Tradition||Most Christian traditions have historically taught that masturbation is sinful. This view is particularly common in conservative or traditional denominations.||Some traditions and theologians have become more accepting of masturbation, particularly in recent decades. This view is more common in liberal or progressive denominations.|
|Pastoral Advice||Often advises people to pray for strength to resist temptation, and to seek accountability.||Often advises people to ensure it does not become compulsive, to avoid pornography, and to have honest conversations about sexuality.|
Both perspectives on masturbation within Christian theology agree that lust is sinful. Lust, characterized by intense sexual desire or craving, is seen as a deviation from the ideal of love and self-control taught in Christianity.
Disputed Bible Passage on Masturbation
The view that masturbation is sinful within Christian theology is rooted in various interpretations of the Bible and the teachings of church leaders throughout history.
Does the story of Onan condemn masturbation?
One of the most frequently cited passages is the story of Onan in Genesis 38:9-10, where he “spilled his seed on the ground” to avoid fathering a child for his deceased brother’s wife. While the passage is primarily about Onan’s disobedience, some have interpreted it as a condemnation of masturbation.
|Biblical Interpretation||Interprets the story of Onan as a direct condemnation of masturbation, associating his act of “spilling his seed” with the act of masturbation.||Understands the story of Onan as a condemnation of his refusal to fulfill his duty to provide an heir for his deceased brother, not as a statement on masturbation.|
|Context||Focuses on the act of Onan spilling his seed on the ground as the primary reason for God’s displeasure.||Emphasizes the cultural and historical context of levirate marriage, where a man was obligated to marry his deceased brother’s widow to provide an heir.|
|Moral Implication||Sees Onan’s punishment as a warning against masturbation and as a moral lesson on the sanctity of the sexual act.||Views Onan’s punishment as a result of his selfishness and disobedience to God’s command, not as a statement on the morality of masturbation.|
|Modern Application||Applies the story of Onan as a biblical basis for teaching against masturbation in contemporary Christian teachings.||Considers the story of Onan as unrelated to the modern discussion on masturbation, focusing instead on the broader themes of obedience and selflessness.|
Does Jesus’ teaching on lust condemn masturbation?
Additionally, Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:28, where he equates lustful thoughts with adultery, have been used to argue against masturbation, as it often involves sexual fantasies.
The verse reads, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (ESV)
|He Condemns It||He Doesn’t Condemn It|
|Biblical Interpretation||Interprets Jesus’ teaching on lust as a direct condemnation of masturbation, associating lustful thoughts with the act of masturbation.||Understands Jesus’ teaching on lust as a condemnation of lustful thoughts and intentions, not as a statement on masturbation.|
|Context||Focuses on the connection between lustful thoughts and sexual acts, including masturbation, as sinful behavior.||Emphasizes the broader context of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus addresses various moral issues, including anger, adultery, and divorce.|
|Moral Implication||Sees Jesus’ teaching on lust as a warning against masturbation and as a moral lesson on the sanctity of sexual purity.||Views Jesus’ teaching on lust as a call to guard one’s heart and mind against sinful desires, not as a statement on the morality of masturbation.|
|Modern Application||Applies Jesus’ teaching on lust as a biblical basis for teaching against masturbation in contemporary Christian teachings.||Considers Jesus’ teaching on lust as a call to cultivate purity in thought and intention, not as a direct statement on the practice of masturbation.|
Church leaders like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas further solidified the view that masturbation is sinful. They believed that sexual activity should only occur within the confines of marriage and solely for procreation.
Modern teachers like John Stott and C.S. Lewis questioned whether masturbation was always sinful.
Does the Apostle Paul condemn masturbation?
Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 6:12 states, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything.” Interpretations of this passage vary widely among theologians and scholars.
|He Condemns It||He Doesn’t Condemn It|
|Biblical Interpretation||Interprets Paul’s teaching on sexual immorality as a condemnation of masturbation, associating it with impurity and unrighteousness.||Understands Paul’s teaching as a call for self-control and moderation in all things, not specifically as a statement on masturbation.|
|Context||Focuses on the broader context of Paul’s teachings on sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians, including the call to flee from sexual immorality and to honor God with one’s body.||Emphasizes the broader context of Paul’s teachings on Christian freedom and the principle that “all things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial.”|
|Moral Implication||Sees Paul’s teaching as a warning against masturbation and as a moral lesson on the importance of sexual purity and self-control.||Views Paul’s teaching as a call to exercise Christian freedom responsibly and to avoid behaviors that may lead to sin or harm others.|
|Modern Application||Applies Paul’s teaching as a biblical basis for teaching against masturbation in contemporary Christian teachings.||Considers Paul’s teaching as a call to make wise and responsible choices in all areas of life, not as a direct statement on the practice of masturbation.|
The practical implications of the differing views on masturbation within Christian theology are significant, as they can impact an individual’s understanding of their own sexuality, their relationship with God, and their interactions with others.
For those who believe that masturbation is sinful, abstaining from the act may be seen as a way to demonstrate obedience to God’s commands and to avoid lustful thoughts.
This perspective may encourage individuals to seek alternative ways to manage sexual desires, such as through prayer, fasting, or focusing on other activities.
On the other hand, those who believe that masturbation is not sinful may see it as a natural and healthy way to explore their own bodies and to manage sexual tension.
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