Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Devon Dick | Is masturbation a Sin?

Published:Thursday | May 26, 2016 | 5:00 AM

Recently, there was a promotion on LOVE FM about a discussion on masturbation. Many Christians rely on the Onan passage to argue that masturbation is a sin. In Genesis 38 the report is "Then Judah said to Onan, 'Go in to your brother's wife and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.' Onan . . . went in to his brother's wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother". Verse 8.

The first son Er died and left his widow Tamar childless. Judah told Onan, his second son, to fulfil his duty to his deceased brother by marrying his brother's widow Tamar to give his brother an offspring. When Onan had sex with Tamar, he engaged in coitus interruptus and spilled his semen on the ground.

 

RITUAL WASHING

 

There was a Jewish view that the wasted semen referred to masturbation and some early Christians viewed it similarly. However, the injunction concerning ejaculation as a result of sexual intercourse was a ritual washing, "When a man has an emission of semen, he must bathe his whole body with water, and he will be unclean till evening." Lev. 15:16.

The Genesis 38 passage does not describe masturbation. However, for the male, there is similarity between the outcome of coitus interruptus and masturbation, in that semen is wasted. This text could not be about masturbation otherwise it would make male masturbation a sin and female masturbation okay since no egg is released by a female after masturbation. A careful reading of the text shows that Onan was punished for his disobedience in not wanting to impregnate his widowed sister-in-law.

It does not even appear that the passage is about wasted semen since most semen is wasted between a man and his wife. The wife does not absorb the semen so it is wasted.

The Bible does not speak explicitly on the issue of masturbation. The problem with masturbation is when it is done as a result of narcissism. Justin Beiber, USA pop singer, has lyrics to the effect that if you love the way you look that much then you should go and love yourself. It is selfish love. There are those who feel that one should explore one's body sexually and that the person is best able to pleasure oneself. However, when it is an activity of selfish love rather than self-love then it is problematic.

 

BIGGER ISSUES

 

There are two bigger issues from the story of Onan. Family life, family structure and appropriate sexual behaviour change over time. There is no Christian group that would tell a man to marry his childless widowed sister-in-law. Therefore, there is room for each generation to discuss and then decide what is appropriate family life, family structure and sexual relations under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. A few months ago the Roman Catholic Synod of bishops published a paper on the family. Other denominations should follow and decide what is Christian marriage, family and appropriate sexual relations in this age.

The other issue is how some Christians use the Old Testament as it relates to many issues from blessings to healing, Mosaic Law, tithing, revenge, etc., as if the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus as the Christ has made no difference in our understanding of God and interpretation of Scriptures. Under the New Testament or new covenant, every Old Testament passage has to be read and understood from the perspective of Jesus.

Therefore, as it relates to masturbation, the question we must answer is, what would Jesus have us do?

- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.