Missionary Singles Issues
Missionary Single Issues: Masturbation
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Probably no other sexual topic produces more disagreement among Christians at
the present time than masturbation, the deliberate physical sexual stimulation
of oneself. A century ago most Christians, and nearly everyone else in Western
culture, would have agreed that it was wrong and that people, including single
missionaries, should not masturbate.
Ancient rock paintings and other kinds of art as well as early literature from
many cultures depict both men and women masturbating. Even the gods in some
cultures were depicted as masturbating. Apparently few of these cultures
considered it wrong. To find out why this change occurred in Western culture,
one needs to consider what brought about this change. Christianity was involved.
What did the Bible say?
The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible appeared in the early 17th century and
became widely used. The English words chosen to translate some of the original
Greek and Hebrew manuscripts became influential in writing about masturbation.
- Genesis 38: 9-10 (KJV). Onanism: “And Onan knew that the seed should not be
his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he
spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the
thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore He slew him also.” Early
readers of the KJV believed that Onan had masturbated, so they sometimes called
it “Onanism” and condemned it as sinful because God had killed Onan for doing
- Micah 2:1 (KJV): “Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their
beds! When the morning is light, they practice it, because it is in the power of
their hand.” People who masturbated with their hands in bed in the morning
probably projected what they were doing into the particular wording of the KJV.
Therefore, masturbation was evil.
- 1 Corinthians 6:9 (KJV): “…abusers of themselves with mankind,” are listed
along with adulterers, thieves, and many others as people who will not “inherit
the kingdom of God.” Masturbation (self-abuse) would keep people out of the
What did people say then?
During the 18th century masturbation was condemned by people in many walks of
life throughout Western culture.
- 1716, Dutch theologian, Dr. Balthazar Bekker wrote a pamphlet, “Onania, or the
heinous sin of self-pollution, and all its frightful consequences in both
sexes.” The pamphlet was published in more than 60 editions in several
- 1760, Swiss physician, Samuel-Auguste Tissot published “L’Onanisme,” a medical
treatise saying that the loss of semen through masturbation would cause loss of
strength, memory, reason, and vision. It would also cause gout, rheumatism and
headaches—along with dozens of other diseases.
- 1797, German philosopher, Immanuel Kant published Metaphysics of Morals in
which he maintained that “such an unnatural use of one’s sexual attributes … is
a violation of one’s duty to himself.” Its immorality is because “ a man gives
up his personality” when he masturbates.
- 19th century: dozens of examples available.
- 1888-1917, Dr John Kellogg was an American physician (to Henry Ford and Thomas
Edison), inventor (corn flakes), and educator (American Medical Missionary
College). He published multiple editions of Plain Facts for Old and Young,
devoting 97 pages to the “Secret Vice (Solitary Vice or Self Abuse).”
- 1914, Robert Baden-Powell, Britain, founder of Boy Scouts added a passage in
Scouting for Boys warning them of the dangers of masturbation. This was
gradually changed to saying that to “be prepared,” scouts had to avoid wasting
vital fluids to conserve their virility, and this warning was not removed until
Clearly, masturbation was condemned for many reasons. It was considered not only
to be immoral, but also to be harmful to people physically, mentally,
emotionally, spiritually and in many other ways.
What does the Bible say?
Only during the last half of the 20th century were the three KJV passages
understood more correctly. Some of the changes were made earlier, but all the
needed changes did not occur until then. The popular New International Version
(NIV) made them all when it appeared in 1978.
- Genesis 38: 9-10 (NIV) is changed little, but today people agree that Onan
practiced coitus interruptus (a form of birth control), withdrawing before
ejaculation, rather than masturbation. What angered God was that Onan failed to
carry out the Levirate marriage law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).
- Micah 2:1(NIV): “Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on
their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to
do it.” This verse refers to evil in general being planned at night and carried
out during the day.
- 1 Corinthians 6:9 (KJV): “homosexual offenders” are listed along with
adulterers, thieves, and many others as those who will not “inherit the kingdom
of God.” Nothing is said about people abusing themselves.
The fact is that the Bible says nothing about masturbation. Even most people who
believe that masturbation is sinful agree that the Bible says nothing specific
about it. They typically attempt to interpret general verses about evil as
applying to masturbation specifically.
What do people say now?
By the middle of the twentieth century physicians and psychologists believed
that masturbation caused neither physical nor mental illness. Rather than seeing
it as harmful, people began encouraging masturbation. They said that it felt
good, was legal, was always available, was not hazardous to health, and released
tension to help avoid premarital sex.
Since the Bible does not mention masturbation, and since modern medicine has not
found it harmful to health, modern Christians have come to many different
conclusions about masturbation. In fact, by 1975 they had taken two extreme
positions as well as ones in between.
- 1968, “Masturbation—Gift of God.” This is a chapter title in The Stork is Dead
by Charlie Shedd. He noted that perhaps past generations were just blind to the
truth, that masturbation may simply be the “wise provision of a very wise
Creator” who “gave it to us because he knew we’d need it.” He advised teens to
thank God for it and to use it as a blessing.
- 1971, Masturbation—sometimes sinful, sometimes not. In Sexual Understanding
Before Marriage, Herbert Miles has chapter sections on “When is masturbation
sinful?” and “When is masturbation not sinful?” He concludes that though
masturbation may be sinful in some cases, when practiced on a limited, temporary
basis for the purpose of self-control, guided by Christian principles, and with
no evil results, it is acceptable.
- 1973, “Masturbation Is Sin.” This is a chapter section title in The Christian
Counselor’s Manual by Jay Adams. Agreeing that the Bible has no direct
references to masturbation, Adams maintains that it is sinful for four reasons:
(1) In 1 Corinthians 6:12 Paul notes that he would not be brought under the
power of anything. Some people are unable to control their masturbation;
therefore, it is sin. (2) In Matthew 5:27-28 Jesus says that sexual fantasy is
adultery. Many people fantasize during masturbation; therefore, it is sin. (3)
The Bible does not present masturbation as a sexual option; therefore it is sin.
(4) Adams says that masturbation is a perversion of the sexual act; therefore,
it is sin.
Obviously Christians do not agree about the rightness or wrongness of
masturbation. As is often the case when the Bible does not say anything
specifically about a topic, Christians reach many different conclusions about
Although masturbation has been practiced in many cultures for thousands of
years, the Bible does not even mention it. Although for a couple centuries many
Christians reading the KJV interpreted three passages as being about
masturbation, now most people agree that the Bible says nothing. What are single
missionaries to do?
- Related things tend to happen when people masturbate, so Jay Adams’ first two
points need to be taken very seriously. If single missionaries are not able to
control masturbation, it is a problem (1 Corinthians 6:12). If they are engaging
in lustful fantasy (Matthew 5:27-28) during masturbation, it is sin.
- Masturbation is usually not physically harmful to an individual. It does not
cause all of the debilitating illnesses attributed to it during the last two
centuries. However, single missionaries need to be aware that some forms of it
may lead to physical damage or sexual dysfunction. See details on WebMD at
- We must be careful about loading guilt on people about masturbation.
Condemning them for something not mentioned in Scripture should not be done.
If masturbation is done in public or interferes with social contact or daily
life, we need to help the person overcome this practice.
Member Care Consultant