Title: "Is Sexual Arousal Lust?" Author: Unknown
The short answer is, "No, sexual arousal is not lust." Sexual arousal is an involuntary physical response that can not be controlled voluntarily by humans. And God does not condemn humans for things they can not control. God only condemns people for things they can control, such as willful thoughts and willful acts.
Recently someone questioned whether our web site should be condoning the use of moral erotic videos in marriages. He said he believes it is adultery for a married couple to get "sexually aroused" by looking at the nudity of another person or couple. He said his Biblical basis is Matthew 5 verse 28 where Jesus said it was adultery to lust after a woman.
I explained to him that "sexual arousal" is an emotion and Jesus was not condemning emotion. But rather Jesus was condemning men who consciously wish they could cheat on their wife and have sex with another women.
I asked him, that if God condemns the emotion of "sexual arousal" then why would God have put Song of Solomon in the Bible? As Song Of Solomon has passages where friends get turned on by watching the King and his lover have sex. He agreed that the passages do seem to indicate they had intercourse.
Humans tend to get excited when they are treated special or experience something new. As an example, this is why on the wedding night, the groom becomes very excited by seeing his naked wife for the first time. Later as years go by, because seeing his naked wife has become a normal occurrence, the excitement is not as great. The brain is where "sexual arousal" begins. And if the brain thinks something is exciting or special, in the context of sexuality, this can trigger "sexual arousal".
And so, for example, if a couple watches an erotic video and sees another attractive couple nude, this might seem special to the couple who know that normally a couple would be embarrassed for anyone to see them naked. This might trigger the couple to feel excited and lead the brain to begin becoming "sexually aroused".
There also is an element of curiosity and the reality that normally nudity is forbidden in our society. Men and women have a curiosity to admire the beauty of the opposite gender. Just like humans admire the beauty of nature and of other species, humans have an even stronger desire to study and admire the beauty of their opposite gender. And since nudity is forbidden in our society, this makes men and women have an even stronger desire to see nudity. This helps explain why, according to preachers I have heard, 80 percent of the Christian married men look at porn in secret.
And then there is the human phenomena that humans tend to be heavily influenced by the emotions of those around them. Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to this phenomenon in World War II when he said; The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. He knew that when a few people are afraid, the fear can spread to everyone, because emotions are contagious.
Have you ever watched a movie where the hero is in danger? Did you notice you experienced fear? Or have you watched a movie were the hero is being mistreated by the villain and you experienced anger against the villain? Or have you ever watched a movie with joy and peace and you experienced joy and peace? Or have you watched a funny movie and you laughed? These are all examples of how humans tend to take on or experience the emotions of those around them.
This phenomenon is talked about in the Bible. Paul says in Romans 12:15, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." And this phenomenon is demonstrated in Song Of Solomon chapter 1 verse 4, when the lover says to the King, Take me away with you let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers, and then the friends who are watching say, We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine. The friends are excited to watch the King and his lover in his chambers.
Emotions are contagious. And so if a husband and wife are watching another couple who are exploding with emotions of passion for each other, the couple watching will tend to become sexually excited also.
When a husband and wife are together and are watching an erotic video, a combination of the factors discussed above, along with this reality that emotions are contagious, this all adds up to what causes the brain to relax and focus on romance and begin to get "sexually aroused".
While we can speculate why erotic videos cause married couples to get turned on for each other, what is more important is whether God allows couples to use them in their marriages. So let's study the scripture and seek the truth in this matter.
The only passage in the Bible defining sexual "lust" is, Matthew 5 verses 27 and 28 where Jesus said, "27 You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart,"
Jesus was actually combining the 7th and the 10th commandments when he pointed out that "lusting" or "coveting" to have sex with a woman is as bad as physically committing adultery.
The 7th commandment, Exodus 20:14 says, "You shall not commit adultery. " And the 10th commandment, Exodus 20:17 says, "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
Jesus was pointing out that "coveting" to have sex with a woman is a form of adultery.
The Old Testament Hebrew word chamad, in the 10th commandment which we translate as "covet", is very similar to the New Testament Greek word "epithumeo", which we translate as "lust".
The confusion comes from the reality that we don't have the original Hebrew text for the New Testament book of Matthew. Many scholars now believe that Jesus did speak in Hebrew in the New Testament. And most likely Matthew penned the book of Matthew in Hebrew. But today, our book of Matthew in the New Testament, is based on a Greek translation of Matthew and we don't know who the author of the Greek Matthew was.
