The answer to that question may be an obvious yes to some. The reasoning is that Christians are not robots and can do what they want. Those who subscribed to that line of reasoning believe that the flaw is in the question. They prefer to ask: should a Christian masturbate? Whereas I have no interest in presenting an exhaustive commentary on this topic, I did feel it necessary to write a few words for those that have been inquiring concerning my take.
There are many ways to approach this topic. Generally, I believe that the best approach, from a Christian standpoint, is to begin by laying the ground work through an analysis of what the Bible says about pre-marital sex. With that foundation in mind, one can then move to applying what is derived from that analysis to (1) what goes on in the mind in preparation for and during masturbation, and (2) what is taking place physically during the act.
However, I have decided to begin this commentary with some brief words concerning what I assume is going on in the mind. But first, what is masturbation? Without going into too much detail (which would probably get me into trouble with members of the clergy), masturbation may be viewed as a tool for assisting those who want to experience the pleasures that come with sexual release. The reason that they choose masturbation may be because (1) they are unable, for whatever reason, to get sex at the time that the desire arise (this category is purposely meant to encompass a lot of reasons), or (2) they simply prefer doing it themselves over a partner. If I’m wrong, feel free to correct me.
Do those that masturbate do it in a vacuum or are they thinking of someone? Someone is always the object. Thus, what is going on in the mind as a precursor to and doing the act is the imagining of the act with a person(s). The physical act then is an accompanying tool for the objective of the mind: experiencing sexual release with a person in mind. With these two working together, the mind and the hands, or whatever else one may use, the objective is achieved.
Ok, what does that have to do with the Bible? Is the word masturbation even in there? All these are fair questions that often go overlook simply because some of those being asked have never fully thought out the answers. The word masturbation is not in the Bible. Neither, according to my knowledge at this present time, is direct reference to it with other words or phrases. If any wish to present evidence contrary to this, feel free to do so. However, I will not accept anything that is not evident. If it has to be nuanced and accompanied with a detailed commentary, then it is not as clear as it needs to be.
Whereas the Bible does not address masturbation explicitly, it does deal with what one thinks of the other gender sexually. Jesus says that looking at a woman “with lustful intent” is adultery of the heart (Matt. 5:28 ESV). This means that it is not just doing the act that is a sin, but thinking about it. In a way it shows us how deep in sin we are. It also calls us to the higher power of God, who is able to save us from “this body of death” (Rom. 7:24 ESV).
Let’s layout the foundation for the principle: embracing thoughts of doing the wrong thing is sin. Here are some verses that will help us solidify this argument. A man’s true self is evident in his thoughts (Prov. 23:7). This mind of ours is also the starting place of sin: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22 ESV). The reason for sin coming from the mind is because we are tempted and have to make a decision concerning that temptation (James 1:14-15).
Assuming that you agree with my analysis, well, how do we apply what we have looked at to masturbation? Good question. As we stated before, masturbation needs a mental picture of some sort to aid with achieving the objective. This is where the verses come in. If we are thinking about sleeping with someone then how can we as Christians say it is ok? The truth is, we can’t. Understanding that since thinking of sleeping with somebody that you are not married to is wrong is, I believe, enough to dethrone masturbation. If what I do is to accompany what I think, then if I change what I think, what I do will be changed to. How’s that for Biblical thinking?
I truly believe that the argument is done. However, there are always extras. The pleasure of sexual release was meant to be experienced by those united in matrimony. A man using his hands to accomplish this is close to, shall we say, homosexuality. Why? You’re a man, pleasuring yourself. Far-fetched? Perhaps. However, I think there is enough there to make that case. And what does the Bible say about homosexuality? Enough to be clear concerning God’s position (cf. my articles here, here, and here).
Although this commentary was not exhaustive, I hope that it provided content that will aid in reflections concerning whether the act of masturbation is appropriate for Christians. I don’t expect any to buy the argument hook, line , and sinker. I do, however, hope that they investigate to see whether there is an argument to be made for forgoing the act.