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“Whoever Looks at a Woman With Lust”: Misinterpreted Bible Passages #1

*If new to this series, please see the introduction.*

Matthew 5:27–28: Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη· οὐ μοιχεύσεις. ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ βλέπων γυναῖκα πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι αὐτὴν ἤδη ἐμοίχευσεν αὐτὴν ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ.

“You heard it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman in order to covet her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Standard Interpretation(s)

The ordinary interpretation of this passage is that lust is equivalent to adultery; that is, if a man sexually desires a woman, he has already committed adultery with her in God’s eyes. This interpretation is reflected in the following translations:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (NIV)

“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.” (NASB)

“You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (NLT)

“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 has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (NRSV)

Many churches (especially within Evangelical circles), emphasize this verse to adolescent boys, warning them that if they so much as think of a woman in a sexual manner, they’ve already sinned, that they’ve already effectively done the deed with her. Such an interpretation often works hand-in-glove with the common idea that Jesus “intensified” the Law in the Sermon on the Mount, setting a higher standard in order to show that no person could actually live up to God’s standards, showing that a person could only be saved by recognizing the impossibility of righteousness and then receiving forgiveness (a subject that will soon be addressed on this blog). So the common teaching is that sexual lust is absolutely evil—equivalent, even, to the actual act of sexual sin.

Another very popular way of reading this verse is to understand “lust” as indicating misplaced or overly robust libido; that is, “lust” is seen as illicit sexual desire. For example, here’s a recent (and quite common) response to the question of what lust is from a message board conversation I had some time ago: “I take lust to mean wanting something more than you should in an unhealthy way.”

This conception of “lust” often overlaps with the prior interpretation, to the effect that the young man is told, “Of course you will recognize that a woman is beautiful—that’s natural and unavoidable—but the moment your thoughts become sexual in nature, you’ve lusted, and that’s as bad as actually committing adultery.” Despite its popularity, this interpretation is imprecise, even flat wrong, and leads to surprisingly harmful consequences, making it a great candidate to start this series.

Lust or Covet?

The first thing to understand in this passage is that Jesus is in no way intensifying the Law here, nor is he saying anything new. What’s that, you say? The Law doesn’t forbid lusting after a woman? Well, as it turns out, the Greek word usually translated “lust” in this passage (ἐπιθυμέω; epithumeô) happens to be the same word used to translate the Hebrew word for “covet” (‏חמד) in the Tenth Command in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), which says:

οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ πλησίον σου. οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις τὴν οἰκίαν τοῦ πλησίον σου οὔτε τὸν ἀγρὸν αὐτοῦ οὔτε τὸν παῖδα αὐτοῦ οὔτε τὴν παιδίσκην αὐτοῦ οὔτε τοῦ βοὸς αὐτοῦ οὔτε τοῦ ὑποζυγίου αὐτοῦ οὔτε παντὸς κτήνους αὐτοῦ οὔτε ὅσα τῷ πλησίον σού ἐστιν. (Ex 20:17 LXX)

You will not covet your neighbor’s wife. You will not covet your neighbors house or his field or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or any animal which is your neighbor’s.”

Sounds an awful lot like what Jesus says in this passage, doesn’t it? They’re even more alike once one realizes that the Greek word for “woman” and “wife” happens to be the same. In this passage, Jesus reminds his audience that the Law not only prohibits adultery, it prohibits coveting. This is not so much an intensification of the Law as it is a reminder of what the Law already says. And just as the Law itself was intended to be fulfilled, Jesus intends his words here to be followed (and that following them is entirely possible).

Another important point is that the command does not forbid recognition of quality or even desire itself (such would be nonsense) but something else: it forbids the action of coveting (hence the verbal form). “Lust” or “desire,” even the sexual variety, is nowhere forbidden in Scripture, nor is it equated with sin, only with the potential to sin (cf. James 1, where lust leads to sin but is not itself sinful). It is also important to note the distinction between the verbal form and the nominal form: when the Hebrew חמד or Greek ἐπιθυμέω are used as verbs in the OT, it denotes desire directed at obtaining the specific object in question and not merely the existence of the desire itself. This fits well with the Tenth Command, which is perhaps best understood as forbidding fixing one’s desire upon obtaining something that is not rightfully one’s own. In order to explain this point more adequately, a fuller discussion of the meaning of “lust” (Gk. ἐπιθυμία; epithumia) in the New Testament and the culture of that period is necessary.

Drives and Desires

One misconception that should immediately be eliminated is that “lust” (ἐπιθυμία) is a specifically sexual term. In fact, the word simply refers to a strong, passionate desire, used either of sexual desire or of a strong desire for something non-sexual. Stepping back further, in Platonic thought, ἐπιθυμία (epithumia) is the lowest part of the human soul—representing the connection of the soul with the fleshy, bodily part of the person.

Background: The Platonic Soul

 

For those non-Platonists out there, this requires further explanation. Platonism explains human thought and action by dividing the “soul” (or life-force) into three bust of Platoparts, each of which is personified as a separate agent in itself.

The highest part is the “mind,” “intellect,” or “reason” (νοῦς, nous; sometimes λόγος, logos), which is the part associated with thinking, theorizing, believing, meditating, contemplating, etc. This part is concerned with things like truth and knowledge and the highest aspects of human life. This part is represented in the human body by the head, which is the highest part of the body, stretching towards the heavens. In the Republic, this part is identified with the philosopher/rulers who are the natural and proper leaders of the ideal city-state, while it is identified with the world creator “demiurge” in the Timaeus.

