JUAN RIVERA SAID:
“I'm surprised by your neutrality with regard to masturbation and single males. First of all, God created sex to involve two parties, ‘He made them male and female’.”
i) This is a good example of how our reading of Scripture is unconsciously conditioned by extrascriptural assumptions.
Juan defines masturbation as sex. But the Bible doesn’t define masturbation as sex. And the Bible doesn’t define it as sex for the simple reason that the Bible doesn’t discuss masturbation at all.
So his appeal is circular. He classifies a certain behavior as sexual, although the Bible is silent on this specific behavior, and then he plugs that extrabiblical definition into the Biblical framework of sexual sin.
ii) Aside from the above stated circularity, there is also a basic incoherence in his definition. If the Bible defines sex as a two-party transaction, and masturbation is a solo behavior, then, by definition, masturbation wouldn’t qualify as sex.
iii) Juan is half-right. Wherever the Bible talks about either licit or illicit sex, it’s a two-party transaction, whether premarital sex, extramarital sex, marital sex, sodomy, or bestiality.
So, one could agree with his premise, but draw a different conclusion. Since the only forms of sexual sin targeted in Scripture involve two-party transactions, masturbation doesn’t fall under the operating definition.
Again, I’m not saying that masturbation isn’t sex. And I’m not saying that masturbation isn’t wrong.
I’m simply noting that, as of yet, the critics of my noncommittal position aren’t coming up with very good arguments.
Instead, they’re importing extrascriptural assumptions into the text of Scripture, as well as resorting to very slipshod forms of reasoning.
This is well-meaning, but it illustrates the fact that they really haven’t thought through the issues before rushing to judgment.
iv) Let’s revert to an example which another commenter introduced. What about nocturnal emissions? This is something the Bible does discuss (Lev 15:16-17; Deut 23:10-11).
How does a wet-dream fit into Juan’s definition of sex as a two-party transaction involving a husband and wife?
Would this qualify as sex? Is masturbation sexual, but a wet-dream is asexual?
“Secondly, He created sex to be pleasurable within the marriage covenant.”
Is a wet-dream pleasant or unpleasant?
“As well as for the purposes of procreation.”
Is Juan’s position that a married couple should refrain from sex whenever the wife is pregnant?
What about couples in which either the husband or wife are infertile?
“Any departure from the clear testimony of Scripture with regard to God's purposes with regard to sex, is a perversion of it.”
i) What’s the purpose of a wet-dream?
ii) Should a husband divorce a barren or post-menopausal wife? Should a wife divorce an impotent husband? Should they stay married, but have a platonic relationship?
“Sex was not meant to be a one-man show.”
Is a wet-dream a one-man show?
Is a wet-dream sex? If not, what makes masturbation sexual, but nocturnal emissions asexual?
Note that, in Scripture, nocturnal emissions are discussed in the general context of sex (Lev 15:16,18).
“Nor does God's approval rest upon it because Scripture is silent.”
A strawman argument. The question at issue is whether we should infer either approval or disapproval where Scripture is silent.
“To my recollection, Scripture is silent with regard to necromancy also.”
Actually, the Bible has a fair amount to say on the subject of necromancy.
I assume that Juan said “necromancy” when he meant “necrophilia.”
“Does that mean it's OK for teenage boys or single men to engage in it?”
The question is whether we can mount an argument from analogy from what the Bible does discuss to what it doesn’t discuss.
This, indeed, is often possible. And it’s an essential element in the application of Bible ethics to our own time and place.
However, an argument from analogy is just that—an argument.
Too many critics are substituting an *assumption* from analogy in lieu of an *argument* from analogy.
“I am surprised that you suggest masturbation could be a safety valve for pre-marriage teenage boys or single men.”
Why is that surprising? If wet-dreams serve that purpose, why not masturbation?
“Would it not rather be God's intention that we exhibit some kind of self control, and realize our dependence on Him for grace to keep a pure heart and mind.”
i)That’s the way Pentecostals talk. If we fast and pray, we will pray our way out of temptation.
Church history is littered with the wreckage of conscientious, but naïve Christians who thought they could overcome temptation by performing spiritual exercises of one sort or another.
ii) We need to draw a couple of distinctions. It is possible to overcome a sinful temptation by the means of grace.
It is not possible to overcome a natural temptation by the means of grace.
Consider Paul’s discussion of sexual temptation in 1 Cor 7. Does Paul counsel a Christian to overcome his sexual appetite by fasting and prayer and other spiritual exercises?
iii) The fact that we can overcome a sinful temptation doesn’t mean that we can overcome it by any means whatsoever. Not just any means will do.
One of the best ways of queuing yourself for spiritual downfall is to foster a false expectation. To be overconfident in your powers of resistance because you think that you can simply pray your way out of temptation.
“In no way will masturbation simply be a physical stimulus, God didn't make men that way.”