The point being that most likely Jesus spoke in Hebrew and used the word Hebrew word "chamad" in Matthew 5 verse 28, which we should translate as "covet". And most likely Jesus did not speak in Greek and use the Greek word "epithumeo" which has been translated as "lust".
The Hebrew word for covet in the Old Testament book of Exodus 20:17 is the transliterated word chamad which can mean, to desire, covet, take pleasure in, delight in.
The Greek word for "lust" in the New Testament book of Matthew 5:28 is the transliterated word, epithumeo which can mean, to covet things forbidden, to desire earnestly; to have a longing desire for.
Notice the English translation of the Hebrew word "chamad" (to covet) and the Greek word "epithumeo" (to lust), are very similar. But neither refers to the emotion of sexual arousal. Both refer to a consious willful desire.
And so in Biblical usage, "lusting" and "coveting" are the same. They are both wanting something that is not yours, so badly that your desire to get what you want, interferes with your relationship with God and with others.
In this same Sermon On The Mount, in Matthew 5: 21-22, Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell."
Jesus never intended his statement on "lust" in Matthew 5:28, to be a justification for divorce any more than he intended his statement on "murder" in Matthew 5: 21-22 to be used to send someone to the electric chair for having been angry.
A good discussion of this topic can be found in the September 2, 2004 article Pluck out your right eye", in the Difficult Sayings Archives column of www.studylight.org.
About Jesus statement on lust, the Bible scholar says, Jesus is not saying anything particularly new; rather he is expounding the 10th commandment as well as the 7th (Exodus 20:14,17). To covet your neighbour's wife with your eyes is where the sin of adultery begins. The Mosaic Law already condemned the thought as well as the deed."
The author indicates that Jesus did not hold the position that it is sin to look at a woman. While some rabbis did hold this position. Jesus had plenty of contact with women in the Gospels and there is no indication he thought it was sin when he looked at them or had contact with them.
The author goes on to say: (begin of quote)
The context is actually an acknowledgement that adultery is done with body but begun in the heart-mind: It is the heart not the body that needs cutting out and curing, which is indeed God's promise, "and I will give you a new heart" (Ezekiel 11:19; 18:31; 36:26). In Matthew 5 Jesus consistently argues that sin proceeds from the inner man and since the thought inspires the deed, so it too is sin.
"For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders" (Mark 7:21)
So, he speaks hyperbolically that it is better to maim oneself than for your body to go to hell. But from his own words this self-mutilation or self-castration would not help for the sin would still be present in the mind's eye. Thus the correct response to his saying is 'who then can save himself?' - the answer to which is 'nobody' except 'God' who transforms (in the Greek by a metamorphosis) and renews the heart-mind (Romans 12:2). In the prior verse (Romans 12:1) Paul calls for us to present our whole bodies as a "living sacrifice" not to physically sacrifice only our limbs and organs (cf. Romans 6:13). We are to "put to death" our "members" (Colossians 3:5) but those members are the sins of the body not the body itself.
(end of quote)
From my own study of the Bible, I had come to these same conclusions. The conclusions were that Jesus was not introducing new law when he said it was sin to covet to have sex with a woman in your heart or mind. This was simply a combination of the 7th and the 10th commandments. And so Jesus was not saying it was sin to look at a woman, but rather Jesus was saying the physical sin of adultery starts in the mind.
Paul does not advocate cutting off hands or plucking out eyes, or even keeping rules. In Colossians Chapter 2 verses 20 to 23, Paul says:
(begin of quote)
"Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world (the law), why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"?
These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.
Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
(end of quote)
Paul explains that rules do not restrain sensual indulgence. God does not require Christians to keep a set of rules. God wants to change our hearts, our attitudes.
Jesus said in Matthew 9:13, "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Jesus wants us Christians to show we love God by showing mercy and love to our spouses, our children, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters in Christ and our world. God also wants us to tell others about the good news that Jesus is God and that Jesus died for their sins.
What did Jesus mean in Matthew 5 verses 27 to 30 when he said, (27) You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; (28) 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. (29) "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. (30) 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. (NASB)
Notice in verse 27, Jesus first quotes the 7th of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:14 "You shall not commit adultery.
But then Jesus seems to shock us when he says in verse 28, 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.
But then Jesus immediately goes into his discourse in verse 29 of how you should tear out your eye if it causes you to stumble and in verse 30 that you should cut off your hand if it causes you to stumble.
And so whatever the lust is that Jesus is talking about in verse 27, it is so important and so dangerous that Jesus feels you should take a drastic measure to change.
Now we have to give Jesus some credit here. Jesus was a reasonable man. We know Jesus is not an unreasonable God. We know from reading the New Testament that Jesus will choose being merciful to people over judging them.