As mentioned above, the lowest part (ἐπιθυμία, epithumia; note that this is the same root as the word for “lust”) is the irrational seat of appetite, the source of human drives for pleasure, including desires for food, drink, sex, and pleasure. Socrates calls this part of the soul “money loving,” since money is typically required to satisfy all its primary appetites. This seat of the appetites was also referred to as the “flesh” in the ancient world (σάρξ; sarx). Because this part of the soul is non-rational, it is unlimited in terms of what it desires—necessary, frivolous, or even unlawful/illegal/sinful. Take food, for example. When a person is hungry, it makes no difference if the barbecue smell is coming from the neighbor’s house—it still stimulates the desire for that food. The desire for food is necessary inasmuch as the body will die without food, but the appetite does not simply restrict itself to what is necessary.wild stallion rearing up

Instead, a person may desire extremely expensive food (unnecessary) or, in extreme cases, may desire to eat something improper (i.e. a child may consume his feces or an adult may suddenly desire to eat a child). Since it is prone to run amok, the appetite part of the soul must be governed by the higher parts of the soul to keep it in check. This part is represented by the lower parts of the abdomen (including the genitals) on the human body, while it is identified with the merchant/craftsman (money-making) class in the Republic. In Parmenides’ charioteer analogy, this part is likened to a wild stallion, powerful but undisciplined.

The middle part of the soul is the “spirited” or “emotional” part of the soul (θύμος, thumos; a word often denoting “heart” in Greek), the mediator between the higher and lower parts of the soul. This part is the seat of the will and courage and can be shaped through education and training. It is represented by the chest/heart area on the body and the warrior/soldier class in the Republic.

These three parts operate in harmony (likened to a harmony of three musical notes, each necessary to the song),with the ideal scenario (following Parmenides’ analogy of the charioteer) being that the mind govern the other two as a charioteer, with the “spirited” will as the lead horse and the appetite as the second horse, being governed by the union of the higher two natures. On the other hand, the danger is always that the appetites will gain the “spirited” part as an accomplice and overpower the will, leading to reckless action. Plato thus sees it as critical that the mind retains the allegiance of the will, giving it direction and controlling the appetites.

Greek charioteer Parmenides

So to summarize: the presence of “lust” or “desire” is an assumed part of each human person—deriving from God-given bodily desires that are amoral in themselves, neither inherently sinful nor entirely depraved. As such the presence of such “lusts” is in no way sinful; it is simply a part of being an embodied person. But directing these desires towards taking, obtaining, or enjoying what is not lawful is forbidden—that action (itself an act of the will) is forbidden by the Tenth Command and is sin.

Back to Matthew 5:27–28

Now that we’ve established a bit of the history of the key term in question, we can return to Jesus’ saying in Matthew with a little better context. By now we should understand that, in contrast to the English term “lust,” which has come to be a pretty much entirely negative term—which is why it’s so amusing to say, “I’ve been lusting for this pastry all morning”—the Greek term (though having a somewhat negative tint) is not always negative in the same way, instead being indicative of strong urges or drives, which the New Testament does not condemn in themselves.

Jesus is even able to use the word of himself:

“And He said to them, ‘I have longed [ἐπιθυμέω] to eat this Passover with you before I suffer!'” (Luke 22:15)

Similarly, other non-negative uses of the word:

“For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men lusted [ἐπιθυμέω] to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matt 13:17)

“And [the prodigal] longed [ἐπιθυμέω] to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.” (Luke 15:16)

“… and longing [ἐπιθυμέω] to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.” (Luke 16:21)

Again, I am not to saying that there was never a negative connotation to ἐπιθυμέω/ἐπιθυμία. But it is critical that we make the distinction between a condemnation of desire and a prohibition against coveting forbidden things, including one’s neighbor’s wife. Now we’re finally ready to look at the verse itself.

The Grammar of Matthew 5:27–28

The other major mistake in the interpretation of this verse (and many translations, as shown above) involves misconstruing the grammar. The Greek does not say, “look at a woman with lust” or “look at a woman lustfully,” as though it were describing the manner of looking. On the contrary, Matthew uses a grammatical construction here that combines the preposition πρὸς (pros, pronounced “pross”) with an articular infinitive in the accusative. Matthew uses this construction four other times, and each time it denotes the purpose of the action:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men in order to be noticed by them.” (Matt 6:1)

“… First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles in order to burn them up ….” (Matt 13:30)

“But they do all their deeds in order to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.” (Matt 23:5)

“For when she poured this perfume on my body, she did it in order to prepare me for burial.” (Matt 26:12)

So it is clear that the grammar is reflecting purpose: “anyone who looks at a woman in order to covet her.” (“Covet” is preferable here in part because “covet” better reflects the intentionality reflected in the passage.) This is a critically important point; Jesus is not suggesting that any sexual thought or inclination towards a woman is sinful. Nor is he suggesting that such thoughts or attractions being triggered by a look are sinful. The look is not the problem (nor is the presence of a beautiful woman, which some of that day tended to blame as the real problem); no, these are assumed. What is remarkable (given the popular misinterpretation) is that Jesus likewise assumes the presence of sexual desire in the man as a given, and that sexual desire isn’t seen as the problem. Instead, Jesus addresses the matter of intent, of volition, the purpose of the look. The issue is not the appetite itself but how a man directs this natural appetite and inclination. (I’m reminded here of the old saying: If you’re a young man on a beach and a beautiful woman in a bikini walks past and you don’t feel any sort of excitement or attraction, it’s not because you’re spiritual, it’s because you’re dead.)

