The Bible does not discuss masturbation at all. This seems a little odd since it is such a strong and prevalent human event. And, given that Leviticus has so much to say about sexuality, one would think it natural that the subject would be covered. But it isn't. Masturbation is not specifically declared to be sinful. Nevertheless, we must be cautious to pronounce something to be sinful or not sinful when God has not discussed it. Therefore, we have to derive principles from scripture on related sexual issues and see if we can wisely apply them to the subject of masturbation.
First of all, sex was created by God for procreative purposes, physical enjoyment, and the demonstration of intimacy between a husband and a wife. In this context, the sexual act is intended to occur in a healthy marriage relationship between husband and wife in purity and holiness. In contrast to this, masturbation is the self-stimulation to the point of sexual release without the gifting of a spouse. It would seem that masturbation is a denial of the sexual design of God for couples. But, is it sinful? Again, answering this question is difficult because the Bible does not pronounce it as sin. Nevertheless, there is the principle of purity that is obviously true. Does masturbation fall under the category of purity?
We can say this for sure. If masturbation involves sexual fantasies and/or pornography, then it is certainly not pure and is very sinful. The Bible clearly teaches that our minds are as important to God as our bodies are and that we are to remain pure in both. Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; 28 but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart," (Matt. 5:27-28). Jesus is saying that thinking lustful thoughts is sinful. Therefore, masturbation involving sexual fantasies (at least not of one's spouse) is undoubtedly sinful.
But this brings up the issue of a spouse masturbating while thinking of his/her spouse. Is it sinful? Again, since the Bible does not declare it sinful, can we? Let's say that a wife is incapacitated by an accident and is in the hospital for an extended period of time. Is it alright for the husband to masturbate if he thinks only of his wife in order to relieve sexual tension? Again, without a specific declaration of scripture it is difficult pronounce it as sinful. On the one hand, his body is not his own and it is for his wife and he is not to be mastered by anything (1 Cor. 6:12). But on the other hand, she is not available. Would his masturbation be sinful should he commit it if he only thought of his wife? I cannot say for sure.
Then again, what if someone masturbates with absolutely no sexual fantasy of any sort. Is it then sinful? Again, this is difficult to answer. But, since the Bible doesn't condemn or condone it, can we make dogmatic assertions? Furthermore, what if a person masturbates in order to reduce the sexual urge in an attempt to not commit fornication? Certainly, actual fornication would be a sin, and masturbation would be preferable in this instance. But does this mean that the person is being mastered by the flesh? If so, then that would be wrong. But, does it mean then that a self-release of sexual tension is then acceptable if it is to avoid fornication? Again, since the Bible does not declare masturbation a sin, I cannot say it is.
Let's look at some verses that speak of sexual morality. I will comment after each one.
- 1 Cor. 6:18, "Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body."
- The Greek word for "immorality" is porneia which means illicit sexual intercourse, i.e., fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality, etc. The English word "pornography" is derived from this Greek word.
- Eph. 5:3, "But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints."
- Again, the word for "immorality" is porneia.
- Col. 3:5, "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry."
- Again, the word for "immorality" is porneia.
- 1 Thess. 4:2-5, "For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God."
- Again, the word for "sexual immorality" is porneia. The reference in verse four to "own vessel" is to having a wife so that fornication would be avoided.
The goal of the Christian life is to be pure in thought and deed. I believe that the issue of masturbation comes down to this. Therefore, I believe that though masturbation under certain circumstances may not be sinful, the desire to be sexually pure and holy should move the Christian to avoid it. Instead, he or she should seek to master the body and not give into its desires. The fight against masturbation can be a lesson in controlling the body which can have great spiritual benefits. Giving in to masturbation can have spiritual consequences and mastering the body can bring great spiritual benefit. Perhaps God did not mention masturbation the Bible because He is so aware of our sinful tendencies, our situations, our difficulties, etc., and desires that we seek holiness and purity by seeking to master our own flesh. If God had declared that it was not a sin, then we can rest assured that we would misuse the act and become enslaved by it.
If, however, you are bound by masturbation and war against it because it masters you, then you continually need to go to the cross and ask the Lord to forgive you. Also, pray and ask the Lord to provide you a spouse so that you would not fall into bondage of the flesh.
What about Onan in Gen. 38:9?
Some erringly cite Onan in Gen. 38:9 who spilled his seed on the ground, as a justification for masturbation. But this is a mistake since this is not dealing with masturbation.
"And Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so it came about that when he went in to his brothers wife, he wasted his seed on the ground, in order not to give offspring to his brother," (Gen. 38:9).
This is not about masturbation. It is about the failure of Onan to give children to Tamar, the widow of his brother, and fulfill his duty to raise offspring in his brother's name. By refusing his obligation, he sinned.