Are you speaking from personal experience? Otherwise, what is the source of your insight?
If you speak from experience, why are you so disapproving?
You know the old saying—98% of men do it, and the other 2% are liars.
“You are attempting to light a camp fire that will, eventually, turn into a forest fire.”
i) The sexual appetite, like any other appetite, can degenerate into obsessive-compulsive behavior.
But that’s not the only source of danger. Many professing believers have succumbed to sexual sin because they were operating with a hyper-spiritual pietism and quietism which made them an easy mark when temptation came knocking.
And some of them have been so disillusioned by their downfall that they never underwent spiritual restoration. They fell away and never returned to the faith.
ii) In addition, a false sense of guilt over masturbation can be equally if not more destructive to a believer's moral, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
“Waiting for marriage, focusing upon the Lord, denial of the flesh, make one's marriage to be truly delightful and an occasion to rejoice in God's goodness to us in providing the particular woman He has chosen for us.”
In 1 Cor 7, did Paul recommend “denial of the flesh” as a general antidote to sexual temptation?
“I think you've missed the boat on this topic.”
And I think your boat is taking on water.
“Masturbation is just as much of a perversion of sex as is fornication, homosexuality, and adultery.”
Are you now a prophet? Since the Bible never says any such thing, I take it that you have a private revelation to share with us.
“Solo sex is not beautiful, it's ugly and pathetic.”
Is a wet-dream ugly and pathetic?
“I think, if we are to be honest, everyone knows in their conscience masturbation is wrong. Would you, before God, care to defend it? Why does guilt accompany it? Not because of a misinformed conscience or Victorian social mores. The Holy Spirit testifies to its' sinfulness in your heart....”
i) This is another bit of Pentecostal pietism. Ironically, the reliance on spiritual impressions has led many professing believers to make shipwreck of their faith.
Juan needs to cultivate a more Biblical notion of decision-making, such as:
ii) How does Juan know about the guilty feelings which accompany masturbation? Is he leading a double life?
iii) There’s a circularity in the appeal to a guilty conscience. If you think it’s a sin, then, of course, you’ll feel guilty about it. But that begs the question.
Conscience is not an infallible rule of faith. Scripture is.
“Conscience” can easily degenerate into the self-justification that “if it feels right, do it!”
iv) I’d add that all Christians share his feelings. For example, this is how John Wenham describes his own experience:
“I noticed too that it was most likely to take place when I had had a blissful time of bedtime prayer with a great sense of love for God, when presumably erotic pressures were strong,” Facing Hell: An Autobiography (Paternoster 1998), 53.
Is that an argument *I’d* use to validate masturbation? No.
But it goes to show that Juan’s subjective appeal cuts both ways.
DAVE ARMSTRONG SAID:
“I find it equally remarkable that in 32 comments on masturbation and Scripture, not a single mention was made of Onan thus far. Yet his story was understood very widely as dealing with both masturbation and contraception, for many centuries.”
As this is a textbook example of why tradition is an unreliable guide to exegesis.
i) In context, Gen 38:8-10 is describing coitus interruptus rather than masturbation. These are hardly equivalent.
Onan was having sex with a woman. That is how he achieved a state of sexual climax.
Is that interchangeable with masturbation? I don’t think so.
ii) Talmudic literature draws a clear distinction between contraception and masturbation:
Cf. E. Ullendorff, “The Bawdy Bible,” BSOAS 42 (1979), 425-56.
So it’s Armstrong’s interpretation which is anachronistic.
iii) He also rips the verse out of context in another way:
“It refers to the levirate law of antiquity (the Latin *levir* means ‘a husband’s brother’)…Here and elsewhere (Deut 25:6; Ruth 4:10) it is for the preservation of the dead brother’s name and family. In addition, the law is one of inheritance so that the dead mans’ property will remain in the extended family. Finally, it is for the protection of the widow so that she should not have to sell herself for debt or have to marry outside the clan,” J. Currid, Genesis (Evangelical Press 2003), 2:209.
“Onan apparently does not want to father a son who will prevent him from receiving his deceased brother’s inheritance,” V. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50 (Eerdmans 1995), 436.
“Onan’s refusal is explained by his knowledge that the son will not be his (38:9). We need to recognize, then, that there is a birthright issue here. Er was the firstborn and entitled to the birthright. If he has no offspring, the birthright will transfer to Onan. If, however, Tamar bears a son that is considered Er’s, the birthright will pass to that son. We can therefore conclude that Onan is punished by death for preserving his inheritance rights by disposing of the competition,” J. Walton, Genesis (Zondervan 2001), 668.
Does Catholic moral theology endorse bigamy? Does it sanction a married man cohabiting with his sister-in-law to keep the property in the family?
If not, why is Armstrong appealing to the tribal custom describe in Gen 38:8-10? It either proves too much or too little for his own purposes.