This fits well within the immediate context; throughout this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is pointing out the root causes of the sins enumerated in the Law. Yes, adultery is a sin, but the sin has entered the heart the moment one determines to seek it out. The moment a man even looks at a woman for that purpose, adultery has already polluted the heart. This is the line between natural sexual attraction and the “coveting” prohibited by the Law: the Law forbids directing one’s desire towards that which is not lawful. Jesus does not condemn the desire but the action taken on the desire.

In modern terms, it’s the difference between seeing a woman and being attracted to her—a natural part of the God-created appetite and a good indicator that one is alive—and actually considering or seeking an illicit activity. In fact, in modern terms, the saying could be taken like this: “Obviously, having extramarital sex is wrong, but the moment you decide to start down that path, adultery is already in your heart.”

Finally, Jesus does not say that the thought and the action are equivalent, as is often taught. The passage does not say, “Once you’ve thought it, it’s the same as actually having done it.” That very notion is absurd! Rather, Jesus says that adultery has been committed in the heart, that the will has already bent itself towards adultery. Again, the emphasis is on intent—that is, without the decision to move towards adultery, the act would never be committed. Therefore, Jesus says, deal with the primary problem of intention and adultery becomes a non-issue. As will be shown below, the suggestion that the thought and action are equivalent can cause much harm.

Why It Matters

The biggest problem with the way these verses are usually explained is that it misplaces the focus away from the will, from the commitment of the heart, towards a condemnation of the natural desires human beings are created having. Young men in many churches are effectively told that there is something inherently sinful in their sexual impulses. There are several results that typically follow from this:

  1. A great deal of self-defeat and guilt about sexual desire is a problem in much of the church. Young men are often entirely consumed with their efforts “not to lust,” as though focusing even more attention on the matter of sexual desire would actually help things!
  2. In the same vein, I have even had married men talk to me about how they try not to “lust” for their wives! This stems from the misguided idea that if their desire for sex is simply because they’re “horny,” there’s something inherently wrong with that, something to feel guilty about. (In contrast, look at the way Paul approaches marital sex in 1 Cor 7; he seems to present it as the necessary and acceptable cure for “being horny.”) Talk about a way to take some of the joy out of marriage and substitute defeat and guilt!
  3. Many young men simply give up the fight, reasoning that if they’re already guilty of sexual sin because of their thoughts, they might as well go ahead and enjoy the real thing. You’d probably be surprised how often this is the case. (Again, this result is quite related to the poor theology that suggests the Sermon on the Mount presents some impossible to achieve standard. The obvious conclusion is to ask why anyone should try to live up to it, since one’s salvation isn’t determined by doing this stuff anyway, only how one believes.)
  4. Some who understand this passage to be a condemnation of lust actually reason that they can have extramarital (or at least premarital) sex as long as they “don’t lust.” Following is an actual quote from a message board discussion on this subject:

    “The only reason to wait [for marriage for sex] is if you believe you have a soul mate out there. I don’t. I know the bible [sic] fairly well … and have yet to find where the bible [sic] says it is wrong to have sex with more than one person or have sex before marriage. Adultery is having sex with someone elses [sic] partner which is wrong and you can have sex without looking at someone lustfully. I don’t know anywhere in the bible [sic] where it says it is wrong for two people who care about each other to have sex.”

    As amazing as this interpretation is, this is certainly not the first time I have heard or seen that interpretation—that it’s okay to have extramarital sex as long as one doesn’t “lust.” As we’ve seen, this entirely misconstrues what “lust” is (having sex without the desire for it is generally called rape), but it is an excellent representative of how harmful the common teaching on this passage can be. (See this post for a discussion of the fallacy of searching for the soul mate in much of American Christian culture.)

Summary

So to sum it up, Matthew 5:27–28 is not a condemnation of lust or sexual desire, nor does it mean that every red-blooded male necessarily sins every time a beautiful woman walks into a room (or onto a movie screen or anywhere else she may appear). On the contrary, “lust” itself is not a sin but can lead to sin if it is not properly governed and put under the authority of the Spirit (cf. James 1). Instead of focusing on “lust,” if this passage is to be correctly taught, the emphasis should be placed squarely on the will: that is, “What is the proper response to sexual desire?” There are proper outlets for sexual desire, but it is the exercise of the sexual appetite outside these confines is the problem. Even prior to actually committing the act, once the will has turned towards illicit behavior, sin has already entered the heart and, once fully conceived, will bring forth death.

Part of the payoff for properly understanding these two verses is the understanding that the requirement they set forth is neither impossible nor unreasonable. There is no requirement to somehow lose the drives that we were born with, nor should there be any guilt for having them. On the contrary, it is a matter of the commitment of the will, the orientation of the heart, that Jesus is discussing. It is the covetous look that is forbidden, not lust or desire itself. That is, Jesus forbids fixing one’s desire upon a woman (or man) that is not rightfully one’s own. This requirement was not set forth to show how impossible it is to live up to God’s standard. The standards set forth here are intended to be lived.

Comments

  1. Kyle Leaman says:

    Great breakdown Jason. An important verse to get right, as it not only helps struggling Christian men but also doesn't set up unnecessary hurdles for non-Christians contemplating Christianity. Of course it has the advantage of also being accurate and truthful…and you know what they say about truth…

  2. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    I've found it helpful to compare Matt 5:28 πᾶς ὁ βλέπων γυναῖκα πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι αὐτὴν to the Tenth Commandment (Exod 20:17 LXX): οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ πλησίον σου. I don't really see Jesus going beyond what was already taught.

    So I would endorse your view: In this case, it would probably be appropriate even to translate this verse "in order to covet her," rather than "to lust after her," in part because "covet" reflects intentionality reflected in the passage.