And in sharp contrast to the other teachings of Jesus, this verse has been used to teach that God is very condemning of men who gaze on a beautiful woman and who might get turned on by looking at a woman.
Would Jesus really be saying that if you look at a woman and think she is beautiful or if you become sexually aroused by looking at a woman that you are guilty of adultery and you should pluck your eye out?
That would be like saying if you smell someone else's food and it causes your saliva glands to flow in your mouth, you should cut your saliva glands out and cut your stomach out, because the food is not yours and besides the delicious smell might cause you to be a glutton.
But we know from the Bible that God does not condemn people for having emotions. God only condemns people for acts of the will. And thinking a woman is beautiful as well as getting turned on or becoming sexually aroused are not acts of the will but rather emotions.
Maybe looking at what Jesus said in the Greek will help us better understand.
Using Young's Literal Translation of Matthew 5: 27 to 28, Jesus said, "'Ye heard that it was said to the ancients: Thou shalt not commit adultery; but I -- I say to you, that every one who is looking on a woman to desire her, did already commit adultery with her in his heart."
The prerequisite for sin is always an act of the will. In this case the act of the will in Matthew 5:28 is the transliterated word, epithumeo which can mean, to covet things forbidden, to desire earnestly; to have a longing desire for.
The Young's Literal Translation translates the Greek word epithumeo as to desire her. When Jesus said, to desire her Jesus meant to to desire to have sex with her. What other desire would Jesus be talking about?
When Jesus said in Matthew 5: 27-28 that it was adultery to desire a woman Jesus was talking about an act of the will, not an emotion.
The confusion surrounding Matthew 5:28 comes from some translations of the word epithumeo.
For example lets take the New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation of the verse. In the NASB Matthew 5:28 says, "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.
It is not clear from the NASB translation what looks at a woman with lust for her means. Does it mean looking at a woman with goo goo eyes, or with a hey babe you're hot look on your face?
And then there is the word lust in there. What does lust mean?
Lust according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is:
1a: pleasure, delight
2: usually intense unbridled sexual desire.
Lets take each of the definitions of lust and substitute them into the NASB verse and see if what Jesus said makes sense.
First lets change lust to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary 1a definition, pleasure or delight. So Matthew 5:28 would read But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with pleasure or delight for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Does this mean if I voted for Hillary Clinton and she became our President and then I looked at her during her inauguration on TV and looked at her with "pleasure or delight, I am sinning? No I don't think pleasure or delight is what Jesus was referring to.
Ok, lets plug-in the second Merriam-Webster meaning of lust. So Matthew 5:28 would read But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with intense unbridled sexual desire for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Now lets assume that a man gets married and on his wedding night when he and his wife get out of the limo to go up to their hotel honeymoon suite and because his wife has been touching him in the limo and because he is thinking about what will happen in their honeymoon suite, he has intense unbridled sexual desire. And while he still has intense unbridled sexual desire and while he is still sexually aroused, he is walking into the hotel, and he looks over and sees the female hotel clerk.
Did he sin by looking at the female hotel clerk while he was aroused and had intense unbridled sexual desire for his new bride?
No he did not sin because even though he was aroused and had intense unbridled sexual desire, his desire to have sex was for his bride.
Yes the verse says, lust for her. This means the man has to have intense unbridled sexual desire for the woman he looks at.
Ok, so what is "intense unbridled sexual desire"? Is it an act of the will or is it an emotion? Is "intense unbridled sexual desire" the same as "sexual arousal"? I am over 50 and know there are many times when I would love to have intense unbridled sexual desire for my wife but I just can't turn it on and off at will.
"Intense unbridled sexual desire", if interpreted to mean the emotion of "sexual arousal" is not something that anyone can willfully control. What does this mean. I thought an emotion was a state of the body an involuntary, uncontrollable part of our body. How can you be held accountable or guilty for having an emotion, when the emotion is not something you can control?
So then what is the NASB trying to say? How can you be held accountable for looking at a woman with lust if lust, means "sexual arousal", which is an emotion you cannot control?
The truth is lust is not a good translation of the Greek word epithumeo. The translators should have used a word which shows responsibility, which results from an act of the will, not a word that can be confused with an emotion.
The word they should have used for epithumeo is the English word covet. Most likely Jesus used the Hebrew word chamad when he originally spoke in Hebrew in Matthew 5 verses 27 to 28 because most likely he was referring to the 10th commandment which has the same word chamad which is translated as the English world to covet.
