Is Masturbation a Sin?

This question was recently posed, and because it is a sensitive subject I thought this blog might be a good place to discuss a response. It’s a question that a lot of people have probably wondered about, but didn’t know who to ask. Although I’m not an authority on what God wants, I do have a lot of opinions about topics that I’m quite willing to share when asked.

Let me begin by pointing out that I don’t believe the Bible deals with masturbation directly.  I’m not aware of any passage that addresses the topic.  Occasionally, I’ve heard it suggested that Onan was struck down for this sin.  However, I don’t believe that this is a correct understanding of the passage.  In the account, Onan was commanded to raise up children for his deceased brother, as was the custom of the day.  Onan didn’t want to do this and so it seemed that he practiced a form of birth control.  I believe that his refusal to fulfill his obligation to his deceased brother is what brought about God’s judgement (click here to read the Biblical account).

So, what do we do if the Bible doesn’t deal with a topic?  Shall we assume that something is permissible because the Bible doesn’t talk about it?  Well, that might not be a good idea.  For example, the Bible doesn’t discuss whether it is wrong to hack into your neighbor’s computer. Yet, few of us would think that this is a good thing to do.  To determine if something is right or wrong, we would have to determine if there are any Biblical principles in place that might be violated.  In the same way, I believe that we can reach some conclusions on the topic of masturbation.

Paul told the Corinthians that in a marriage, a husband’s body no longer belongs to him; it belongs sexually to his wife.  Likewise, when a woman marries, she surrenders authority of her body to her husband for the same reasons (I Cor. 7:3-4).  Therefore, a Christian couple realizes that they each have surrendered their right to make their own decisions about their bodies since those bodies now belong to someone else.  Paul wrote that each spouse is not to deny the other sexually, unless they both have agreed to abstain for a period of time (1 Cor. 7:5).

Based on what Paul has to say about a married couple, it is easy to see how masturbation might interfere with God’s plan for a marriage.  For example, if it results in the denial of a spouse his or her right to the other’s body, then it would be wrong.  Likewise, if one spouse is engaged in this sexual activity with a body that no longer belongs to them, and that activity is unapproved by the rightful owner of that body, then it would be wrong in that case too.

But what about the unmarried?  What about those who have not yet surrendered rights of their own bodies to another?  Is it a sin for them?

To answer this question we would need to know if there are any other Biblical principles at play which have to be considered.

One principle that must be considered is that of lust.  Jesus once said that if a man looks at a woman to lust for her, then he has committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt 5:27-28).  The key to understanding this passage is the phrase “to lust for her.”  Here, I believe Jesus is describing when it is wrong to look at a woman (or a man).  If the purpose of looking at them, or even considering them in our minds, is to lust after them, then we have displeased God.  Lust is probably best understood as powerfully coveting someone that does not belong to you.  We cannot covet something that is already ours – like a spouse.  However, we can lust after people who do not rightfully belong to us.  In fact, they may rightfully belong to their spouse or to God.  This is not something that pleases God.

If masturbation is fueled by lust (sin), then it would be hard to imagine that it is something that pleases God even if we have not given our bodies to anyone else.  If it is not lustful, then it may not be a violation.

One might wonder why God is concerned with something going on in our minds or bodies that doesn’t harm anyone else.  Well, first of all, God’s rules only apply to God’s people.  If a person is living in rebellion to God (a non-believer), then no one would expect that person to be living according to God’s standards. However, a believer is someone who has given himself or herself over to God. A believer has surrendered all of his being to the Lord.  His body, mind, and spirit no longer belong to him, but to the Lord. Therefore, if our minds really belong to the Lord we should train them to only do those things that please God.  Likewise, if a believer’s body belongs to the Lord, then we should be seeking to use our bodies in a way that glorify Him.

Hopefully some of these thoughts will inform your decision on this matter.



Dane Cramer is a backpacker, Christian blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmaker, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us



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