Does Matthew 5:30 mean masturbation?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30).
Though the quote Jesus presents is straight from the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14), he presents it as if it was a traditional saying instead of a commandment of God. The problem is that the quote is presented in isolation from the remainder of the Old Testament. God had warned “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32). By presenting this command by itself, much of what God had said concerning adultery is missing. By stating this command in isolation, it gives emphasis to the physical act of adultery without addressing its underlying cause.
When does sin take place? At the point of the actual deed or when the deed was conceived? Jesus points out that in Jewish tradition, the emphasis was placed on physical activity. People were condemned when caught in the act of adultery, but leering at a woman was not condemned. Yet sin is conceived in the heart. A person considers and decides to commit a sin before the actual opportunity to sin presents itself (Mark 7:21-23). The thoughts of committing sin are sinful.
For this reason, we need to remove the sources of lustful thoughts from before us. Is it proper for a Christian to idly watch fornication being committed on television, listen to music glorifying an adulterous relation, or read books designed to arouse our passion? Jesus uses hyperbola to emphasize that sin is dangerous enough that we should use extreme measures to avoid it. He is not stating that a person should literally maim themselves, but pointing out that we may need to take steps that might seem extreme to the world (Matthew 18:8-9), such as refusing to watch certain shows or perhaps television altogether, tossing books or music that contain immoral ideas, or avoiding beaches where people are not properly clothed. None of these things are nearly as extreme as plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand, though people in the world will often act as if they were unreasonable steps.
Therefore, is Matthew 5:30 about masturbation? Then is Matthew 5:29 about reading books? To claim so is to miss Jesus’ point. This passage could be applied to pornography because that causes a lust for sex outside of marriage. I’ve known guys to have given up their smartphones just so they won’t be able to look at pornography.
If you are tempted by pornography, would giving up masturbating make less likely to look at pornography? What I have found is that keeping your semen levels regulated actually lowers your sexual desires making it easier to reject pornography.