The 10th commandment in Exodus 20:17 says, "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor." " (NASB)
The Hebrew word Chamad' or to covet is the word Jesus most likely spoke in the original Hebrew which was then translated into Greek as epithumeo and then by the NASB as lust.
And even if Jesus was not quoting the 10th commandment still the English translation of the Greek word epithumeo is to covet things forbidden, to desire earnestly; to have a longing desire for. Even the English definition of the Greek word epithumeo shows responsibility and shows Jesus was not referring to "sexual arousal" which is an involuntary emotion, but rather Jesus was referring to an act of the will.
But for the sake of argument lets assume the NASB translation lust really means the emotion of intense unbridled sexual desire. Ok, lets change the facts a bit. Now it's ten years later. The husband and wife are together at the grocery store shopping for groceries and they are checking out. An attractive 27 year old female cashier catches the attention of the husband as she bends over to take the groceries out of the cart as he can see her breasts. He tries not to look but begins to get aroused. Then as if that was not enough, she spills the strawberries on his side of the counter. He squats down to pick them up and while he is picking them up the female cashier comes over to help pick them up and she has a short skirt on and when she squats down she spreads her legs. When his eyes go from picking up each strawberry to putting the strawberry in the container she is now holding, his eyes can't help but see her exposed panties. He tries not to look but her legs are spread and because her bottom is so much lower than her dress, his peripheral vision can't help but see each time he looks down to pick up the next strawberry and then when he looks up to put another strawberry in the container. Needless to say, he becomes aroused. Because he is aroused all he can think about is that he wants to get home and get in bed with his wife and have sex.
Now the husband of ten years has experienced an increase in his emotion of sexual desire or intense unbridled sexual desire caused by the grocery store clerk but his conscious desire is to have sex with his wife. Is he sinning?
No, because even though the grocery store clerk caused the husband to have an increase in his involuntary emotion of sexual arousal, the husband's conscious desire is still for his wife.
I think we can all agree that "sexual arousal" is different and separate from our will of our mind. Our will of our mind decides who to have sex with. But "sexual arousal" is an emotion that happens due to erotic stimuli and we do not have control over it - and it is not sin.
But lets get back to the truth. The truth is that Jesus was not talking about the emotion of intense unbridled sexual desire or sexual desire at all.
Jesus was talking about the intentions of the mind, the desire of the will of the man. No matter how sexually excited a man gets, when a man loves his wife he will want to have sex with her and only her.
Only a man with a cheating heart would want to have sex with anyone else. And that is the man Jesus was talking about. And for that man it wouldn't really matter how sexually aroused he is, he will be coveting every pretty woman he sees because he is not satisfied and content with his wife. And the Bible teaches the sins of the heart lead to physical sins and that is why Jesus knows that this is a very serious problem that needs help.
Jesus was trying to help men understand that when they catch themselves coveting every pretty woman they see, they should recognize that those feelings are very dangerous because they are a warning to you that you are not content with your wife and that you now have a cheating heart and even though you may never have the chance to commit physical adultery, the fact that in your mind you are constantly wishing you could; this will destroy your relationship with God and with your wife.
Jesus was trying to say, that if you catch yourself having these thoughts of constantly wishing you could have sex with the women you see, those feelings of coveting other women are going to eat away at you and destroy your relationship with your wife and with God.
And that's why Jesus said in the next verse in Matthew 5: 29, If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (NASB)
Jesus was saying to the men that if you do have these covetous thoughts running through your mind when you see women, then you need to do something drastic about it. Because you are dangerously close to committing physical adultery or at least ruining your marriage and your relationship with God. And so it would be far better to do something drastic to prevent you from committing adultery, and prevent you from divorcing your wife, and prevent you from turning away from God.
But if you find yourself wishing you could have sex with every pretty woman you see, please don't pluck your eye out or harm your body. God has a better way. It is called self-control.
That is the real message of Matthew 5 verses 27 to 29. It is a warning to married men to check their thoughts and make sure they are not wishing they could have sex with other women. Because if they are, then they are in need of a major overhaul of their heart.
When this happens it is time to sit down with your wife and start thinking about why the marriage relationship is about to unravel. Jesus is saying it is not normal to have thoughts of adultery running through your mind when you see a woman. It is a warning that there is something really wrong with your relationship with your wife and with God.
And thank God we have the original Greek translation to clarify what the word epithumeo means. It is not an emotion. It is an act of the will.
"Epithumeo" does not mean, lust, if lust means "sexual arousal", but rather "epithumeo", means to covet or to make a conscious decision in the mind to desire to have sex with - which is an act of the will.