What does the Bible say about Lust?

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Biblically speaking, lust is NOT merely being sexually attracted to or turned on by looking at someone of the opposite sex. Men today have been ridiculed for their nature and saddled with a great burden that comes from feminism on one side, and on the other comes from the church. They are often told that any sexual pleasure they receive from seeing a beautiful woman is sin unless they are married to that woman.

Many Christian books and websites want to “help men with their problem of lust”. Feminist bloggers want to help men to stop “objectifying women”.

But is a man’s natural desire for, and pleasure from, seeing youthful and beautiful women a problem to overcome? Or is it a gift from God, to be appreciated and accepted by both men and women alike?

Lust = Covetousness

In the Bible, lust is synonymous with covetousness. Covetousness is the strong desire to possess something that belongs to another.

Covetousness is not simply admiring something that someone else has, but actually fantasizing about how you can possess that thing.

While it goes against modern western values, people in Biblical times could be the property of other people. The Bible lists these things as man’s property in the 10th commandment:

17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour’s.

– Exodus 20:17 (KJV)

The 10th commandment and the 7th commandment have something in common – they both talk about crimes against a man regarding his wife.

14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

– Exodus 20:14 (KJV)

In the context of sexual sin, Coveting (or lusting after) a woman is the sin of desiring to possess her outside of marriage. It is different than simply being attracted to her physically, or even being sexually aroused by her form or having a sexual fantasy about her.

Covetousness first begins when a man goes from finding a woman he cannot marry desirable (which is not sin) to him desiring to UNLAWFULLY possess her (which is fornication).

The second phase of covetousness is when a man goes from his desire to unlawfully possess her (which is already sin) and then he compounds this by actively planning in his mind HOW he could possess her; whether he acts on that plan or not, it is still covetousness and is a grave sin before God.

Fornication (which encompasses all sexually sinful activity) is when a man actually makes good on his covetous thoughts and then takes sexual possession of a woman he cannot marry and has not married. If the woman is another man’s wife, that is Adultery – which is a specific form of fornication.

But isn’t it lust when a man gets sexual pleasure from looking at any woman who is not his wife?

If you are someone who believes your pastor, priest or your church teachings are never wrong in their interpretation of the Bible then you should just close this page and go on believing what they have taught you about lust.

But before you close this article, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is it wrong to enjoy the smell of pancakes as you enter your favorite pancake restaurant?
  2. Is it wrong to see a commercial on TV for one of your favorite foods and then it makes you feel hungry?

If you answered no to both of these questions above, then I think you should keep reading. But to do so, you will have to acknowledge to yourself the very real possibility that your church might be wrong about some of its teachings.

The Protestant Reformation was fought over this very idea, that church leaders are not always right in their doctrines or understanding of the Bible. That is why the battle cry of the reformation was “Sola Scriptora”, meaning “Scripture alone”. While the Protestants did a good job of removing a lot of unbiblical Catholic tradition and teaching, they did not remove it all. Some errors crept into the early church even while the Apostles were still alive. After they died, the flood gates opened and many errors entered the early church and then the Catholic Church piled on more.

So if you answered “no” to my two questions above, and you can at least entertain the idea that sometimes our church leaders are wrong in some of their teachings about what the Bible says – then I invite you to examine the evidence for yourself and make your own determination.

How many passages talk about a man lusting after a woman?

There are only two passages in all the Bible that deal with the subject of a man looking at a woman. I know, it’s hard to believe that an entire elaborate doctrine of our churches is completely based on two passages, right?

The first and most common passage I will deal with is found in the Sermon on the Mount:

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

– Matthew 5:27-28 (KJV)

This passage is part of the most famous sermon Jesus Christ ever gave.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard that verse in youth group at my church growing up, or how many times my mom read that to me as a teenager. As an adult I have heard entire sermons preached on just those two verses.

Seems pretty straightforward, right? If a man looks at a woman with lust (sexual desire), he has committed adultery with her in his heart, even though he has not physically touched her, right?

Whenever we try to understand God’s Word, we need to make sure we are understanding his Word within the full context of how it was written. Luckily for us the full context is just two verses. There is one word in both these verses that gives us the context of what Christ is addressing – ADULTERY (English translation of the Greek word “Moicheuo”).

If you look up every Old Testament passage about adultery, it always means the sin of a man sleeping with another man’s wife. Basically, adultery was a property crime: if you slept with another man’s wife, you violated his property.

So if the context here is clearly talking about something involving a married woman, then why do the translators say “woman” in verse 28, instead of “wife”?

An excellent question. I am glad you asked it. The reason is “tradition”, since this verse has been traditionally used by the church through the ages to propagate a certain teaching about lust, they had to make it “woman”.

The actual Greek word they are translating is “Gune”, which can be translated as “woman” or “wife” – depending on the context. So let’s expand our context and show our Lord’s statements together:

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery[Moicheuo]:

28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman[Gune] to lust after her hath committed adultery[Moicheuo] with her already in his heart.