  3. Jason A. Staples says:

    Good point, Stephen. The more I've looked at this passage over the years, the more I've connected it with that also. And the nice thing is that "covet" carries closer to the proper connotation in English than "lust," which is associated more with the drive than an intentional action.

  4. It’s a real shame that Megan was dropped from Transformers 3. But I wish her the best with her next movie.

  5. Bible Study says:

    As long as Satan can have one to trust in their own works of righteousness in the flesh, he can defeat them. The only way to overcome the defeat Satan offers is to trust in Jesus alone for salvation. Romans 8: There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

  6. Thank you soo much for this critical analysis and explanation of the Scripture. So many lies and untruths have been taught because of a failure to understand correctly. Thanks again and Shalom

  7. Great and thorough article

  8. I came across Matthew 5:27-30, asked Google ‘how does one live up to it?’, and found this page and your site. I can’t tell you how much better I feel after about myself and my faith in God after reading your explanation. It is so well reasoned and clearly written too! I really enjoyed reading it. Thank you so much, Jason and God bless you.

  9. Hi Jason,

    I thought that article was fantastic. Would you say that masturbation was one of the proper outlets for sexual desire you mentioned, or would the accompanying fantasies with this act render it as adultery that Jesus speaks of above?
    Would be great to hear back from you on this.

    • Good question, John. While I don’t think the Bible condemns masturbation (the usual interpretation of the Onan story doesn’t get it right), it also doesn’t seem that masturbation is “one of the proper outlets,” either. Actually, Matthew putting “and if your right hand causes you to stumble” immediately after this statement about coveting a woman may be seen as an indirect reference to masturbation. It’s not entirely clear, but it’s the closest thing in Scripture you’ll find to a statement about masturbation. Given the general outlook on sex in Scripture, though, I’d say masturbation would not be included among the “proper outlets,” which are limited to heterosexual marital relations whenever discussed.

      • That’s really interesting, I’d never thought of it that way before. In fact I don’t even think it struck me at all why Matthew said “and if your right hand causes you to stumble”..it’s like I’ve never read that bit! Thanks.

        I guess it was in another article that you wrote about your personal experience as a formerly single guy; would you say from your experience that nocturnal emissions were sufficient during that time to ‘satisfy’ the sex drive, and that maybe the sex drive is just a drive that pushes us towards intimacy with others & doesn’t really ‘need’ to be satisfied in a sexual way? I apologise for coming back with another question & maybe going off on a bit of a tangent!

        I really appreciate you taking the time to reply back by the way, that was much appreciated.

        • On the one hand, no, nocturnal emissions are insufficient to “satisfy” the sex drive in the same way that getting nutrients through a tube “satisfies” the desire to eat. But on the other hand, yes, nocturnal emissions can be (and were for me) sufficient as a single person, although I think it’s much more difficult to stop masturbating once one starts than it is never to start. I do think we as a society place significantly too much emphasis on the need to be “sexually satisfied.” It’s good to have sexual satisfaction, but it’s not a necessary condition for a quality human life.

  10. Finally, something about this passage that actually makes sense!

    I’d like to thank you for laying out what the original Greek says about this particular passage. Because I don’t know ancient Greek (and haven’t had much time to learn it) I could never look up much for myself. This interpretation actually makes sense though. I was beginning to wonder why God would condemn me for a feeling He created me with… This actually makes sense though. Thanks for clearing this headache up.

  11. Since you proved that it means “in order to covet her”, and The Ten Commandments are Commands(not intentions or desires, etc), and since as this guy suggested command 10 covet could mean ‘Take’ – http://Goddidntsaythat.com/2011/03/02/the-ten-commandments-dont-forbid-coveting/

    and since the 10 Commandment which says, Thou Shall Not Steal in Hebrew can mean Kidnap.

    And since deuteromony has avah as desire and chamad again in other places has suggestions of take(steal) I have come to the logical conclusion that these are The True 10 Commandments:

    1, You shall have no other gods before Yahweh(The True God, The Trinity of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit)

    2, You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

    3, Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy

    4, You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

    5, Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

    6, You shall not murder.

    7, You shall not commit adultery.

    8, You shall not Kidnap

    9, You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

    10, “You shall not take(steal) your neighbor’s house. You shall not take(steal) your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

  12. Wrote a post on my blog, check it out, Courtesy to you for helping me – http://savedbychrist94.blogspot.com/2013/01/true-ten-commandments-and-matthew-527-28.html

    This is my first day starting Koine Greek(Bought Basics of Biblical Greek ‘Grammar’ by Dr. William D. Mounce and I already know most of the alphabet, studying it you are correct, it means in order to.(because of πρὸς(pros) and THEN comes τὸ(to)

    Now I know what the True Ten Commandments are and an sure that looking at a woman isn’t a sin.

    God(The Father, The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit) Bless you Jason Staples, you helped well.

  13. Great article…I wish Christians like yourself who understand that English words often times horribly translates the Hebrew and Greek would look more into the passages that condemns “homosexuality” I’m a gay christian and I have found through my research that the bible does not condemn 2 men or 2 women in loving committed relations but rather was condemning the sex rituals done by pagans.

