"Hey Rev!Is it a sin to masturbate?I'm a man with needs but I don't want to sin. I'm doing my best to repent and looking to be truly a soldier of Jesus Christ with all my heart.- Anthony"
This wasn’t a letter written to me. Rather it was a letter written to Reverend Martin Elfert, writer of the Father Knows Best articles at religionnews.com . In this series of articles, Elfert tries to answer the Internet’s questions about life, love and faith. Over the months of reading his articles, he has given some good advice to different people on a variety of topics.
But what he had to say to Anthony disturbed me. My souls started doing somersaults as I read what he wrote. I was challenged to give a more biblical answer than Elfert did. Because he didn’t honestly give a biblical answer.
Elfert’s response was lengthy, but I repeat his summarizing thought to Anthony so that you will understand Elferts’ opinion on masturbation.
"All that is to say, Anthony, that it's time for you to stop worrying. Your masturbation isn't troubling God. It doesn't need to trouble you either."
If you want to read Rev. Elfert’s response to Anthony, you can find the whole article here.
Don’t worry Anthony, Rev. Elfert says. Go ahead and masturbate all you want. It’s not a big deal Anthony. God doesn’t care what you do, so do it.
I’m sorry Rev. , but that isn’t the case. Not because I said so, but because God said so. And then Jesus Christ said so. That is not what the Bible says. Masturbation is a sin. It is a big deal.
Let me show you.
If we are going to go to the Holy Scriptures for our answers on things like masturbation, like whether it is wrong to do or not, we need to start by adjusting our thinking. We need to realign our thought patterns and understanding to those of the authors of the Bible and the original audience of the biblical stories. The Bible was not written for a twenty first century audience, with twenty first century thinking patterns and understanding.
Kent Dobson, teaching pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church said this about the Bible.
“The Bible was not born in a vacuum. it emerged in a specific region of the world over the course of many generations. It was written by different hands in different languages, with rich literary devices to a people on the verge of their own evolving literacy.”
We need to review how the Scriptures were constructed. Because contrary to popular belief, the Bible wasn’t just slapped together over night. It was written with much care, with great intent to convey a powerful message. The biblical writers were not stupid or ignorant about what they were doing. We shouldn’t treat their work as such.
There are times in Scripture where the authors are very much interested in the details. They seem to go on and on, sometimes to a great length to let the audience know what to do or what not to do. They want to make sure everyone understands every facet of every law. No small step to anything is forgotten, it may even be repeated to emphasize or stress the importance of something.
For example, read the book of Leviticus.
This is a book filled with rules, specific rules on what to do with people that happen to contract an infectious skin disease. What to do with their clothing, how long they needed to wait to see if they actually have a skin disease, how to declare the person cleansed of their skin infection are all things covered in this Old Testament book. If there happens to be mildew in someone’s home, God has given very specific instruction on how to deal with that. What happens to the stones, the plaster, the tools used to clean the house are all touched on. Even on the off chance that the mildew returns after being cleaned is mentioned and recorded. Leviticus continues to record all the specifics about sacrifices, what foods are acceptable for eating and many other such topics. All in great detail.
Often these things are recorded this way because the original audience did not know how to deal with something, like mildew, infectious skin diseases or animal sacrifices to God. They needed everything spelled out for them. Not that the first century people were idiots, only that they were being told something new and needed to have all the information to obey and follow the commandments accordingly.
Similarly, when these first century people did know something, the biblical authors didn’t feel the need to spell everything out. The people already knew. They were educated in that area or that task. Why keep telling them what they already know?
You will find that there is very little explanation in the Bible surrounding the idea of fasting. There are no instructions as to how to fast, only the call that you should fast (Matthew 5.16-18). That is because the first century audience had a working knowledge of fasting. They did it all the time. It wasn’t something new for them. So when the authors decided to write down what would become our Scriptures, they didn’t included instructions regarding fasting.
Now, hold onto that thought. I want to talk about this word, masturbation. Because the truth is that this word masturbation does not appear anywhere in the Bible.
There is no Scripture that says the word “masturbation”. It is not in the laws of the Old Testament. The prophets did not not speak about it. This was not something that Jesus addressed directly in the Gospels. And Paul didn’t write about this act in any of his epistles. Nowhere is the word masturbation to be found in the Bible.
So how can I say that it is talked about in the Bible? How is masturbation commanded against if this word doesn’t show up in the written Word?
Part of our problem is with our approach to the Scriptures. We come to this ancient text and expect it to have the opinion on the goings-on in the modern age. We want to know what God thinks about stem cell research, but can’t find anything. So we make up an answer, come to our own conclusions on what God said. We want an answer about GM foods (Genetically Modified), abortion or gender reassignment and we turn to the Bible, only to be disappointed. We being disappointed and annoyed because the first century people were not thinking and dealing with the exact same issues that we are now. And too often, when we become disappointed and annoyed by the vast difference in thinking and understanding between the biblical people and us, we conclude that the Bible doesn’t have any real answers for us. At least, no real answers to our questions because they are not named the way we would name them. They don’t use the words that we would use.