29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife[Gune], let him give her a writing of divorcement:

32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife[Gune], saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery[Moicheuo]: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery[Moicheuo].

– Matthew 5:27-32 (KJV)

So as can clearly be seen, the translators of the KJV and all modern translations decided to follow the tradition of translating verse 28 as “woman” instead of wife, even though the context was clearly speaking of Adultery, which can only happen with a married woman! This was and continues to be, a completely political translation of Scripture.

So we have now handled two of the three key words to understanding this one and ONLY passage of Scripture that our current doctrines around sexual lust are built upon. The last key word is Lust. Our English word lust in verse 28 is translated from the Greek word Epithumeo. Once again this word, like Gune (“woman” or “wife”) can be translated differently depending on its context. The word literally means “to desire”. Sometimes it’s talking about desiring good things; other times it’s talking about desiring bad things.

With all that being said – I believe in all sincerity that this is the correct interpretation of this passage based on its context – Adultery:

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on [another man’s wife and fantasizes about how he may possess her for himself] hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

– Matthew 5:27-28 (KJV)

There is at least one undeniable truth from Matthew 5:27-28

The context is clearly talking about a married woman, so this in no way applies to single people. While the act of physical sex outside of marriage is forbidden, nowhere in the Scripture does it forbid a single man from having sexual desire toward a single woman, or being turned on by a single woman, or even sexually fantasizing about her. The same goes for a single woman: nowhere does the Bible condemn a single woman for being turned on by viewing the body of a single man.

But what about a man (married or single) who looks at a married woman and is sexually aroused by her form? What if he even imagines what she might look like naked? What if he later has a sexual fantasy about her? Is this all sin? Is some of it sin?

I submit to you that none of the above scenarios are sin. Where the sin occurs is when a man goes from finding a married woman desirable to him desiring to unlawfully possess her(fornicate with her). After he has allowed himself to desire to possess her, then he will most likely begin to fantasize about how he might possess her.

If he allows himself to desire to unlawfully possess her he has entered the realm of sin and has planted the seeds for further sin. If he then starts thinking about how he can lure her from her husband he has sinned even more even if he never acts on these plans.

A key principle regarding lust and covetousness is that even before he began planning on how to possess her – his first sin of covetousness was in allowing himself to desire to unlawfully possess her before any plan on how to do that came to mind. A plan on how to unlawfully possess someone or something that is forbidden is not required for covetousness to occur – simply the desire to possess something God does not allow us to possess is sin.

What about Job 31?

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With everything we have learned while studying Matthew 5:27-28, we can now address the second of only two passages in the Bible addressing this subject of a man lusting after a woman.

1 I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?

9 If mine heart have been deceived by a woman, or if I have laid wait at my neighbour’s door;

10 Then let my wife grind unto another, and let others bow down upon her.

11 For this is an heinous crime; yea, it is an iniquity to be punished by the judges.

– Job 31:1 & 9-11 (KJV)

Clearly verses 9-11 are talking about a married woman – “my neighbour’s door”, so this is talking about committing adultery, or thinking about possessing another’s wife in one’s heart.

But what about verse one where he says he made a covenant with his eyes? Some translations translate this as “gaze at a virgin” and others “look lustfully at a virgin”. Again, we need to look at the actual Hebrew terms and scrape away translator bias and church tradition bias.

The Hebrew word “maid” here is “Bethuwlah” and it is always translated as talking about an unmarried woman or virgin. The Hebrew word translated as “think” is also translated as “perceive” or “consider”. Most people would agree that it is ridiculous to think Job is saying a man could never think about a young unmarried woman, otherwise no one would ever get married.

The problem in this passage is, we don’t have the context of what he is thinking about with this woman. Those who are proponents of the belief that it is sin for a man to be sexually aroused by any woman other than his wife will fill in the blank for us and say it is talking about sexual arousal or sexual fantasy about a virgin girl.

I submit to you that this is talking about more than just sexual arousal or even sexual fantasy, but instead Job 31:1 is the comtemplation of pre-marital sex. Job is saying “I will never look at a virgin and think of how I might take her sexually without marrying her”.

16 And the damsel’s father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her;

17 And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.

– Deuteronomy 22:16-17 (KJV)

4 Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

– Hebrews 13:4 (KJV)

In the Law of Moses as well as the book of Hebrews in the New Testament we can see that God only sees three ways that sexual relations can occur between a man and a woman:

  1. Whoremongering (sex outside of marriage)
  2. Marriage (sex within marriage)
  3. Adultery (a man having sex with another man’s wife)

There is only one type of sexual relations between a man and woman that the Bible calls “honorable in all” and “undefiled” – and that is sex between a man and woman within the bounds of marriage.