    • But the Bible does clearly condemn homosexuality in this verse:

      Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, (I Corinthians 6:9 NKJV)

      The meaning is quiet clear. People who lead lives like those mentioned in a continuos fashion are people who have not experienced a transformation by the saving power of Christ. (Aka, they aren’t saved, and therefore are not headed to heaven) I am not here to condemn you, but to tell you the truth. Please search this following link and read the article carefully. I’m praying for you man.

      http://carm.org/bible-homosexuality

  14. Thanks for your thoughtful article! It really helps me understand this passage better, and relieve me from the guilt of feeling attracted to beautiful women. However, I have a question: the common belief is that porn is bad because it will cause lust, and lust will lead to sin. After reading this article, it seems like if one does not act on the lust (like masturbate, or go have sex with prostitute etc), it will not lead to sin. If this thinking is true, then does that mean it’s OK to watch porn? That doesn’t sound right to me. Am I misunderstand something? Thanks!

    • I don’t think this verse could be rightly interpreted as a license for pornography, as the important aspect here is the intention behind the look. Once a person has decided to look in order to gain some sexual gratification from that source, it would seem to me that coveting has begun.

      • Thanks for you reply Jason! I wouldn’t think watching porn is justified either – it’s debasing anyway. Could you share your thoughts about “lust of the eyes”, i.e. what is this lust referring to, and if I enjoy nude art (the intent is to appreciate the beauty of female, not to get sexual arousal), and I find the model to be beautiful/attractive, does it fall under lust of the eyes?

        • Jesus was pretty clear why He used lust instead of covet. He was addressing our sinful nature. Lusting after someone is not the same as wanting to possess someone. It is merely for the sake of temporary pleasure. Paul said he beats his body into submission. We can only do this with the help of the Holy Spirit.

          Yet I believe that Jesus teaching was of a higher moral standard.

  15. This is the best article I’ve read on this subject. I would recommend it to others who, like myself, have had a difficult time gaining a realistic, working biblical perspective on distinguishing between sinful lust (the choice to sin by looking at someone IN ORDER to lust after or covet them) and mere amoral (intrinsically neither morally right nor morally wrong) sexual attraction.

    Thanks for taking the time to share this research with the rest of us!

  16. Thanks for posting on this issue. Currently, I’m REALLY wrestling with this verse. My unfortunate logic through growing up in the church in the South has pushed me towards the “even looking at a girl lustfully is adultery” POV, even though I know it’s not the right interpretation. I have such a hard time reconciling myself on the matter still. Years of shame and guilt and beating myself up have done a number on me. Even after reading this, I am still having a hard time reconciling this. My mind works inasmuch if i can think myself into something, i can think out of it.

    Jason, I’m going to read this again in hopes of garnishing more, but could you give me something that might help me have that “click” or “ah HA” connection with what I feel & what Jesus says? I almost feel spiritually paralyzed by the whole thought process :(

    • As far as the “ah-ha” kind of thing, I’d suggest the following: It is all about the intention, the purpose behind the look. Jesus does not forbid a look, nor the desire. But he declares that looking as the first step towards satisfying that desire to be sin.

  17. Hi Jason, thanks for the article, I found it to be quite informative and should help greatly in eliminating the guilt/shame I feel when I notice someone and am immediately sexually attracted to them. I do have a couple of questions though. To provide some background info so you know where I am coming from, I am a 21 year old Christian male, single, unable to get married anytime soon due to various reasons, and I have been addicted to pornography and masturbation since age 10, and am struggling to overcome it and to determine what exactly is acceptable and unacceptable for a Christian single.

    What I understand you to have been saying is that seeing an attractive woman and experiencing feelings of sexual attraction and having thoughts pop up like “wow, she is attractive” is not itself a sin (please correct me if I am wrong).

    Do intentional thoughts constitute an illicit behavior? For example, ruminating on how attractive someone is for the sexual gratification such thoughts provide without having any intention to have sex with them or to pursue them in any way?

    What about if the someone in question is merely a fabrication of ones imagination and does not/has never actually existed in the real world?

    You stated in an earlier response to someone else that masturbation is not a proper outlet, but it isn’t directly condemned either, though it does appear to be warned against. Is it reasonable to then conclude that while masturbation can be dangerous and can possibly lead to one sinning, the action itself is morally “neutral”, so to speak?

    In another earlier response you stated that “Once a person has decided to look in order to gain some sexual gratification from that source, it would seem to me that coveting has begun”. What if the source in question is not another human being? For example, sexually explicit literature instead of visual pornography?

    I’m sure you are very busy and probably won’t have time to answer my questions but I thought it worth asking anyway.

    Thanks again for the article,

    • Niix, I’m sorry it has taken me so long to reply to this. I’ve been mulling over the best way to respond since you posted this, as your question obviously involves more than just simple historical interpretation and I want to give as good a reply as possible.

      I think it’s fairly clear that Jesus wasn’t forbidding the experience of sexual attraction or suggesting that it is sinful.

      The other questions are a bit more difficult. First of all, I think sexual addiction is an example of sexual brokenness rather than wholeness. I also don’t think there’s much question that Jesus would have been very opposed to pornography, as it is the very embodiment of covetous sexual outlet. Pornography is fundamentally opposed to the self-restrained sexual ideal Jesus advocates. There are numerous other problems associated with the pornography industry on the social justice side; helping provide a market for it through consumption of it is indirectly to increase sexual immorality and injustice.

      As for imagination on the basis of literature, etc., such a thing is empty at best and again does not exemplify the sexual ethic Jesus advocates.

      With respect to far-reaching conclusions, I think the better approach is to pursue the ideal rather than aim for the low boundary. I understand that you have no immediate opportunity to get married, but I can say with some confidence that your addictions in this area will not be ideal baggage to bring into a marriage, nor are they examples of the free and whole life of which Jesus promised. As such, your best bet is to do everything you can to break these addictions, seeking whatever help you can in order to do so.