This is a problem, a large mistake on our part. We can’t expect ancient civilizations to have known what we would deal with. It is actually unreasonable for us to demand that. Just as we can’t expect our children to fully understand what we went through in our lifetimes, with our Walkmen and non-digital books. It would be nice, we may dream that they would understand, but we need to come to reality and work at understanding our children’s lifetime. Just as we need to work at understanding the biblical time and lifestyle. Because when we do, we will see that the Bible has the answers to our questions, even about masturbation.
When it came to masturbation, the biblical writers didn’t need to talk about exactly what it was. It wasn’t something they were unfamiliar with. They understood what it was. They did not not need a lengthy, descriptive commandment on what to avoid.
What the biblical audience did need, what we need now, was a strong and stern reminder to stop. And on more than one occasion, God told them to stop. But it wasn’t just masturbation. Israel was guilty of more than just this one sexual act. Repeatedly Israel would engage in all kinds of sexual activity that God did not approve of. So God commanded in the Law, by the word of His prophets and through His Son, Jesus Christ to
“FLEE SEXUAL IMMORALITY”
1 Corinthians 6.18 NIV
The phrase “sexual immorality” is a loaded one. There are a lot of things that fall under this umbrella term, things like bestiality, having sex with a parent-in-law or adultery. Though these things were once commanded against individually, as time went on and as you move through the Bible from the Old Testament into the New Testament, bestiality, sex with an in-law, adultery and masturbation all fall under the “sexual immorality” banner. So when the writer of Proverbs 6 challenges his son to avoid lusting, giving into adultery, falling for another man’s wife, the thought of masturbation lingers there in the command for purity. When the Prophets told Israel to return to God and to abandon their sexual sins, that included masturbation. Even Jesus talks about the evils within a man’s heart, things that turn into actions. Matthew 15.19 includes adultery and sexual immorality, both things that can involve masturbation. Both evil, both things that God is opposed to.
While the banner term or the umbrella term, sexual immorality is very broad and can encompass many things, it does have a very simple definition. A definition that does cover the idea of masturbation, so that there is no way to think or argue that this is an acceptable action for the people of God.
Sexual immorality is any sexual action done with the sexual organs, whether you are alone or with a partner, outside of a married context. If any sexual act occurred outside of marriage, whether before the wedding night or with someone other than your spouse, it was considered sexual immorality. If the male sex organ, the penis and testicles, and or any of the female sexual organs, the breasts, vagina or clitoris, were in any way touched, titillated, and or caressed, it was considered sexual immorality. Whether orgasm is achieved or not, any activity with the sexual organs were considered to be an act of sexual immorality.
This would include masturbation, whether done alone or with the help of a sexual partner. The Bible considers masturbation to be sexual immorality. And that is a sin, that is wrong.
I’m not sure how Reverend Martin Elfert missed that. Also not sure how Anthony hasn’t been taught about this in church or a men’s bible study, or learned this from his own devotion time.
Masturbation is one form of sexual immorality. And sexual immorality is sin. Masturbation is sin.
Now, God has very strong feelings about sin. In fact He is very much opposed to us sinning. God wants us to live in all righteousness, to live a sexually moral life. That is why the apostle Paul told the church in Corinth to flee or run away from sexual immorality. Likewise, when the 12 disciples of Jesus were handing out the rule book to the growing early church, they purposefully included the need to “abstain from sexual immorality (Acts 15.20, 29).” In the Old Testament, to show a consistent message in the Bible, God spends a whole chapter in Leviticus telling the Israelites in which ways they should not behave sexually. He specifically names a good number of possible sexually immoral combinations, and then concludes with this.
“‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.
‘Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such persons must be cut off from their people. Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the Lord your God.’”
Why would Paul and the disciples do this unless sexual immorality, in all its forms, including masturbation was wrong?
Why would God say this to the Israelites unless He had a strong feeling about the matter, specifically that He was opposed to it?
Another example of God opposing sexual immorality, and subsequently masturbation, can be seen in Numbers 25. When the children of Israel were being sexually immoral with the women of a neighbouring nation, God had 24,000 people killed for this sin. The Scripture said that this was a sin against the Lord, a personal slight. The act of sexual immorality was something that God took to heart and He did not approve of.
Paul, the author of Galatians, records the acts of the sinful nature as they are a direct opposite to the fruits or the words of the Spirit of God.
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
This problem of sexual immorality was so rampant in the first century churches that Paul had to address the issue in two other letters, found in Ephesus 5.3 and Colossians 3.5. And if that was enough for the ancient churches, or for us in the modern age, the little book of Jude reminds people how God feels about sexual immorality.
“In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”
For the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, go to the Book of Genesis.
God takes this subject of sexual immorality seriously. Even the topic of masturbation is not a lightly taken matter. Anthony, it is time to start worrying. God is troubled by your masturbation. He is bothered by all men and women’s masturbation. And it should trouble you as well.
After reading all of this, you may find yourself asking why. Why is God so worried about my body? Why does He care what I do with it or what someone else does to it for me?