This is what Job 31:1 is referring to – a man should never fantasize about how he can “entice” a young woman into having sex with him outside of marriage. This is also why prostitution is sinful, because it is sex outside the bounds of marriage.

Conclusion and Application

Matthew 5:27-28 is talking about the sin of a man coveting another man’s wife. It is the desire to possess a woman that belongs to another man.

Job 31:1 is talking about a man thinking of enticing a young virgin into having sex with him outside of marriage.

Remember at the beginning of this article I asked you these 2 questions:

  1. Is it wrong to enjoy the smell of pancakes as you enter your favorite pancake restaurant?
  2. Is it wrong to see a commercial on TV for one of your favorite foods and then it makes you feel hungry?

You may be asking what these questions have to do with a man begin sexually aroused by the sight of a woman (married or single, it does not matter).

It is a biological fact that the same area of a man’s brain that causes hunger and gives pleasure from the smell, sight and taste of food is the exact same area that gives a man pleasure from the smell, sight and touch of a woman.

The average man’s brain is sexually stimulated by visual cues and is built for variety…

“Using functional MRI scans, researchers examined the brains of young men as they looked at pictures of beautiful women. They found that feminine beauty affects a man’s brain at a very primal level – similar to what a hungry person gets from a good meal or addict gets from a fix. One of the researchers said, “This is hard core circuitry. This is not a conditioned response.” Another concluded, “Men apparently cannot do anything about their pleasurable feelings [in the presence of beauty].””

– Dr. Walt Larimore, MD (pg. 99 “His Brain, Her Brain”)

“Telling men not to become aroused by signs of youth and health is like telling them not to experience sugar as sweet.”

– David M. Buss, PhD (pg. 71 “The Evolution of Desire”)

So the two questions I asked about food could then be changed to these questions:

  1. Is it wrong for a man to be sexually aroused by the scent of a woman?
  2. Is it wrong for a man to be sexually aroused if a beautiful woman accidentally rubs against him in a hallway?
  3. Is it wrong for a man to be sexually aroused by the sight of a beautiful woman – whether he is married to her or not?

The Biblical answer to all these questions is – it is NOT A SIN for man to be sexually aroused by the scent, touch or sight of a woman, whether he is married to her or not.

While most of what I have said here could also apply to a woman being sexually attracted to a man, this is something that affects men much more than women.

To the men reading this, you now have a choice to make. You have been presented with Biblical evidence that the sin of lusting after (coveting) a woman is when a man goes from finding a woman sexually desirable (he is aroused by the sight of her, wonders what she looks like naked or has a sexual fantasy about her) to this same mane desiring to unlawfully possess this woman(to fornicate with her).

In many cases, once a man has allowed himself to desire this forbidden married woman, or desire sex with a single woman outside of marriage, he will also begin to plan in his mind how he can bring this to pass. But the planning stage is not required for covetousness to occur; covetousness occurs the moment a man allows himself to desire to possess someone or something God does not allow him to possess.

Your choices are:

  1. Will you accept how God has designed you, that being turned on by a beautiful woman (married or otherwise) is no more a sin than being made hungry by the sight or smell of your favorite food?
  2. Will you continue to beat yourself up, and buy the lies of feminism that you are “objectifying women” if you are turned on by a woman simply by the sight of her without knowing anything about her?
  3. Will you continue to allow your church leaders to put you on guilt trips from receiving pleasure simply from the sight of beautiful women around you?

 Remember, the sin only comes when your sexual attraction, or even fantasy about a woman, turns into a covetous desire to possess her sexually outside of marriage. It really is that simple.

 Yes, the Bible tells us that we need to fight our sinful natures with the help of God, but it does not tell us that we have to fight how God designed us. We as men should embrace our design, not fight it.

That does not mean we need to shove all this information in our girlfriends’ or wives’ faces.

We can practice discretion. It also does not mean being rude and gawking at beautiful women and making them feel uncomfortable is ok. What it does mean is that if you get a quick glance of a beautiful woman, or accidentally brush against a beautiful woman on the train or bus and you get feelings of pleasure from that – you have done NOTHING wrong.

One final note. Anything can be abused; for example, hunger and the pleasure from eating food is something God built into men and women. But this same hunger for food can be abused and then it can become gluttony. In the same way we cannot allow ourselves to become obsessed with sexual pleasure to the point that it interferes with intimacy in our marriage, or other areas of our life. Everything needs to be kept in balance.

But just as men and women both hunger for and receive pleasure from eating food, so do men have a natural hunger for and receive pleasure from the sight, scent and brief touches of beautiful women, whether they are complete strangers or women they know; it makes absolutely no difference. It is absolutely by God’s design, and no man should ever feel shame for this. It is only when he allows his natural sexual desires to turn into a desire to possess a woman sexually outside of marriage that he has now entered the realm of covetousness and lust which is sin.