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 it.
- 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 kingdom.