““I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
1 Corinthians 6.12-13, 18-20
The human body is a collection of bones and flesh, with veins and blood, wired together with a brain and nerves. Science tells us exactly what we are made up of, what we consist of. What materials, how much water is in the human body are no longer mysteries but known facts. But our bodies are so much more than what science will teach us. Our bodies were created to be a dwelling place of the Divine Power, a home for the Spirit of God to abide in.
Our bodies, and all the parts whether they are sex related or not, are not just pieces of meat that we exist in. Or just pieces of meat that we use, abuse and exploit any way that we think is okay. That is not true.
The thing that we call our body is a holy temple, a place where God is meant to be exalted and praised. A unique space where the LORD can move and show His unconditional love to the world, a place where the Divine Creator can be worshiped for who He is and what He has made, that is what our bodies are meant to be.
Our arms, legs, mind, heart and sexual organs were all designed and purposed to work in a particular fashion, a way that God created them to work. God intended that we use our bodies in a unique way, a way of obedience. Not in an immoral fashion, not in a sinful way, but in a holy and pure fashion.
Masturbation does not fall under the category of holy or pure actions or purposes. It is not a moral thing to do. It violates God’s Law. That being the case, masturbation goes under the heading of immoral and sexual sinful actions.
God designed and purposed the body to be something sacred, and that includes our sexual parts. They are not toys to be shared with everyone. They are not attractions that are meant to be put on display for all to see. To treat ones body this way, especially regarding our sexual organs, is to diminish the uniqueness that our bodies were made with. We are determining to reduce our God’s temple to a common playground, a place of worship into a marketplace. Besides being against God’s purpose and design, it reduces ourselves to becoming nothing special. We diminish the great value that God has placed on us. And there is such great value in us.
“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”
If we understood how valuable we are, how important and sacred our bodies were, we would be less incline to sexually sin.
The Bible doesn’t stop there. If treating your body as something unique and holy doesn’t change your mind and heart away from sexual immorality, we are told what we will reap from our actions.
“Do not lust in your heart after her beauty
or let her captivate you with her eyes.
For a prostitute can be had for a loaf of bread,
but another man’s wife preys on your very life.
Can a man scoop fire into his lap
without his clothes being burned?
Can a man walk on hot coals
without his feet being scorched?
So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife;
no one who touches her will go unpunished.” Proverbs 6.25-29
Participating in any sexual immorality leads to your own destruction. It is a path leading to your demise. The author of this Proverb uses a language that is easily understood, regardless of what century you are from. Physical harm will come to those that participate in sexual immorality. A violent and angry spouse will be what you reap. Now, this directly applies to those that are having a sexual relationship with someone other than your spouse. When it comes to masturbation, it may not be physical harm that you experience, like an angry husband giving you a bleeding nose. But finding self satisfaction, rather than finding it in your spouse will lead to the destruction of your marriage. Going to find someone outside of your marriage to fulfill your sexual desires will surely bring your relationships to a disastrous end. It will not necessarily be a physically damaging end, but emotionally, absolutely.
The writer of Proverbs 6 goes on to say that “But a man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself. Blows and disgrace are his lot, and his shame will never be wiped away (Pr.6.32-33).” There is nothing honourable, nothing glorious, nothing pure about sexual immorality. And the same applies to masturbation. Instead shame and disgrace drag down the heart and soul into a very dark place, quite the opposite of what God planned for the heart and soul.
In fact it is completely counter to the will of God. Never did He intend sex and sexual related activities to be a burden on someone. Shame and disgrace where not the intended outcomes of something that was designed to be sacred and holy. But that is the reality. For those that decide to do what is contrary to God’s will, for those that decide to participate in sexual immorality, including masturbation, shame and disgrace are their reward.
God does not want this for Anthony. God doesn’t want this for you or for me. But He leaves the choice up to us, the choice to do what we will. Will we choose to refuse to engage in sexual immorality or not? Will we choose to flee from masturbation and other sexual sins or not? Will we choose to treat our bodies as sacred and holy temples or not? Will we choose to live without shame and disgrace or not?
Because the truth of the matter is this. Masturbation is a sin. It is clearly talked about in Scripture. God has a serious problem with our sexual sins. And we need to be aware that this is not a small thing. This, masturbation, sexual immorality is a very big deal. And it should not be ignored. It should something that worries us.
I’m sorry Reverend Elfert, but you are wrong. Masturbation is a sin.
When I started down this road to respond to Anthony’s letter to Reverend Elfert and his response, I knew that I wanted to reveal what the Scriptures actually say about masturbation and sexual immorality. But as I kept going, I realized that simply stating the truth was not very helpful. Yes, knowing the truth is good and should compel us to change our actions and attitudes, but change them how? Adjust our attitudes to what? As much as the truth was needed, I realized that help dealing with masturbation and sexual sins was also needed.
Whether people will admit it or not, masturbation, lust and pornography are all very much linked. And these things can become addictions; addictions that destroy, bringing more shame and disgrace. These people, anyone that struggles with lust or pornography or masturbation need more than just knowing that it is wrong. They need steps to move away from their addiction into a more holy and wholesome life.
Consider this article Part 1 about sexual immorality. Part 2 is here. Enjoy.