      I hope this answer helps somewhat; I’d be happy to respond more thoroughly (and more quickly) if anything is less than clear.

      • Thanks for the response Jason, I appreciate you taking the time to think about my questions. I have to agree with everything that you said. I’d come to similar conclusions myself, I suppose I was hoping that I was wrong, that there was some “wiggle room”, so to speak. No such luck. Anyway, thanks again for the response.

  18. Jesus said not to lust after a woman- think sexual thoughts about. This is not complicated, and people like you try to twist it. your way of thinking is wordly and carnal, and very male. lust may be a part of human nature, but human nature is fallen. why must people try to find excuses? you seem to suggets that lust is ok as long as you dont intend to act on it. so a man could fantasize about a woman, another man or a child, and its fine if he does not act on it. jesus is just as concerned with the heart as well as our actions. by the way there happen to be Asexual people, who do not have such desires. they are no more abnormal than anyone else. you are not a christian.

    • Stefany says:

      Melanie i agree 100% with your comment and couldn’t have said It any better myself. People should stop trying to make excuses for the behaviors that go against God’s teachings and start trying to actually change and follow the right path, against temptations.

      • Do you think it is important to properly understand what Jesus says in this verse in order to know “the behaviors that go against God’s teachings”? If so, how might one go about properly understanding the verse?

        • Alfred Sturges says:

          What this is saying is that if you look upon a woman with a desire to perform a sexual act with her then you have committed adultery in your heart. Does that fit your use of the word covet? In english we call looking at a woman with a desire to perform a sexual act lust. So the translators are right to use the word lust. In the context of adultery we should not assume that someone is looking to covet another man’s wife because of her domestic skills.

          The question your article raises is can we look but not touch. Well, if you are looking and thinking you would like to have sex with her then you are looking with a desire to commit adultery. Jesus calls that committing adultery in your heart. Just because you place a line between looking and touching doesn’t mean you don’t have a desire to touch, it just means you have restraint. And unfortunately just because you only play the fantasy out in your mind that doesn’t excuse you from having committed adultery in your heart.

          • That’s a very interesting interpretation, but it doesn’t seem to be what the Greek actually says, which is a bit of a problem, don’t you think?

          • Alfred Sturges says:

            There is someone who might be able to settle this for us: St. Chrysostom. As an early doctor of the church and lover of the greek language we should expect him to know the meaning of this verse.

            From his commentary (http://www.one-fold.com/Resources/Chrysostom/npnf110.pdf page 213):
            For beginning from those passions, which most belong to our whole race, anger, I mean, and desire (for it is these chiefly that bear absolute sway within us, and are more natural than the rest); He with great authority, even such as became a legislator, both corrected them, and reduced them to order with all strictness. For He said not that the adulterer merely is punished; but what He had done with respect to the murderer, this He doth here also, punishing even the unchaste look: to teach thee wherein lies what He had more than the scribes. Accordingly, He saith, “He that looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath already committed adultery with her:” that is, he who makes it his business to be curious about bright forms, and to hunt for elegant features, and to feast his soul with the sight, and to fasten his eyes on fair countenances. For He came to set free from all evil deeds not the body only, but the soul too before the body. Thus, because in the heart we receive the grace of the Spirit, He cleanses it out first.

            In comparison with his interpretation I find my interpretation to be too weak. Those who “hunt for elegant features” are the ones who stand accused of committing adultery in their heart, not only those who look with sexual desire.

          • Apologies for taking so long to respond to this comment; I somehow missed it. Chrysostom was an excellent Greek scholar (trained by the great Libanius), but let’s also recall that you’re reading a translation of Chrysostom—he again references “coveting” here and uses his usual flowery language to illustrate what covetousness looks like. His larger point is basically the same as what we’re saying here. It’s not the desire for sex that is condemned but the seeking after (hunting for) ways to “feast” upon an inappropriate outlet for that desire.

    • I cannot believe how many guys are agreeing with this article…. Lusting after another woman is adultery. Period. Do not look with sexually impure thoughts on any woman (besides your wife which in this case is not impure…) How can you misread this? It’s so clear…. Thank you Melanie and Stefany for replying…. You should look at all women like sisters and mothers not as sexual bait…. Please look closely at Jesus teaching…. You are to be one with your wife and only your wife. In what world would Jesus accept a man cheating on his wife either with his imagination or in real life? What a joke. You boys need to stop looking for loopholes to sin…. Stay out of the grey if there is any question. Don’t swim in it. Can you honestly pray about it and feel at peace that God allows you to look at women this way? Especially if you are married or the lady is? And what woman would want a husband who ogled at anything and everything with breasts? I honestly don’t think God would want women to put up with that. It’s disgusting. Grow boys and be the men God has called you to be and you will have a sexually fullfilling marriage.

      • Hi Lucy. Your response bothered me and, to be honest, I felt it was a little foolish. May I ask what you were hoping to accomplish? If the tides were turned, would you have found your response helpful or constructive?

        Think about this…What was Adam’s reaction when he saw Eve? God made men to notice when women are beautiful. I am married now, and before I was married, I often noticed how beautiful and attractive my future wife was. I also looked forward to having relations with her….it’s not like something magical happened when we got married and all of a sudden she became beautiful to me. She was beautiful all along. This is why I honestly believe it’s okay for single men and single women to find one another attractive.

        Additionally, I don’t judge my wife when she struggles during certain hormonal changes every month or when her emotions were changing throughout her pregnancy. Some of her thoughts and actions were very difficult to deal with. I am patient with her and pray for her. The men reading and responding to this article need that same consideration. At least they are speaking up about this topic and walking in the light.

