What does the Bible say about…masturbation?
Nothing! Next question: What does that tell us about Christianity?
What scene in the Bible even remotely suggests sexual self-touch? The answer is: none. Strange as it sounds, a book of spiritual teachings isn’t concerned with whether, in idle moments, one’s hands are in contact with one’s groin.
But “Christianity” — was very interested.
Let’s talk about “masturbation”?
The English word “masturbation” is an 18th century coinage. Its etymology is confused. It may stem from the Latin word for ‘penis’, or ‘male’, with influences of ‘defile’ and ‘disturb’.
Or it may mean ‘defile with the hand’, as if touching one’s body defiles it?
The word is a perfect product of the colonial and slavery mentality. All physical movements are being declared the property of the ‘church’ — whoever that is.
Didn’t Catholicism seize the eternal soul, and Protestantism seize the body? Pleasure, in every form, even at its most innocuous and private, was hauled into the open and condemned.
In Matthew 15:11, Jesus speaks of how ‘defilement’ works in reference to the human body. “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
I’d see this discussion as metaphorical. But it’s clear: ‘Defilement’ has no reference to human genitals.
For later Christianity, the genitals were the source of defilement.
For fun, I looked up how extreme the anti-masturbation crusade became. A well-known Christian counselor named Jay E. Adams warned: “Masturbation can get such a hold on a child that it can almost drive him out of his mind.”
In 1979, the Christian psychologist James Dobson was ready to note that the scriptures are silent on the theme and that guilt for ‘doing it’ may be what’s harmful.
Even that was very controversial. “I hope you don’t feel a need for it,” he explained to the faithful, but it’s “not much of an issue with God . . .”
Note those two words: ‘much of’.
He still assigns divine significance to self-touching even after admitting there are no references to it. He tries for a conciliatory stance, semi-preserving an invented doctrine.
Previous crusaders, along the way, declared that self-touching is condemned by Galatians 5:19 (“the acts of the flesh are obvious”). It’s an enslaving practice, they said, so condemned by 1 Corinthians 6:12.
It’s a homosexual practice, of course, so condemned by 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. Since ‘love’ is a guiding principle, any focus on oneself, they said, is condemned by Galatians 5:6.
Even the teachings on love were used to condemn.
All of that, as scriptural analysis, is foolish — unsupportable, outrageous.
The word ‘flesh’ doesn’t even refer there to the physical body. As Stanley J. Grenz notes of the Greek sarx, and parallel Hebrew word, basar, the reference is to “the whole human person in our moral weakness, in our tendency to sin or rebel against God in every area of life.”
But they knew that. They needed a pretext to control fellow humans. They were willing to deform scripture to locate a concept that isn’t there.
I suggest a word for that: Onanism.
In 1724, an anonymous pamphet published in Boston linked the Old Testament character Onan with masturbation.
Touching oneself, it informed the world, causes illnesses ranging from “palsies, distempers, consumptions, gleets, fluxes, ulcers, fits, madness, childlessness,” etc.
I’m struck that the focus of the anti-masturbation crusade was always boys — a Christian war on boys.
Also note the basic ignorance of medicine. Christian clerics have claimed knowledge and ownership of the body. In fact, they were utterly ignorant, if not openly charlatans and quacks.
“Onania caught on and became the basis for hunting down those who practiced masturbation,” notes the entry in Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia.
I love the Old Testament story of Onan — the lone narrative foothold on which the anti-masturbation doctrine, for two and a half centuries, depended.
Onan never touches himself even once.
In Genesis 38, Tamar — the great biblical heroine has a problem. Her husband Er is ‘wicked in the Lord’s sight’, so God kills him.
By the law of Levirate marriage, a curiously important theme in the Bible, after Ur dies his brother is supposed to impregnate her, and the resulting child will be understood as the deceased brother’s heir.
The next brother is Onan, a devious figure who knows that, if he doesn’t produce a child with Tamar, his brother inheritance will go to him instead.
This is a story about selfishness, about many things.
But it is not about self-touch — even remotely.
I’d like to let ‘onanism’ refer to what it actually described: clerics importing an anti-sex agenda into a scripture they couldn’t even read.
Later ‘Christianity’ is Onanism.
The clerics who did that are Onanists.
Self-touch should be an acknowledged human practice. If sometimes used to relax and go to sleep, or slip into sexual fantasy, etc., it can be used more purposefully.
To touch oneself is to move energy in the body, and speak to the inner self. Christianity might speak to these concerns . . . and help humans achieve a higher state of awareness and performance.
Touch yourself! There is a clear prompt to do so in Ephesians 5:29–31.
No man hates himself. He takes care of his own body. That is the way Christ does. He cares for His body which is the church.