        Your response is judgmental and not encouraging at all. It’s surely not spoken out of love. I don’t think men are looking for a loophole. I think we are openly discussing the difference between noticing a woman is beautiful and coveting that beauty for ourselves. Many men, including myself, live in shame for thoughts we can’t control because of how the church typically presents this topic. I would agree that it’s a fine line, but I would ask you to think about how you addressed these men. Are the “boys” you refer to in more sin than you being judgmental towards them? God called men to be leaders, so i’ll take the high ground on this one and pray for you along with everyone else included in this post. I pray that God helps you grow in your love for His people. We are all sinners and are on a road to healing and sanctification.

      • Lucy, would I be too far off base if I assumed, based on your comment, that you’re an extremely jealous person who gets really angry, really quickly, when you even think your husband notices another woman?

        I ask that because my wife is not that way, and she doesn’t care if I notice another woman is beautiful (because I’m married, not dead.) She knows I’m not plotting on how to sleep with her or going to go out and try to.

        I believe the word I’m looking for here is “insecurity.”

        • Thank you David for your reply, it put it in the right way, and non-judgementally, which is what is needed. Lucy, I may have misinterpreted what this article is saying, but I think the difference between coveting and noticing is important. When you see a good looking male actor on TV and appreciate, notice, that he is good looking, without going any further than that, without having some sexual fantasy about him, is that a sin? Is that wrong? In the same way, when a woman walks past a man and he notices and appreciates that she is beautiful, to frame it in the words of the author, he is attracted to her (I don’t think he was intending any more than that, please correct me if I’m wrong). He notices that she has a beautiful face, or even a beautiful body, without any further coveting. Without taking a second look. Just an appreciation of beauty. Is that any worse than you appreciating a man’s looks? Noticing that he is good looking? No man would condemn you for saying (for instance) “Brad Pitt’s a good looking guy”. Please don’t read into our actions or words any more than that. And please don’t judge people, even when they are wrong.

  19. What a great article. I understand some people might not agree with it, but I actually do. It’s of utmost importance that we understand scripture correctly. It looks like a couple of women posted about how a man’s natural desire to look at a woman should be considered sinful. Well, I would have to ask them this….are you married? If not, wouldn’t you like your future husband to (in some way) desire you, or be attracted to you? If you are married, was it sinful for your husband to desire to marry you so he could eventually enjoy the benefits of being married? Telling a man that his natural reaction to a beautiful woman is sinful is like telling a woman her feelings during that time of the month are sinful even if she never acts out in anger. It’s all hormones.

    I’m glad in the comments Jason rightly called out the sinful behaviors that tend to follow wrongly desiring women, but desiring in itself is not a sin….especially for single men to desire single women….it’s one thing to walk up to a house for sale and think ” I would really desire to live here”. It’s a totally different thing to look at your neighbor’s house that isn’t for sale and be pissed off that you can’t live in there house.

    I believe the ultimate point of this passage is that many people thought they were righteous because they did not participate in certain sins. Jesus was simply trying to communicate that even the moral cream of the crop still need a Savior (and even more so because they are blind to their own pride).

    Be careful not to judge, or you’ll bring judgement on yourself. Instead pray that we may all strive for holiness and trust that our only hope, despite how “good” we live, is in Jesus. We all need Him every day so that we may live our lives and finish well.

    The God tells us through his word to be free from concern, not to worry, and that nothing can separate us from His love.

    • Thanks for the response.

      One thing I think is worth pointing out, however, is that the verse you’re referencing when you say “nothing can separate us from his love” does not actually say that. It actually says, “No creature (or created thing) can separate us from his love.” That is not quite the same thing as “nothing,” and the distinction is worth noting, as it is very clear throughout scripture that sin both can and does separate a person from God’s love. Sin is neither a creature nor a created thing—it’s more of a non-thing—so Paul’s language there is careful for a reason.

      • John Buta says:

        Hi Jason,

        Id have to disagree there. While you’re reading of that verse is correct, you’re belief that sin can separate us from Gods love is way off point. God is love, and he loved us even while we were his enemies. Now he lives in us, how much more should we rejoice that sin cannot separate us from his love (Hebrews 9:28) To say that sin can separate a person (i believe we are referring here to a christian), from Gods love, is like saying we can sin the Holy Spirit out of us.

        • Don’t forget the rest of Hebrews (most notably Heb 6 and 10:26–31), which addresses that very question with quite strong warnings. Likewise, Paul warns Gentile believers that they can be cut out of the tree if they are disobedient/unfaithful (Rom 11), while Ephesians warns against grieving the holy spirit for this very reason. There’s no question that the New Testament regularly warns that disobedience or unfaithfulness can separate even the elect from God.

          • John Buta says:

            Thank you for the reply Jason. Sorry to go off topic on your blog!

            Id have to say that Romans 11 is more a warning to the Gentiles about becoming too proud (11:18-20), than a warning to be obedient & faithful or else. They were becoming arrogant toward the Jews (11:18), because now they were saved by God, and the Jews weren’t (11:20). They were being self righteous, and Jesus has never condoned self-righteousness (Luke 18: 9-14), not now, and not then.
            That’s why Paul likewise has such strong words for the Gentiles (Romans 11:22). Its easy to read into that verse a strong, personal, warning for ourselves though, that we need to do something to continue in Gods kindness or we’re getting the cut. But we shouldn’t. We should be reminded that the only requirement to stay a branch in Jesus’s tree, is that we believe (11:20). Nothing more, nothing less.
            And that’s the problem with self-righteousness, its unbelief; its self focused, not Jesus focused, and its leaves room for boasting, and no room for a Savior. Hopefully those gentiles got the message in Paul’s 3rd Chapter (v.27) where he writes, “Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith.”
            If we go around swallowing every pill Jesus or Paul intended for the self-righteous, we’ll end up feeling insecure in our Father’s love, and working out of fear that we might get pruned next time the Gardener comes round to check on our performance.
            Perfect love casts out fear though (1John 4:18), and in the words of Paul to the Corinthians:

            “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” (1 Cor 1:8-9)

            I would really really love to discuss this further, and get back to you on the passages from Hebrews.
            If its better though, i can email you personally & we can continue to talk that way instead of going into it via the post you have written? I’m happy to have this reply not shown in the comments section & continued via email.

            Warm regards

            John

            p.s. hopefully my email address should be given to you through this comment, if not its: john.buta@yahoo.co.uk

          • My apologies for missing this comment, John. It was just after our house fire, so I missed a lot in that timeframe.

            With respect to Rom 11, there’s no doubt that it serves as a warning against becoming proud, but the exact danger of such pride would be disobedience/unfaithfulness that would wind up getting them cut off in the same way as the cut-off Jews they were glorying over.

            The warning is not against self-righteousness but unrighteousness and disobedience. The message is that the branches who had been cut off had been removed for unfaithfulness, so if those presently grafted in would be unfaithful, they would have the same result.

            Rom 11:20 doesn’t say the only requirement is to “believe,” but to be faithful. (Paul uses the nominal form, “You stand by your faithfulness.”) There’s a fairly significant difference between the two concepts.

            I may not have much time to email about this at present, but I’ll drop you a line and we can go through some of this down the line.

  20. Maybe I’m thinking about this too much, but in Isaiah 53 it says that their will be nothing in Jesus that we should “desire” him. If we use your definition, that would mean that (if he wasn’t ugly) we would “desire to possess” him (whatever that means). Am I getting something wrong here?

    • Good question. This is a good example of the fuzzy nature of language, where individual words can have different nuances depending on their context. In that context, the Hebrew word is best understood as “desire” or “take delight in.”

      • Imteresrting article. so why do you think Jesus uses the word adultery? the word implies one or both people are married.. If it was all encompassing, I wonder why Jesus didnt say commits fornication or sexual immorality? Anyone?

        • Technically, the word “woman” here (Greek γυναῖκα) implies a married woman; it’s also the standard Greek word for “wife.” So “adultery” makes sense in that context.

          In addition, fornication and other sexual immorality is not mentioned in the Decalogue, which Jesus seems to be operating within here. Other forms of sexual immorality are addressed elsewhere in the Torah (and in early Christian ethics) but those don’t really seem to be addressed here.

          • Lee Weaver says:

            The reason for the use of adultery and not fornication is because fornication infers all acts of sexual improprieties, i.e., homosexuality, bestiality, polygamy… Adultery is the only act of fornication that can occur between a male and female. Therefore, to use the word fornication itself would not, in its rightful definition, ever be applicable.

  21. Jason, your article is really interesting and enlightening for many reasons, but I’m just going to throw in a woman’s perspective here, one who grew up in the same Christian culture that seemed to teach young men that there sexual drives were entirely sinful.

    And, it’s this: we, the girls growing up in that culture, were strongly encouraged in the ways of modesty because we were taught that we had *so much* responsibility when it came to our brothers’ struggles with lust. It’s like the burden of their visual, highly sexual, drives were placed right on top of our closets and wardrobes. And, for girls who are still getting used to their transitioning bodies, surrounded by oppressive messages from the world about body image, having to own the burden of our struggling Christian brothers was just… a lot, too much. Whether from the world (because no fourteen year old measures up to the standards in the magazines), or from the church, the message we received, albeit in different packaging, was that we had much to be ashamed of.

    While I still believe, and practice, the principles of modesty, I’m so much more aware of the burden that was placed on us, and I refuse to carry it any longer. Yes, I don’t want to “make my brother stumble,” but I also now know that he’ll “stumble” if I’m wearing a parka and is intent on “stumbling” (to use the language that was tossed around so much). His struggle is his, and I don’t have to own that burden. My reasons for modesty, now, are motivated by what makes me feel good about myself, and how I carry myself with dignity– and the end results (the clothes I choose) are pretty much the same. But the shame and the fear of inciting someone to lust? I’ve let that go.

    • April, thanks so much for this comment, as it brings in a whole other side to this discussion. It’s really unfortunate the way well-meaning teaching can really paralyze both sexes with shame and guilt. I really appreciate the perspective you’ve added here.

    • ericfree_free says:

      dressing modest produces a greater chance to not be proud and arrogant with looks…after all we all have poop lingering in our bodies throughout the day…modesty isn’t just helpful for lusting men…but also for yourself so u wont be proud…either way none of us are god and we cant get around our conscience…god know your desires…we cant outsmart him…please don’t try to bend the topic of how dangerous sin is…lusting greatly is still horrible…it says renew your minds…that way u wont lust as much and commit fornication as much hopefully not at all.marriage is the cure for lust as paul says if im not mistaken

    • Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

      I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

      Just as a man should not look to gaze lustfully at a woman (which I struggle with oftentimes), a woman should dress modestly in order to help limit others from such actions. We should not seek to justify the desires of our flesh and if we have any doubt that our actions or thoughts glorify God, we should refrain from them. Thankfully we have Jesus and he provides us with power over sin and the ability to put the flesh under subjection. If we look upon a woman and become aware that she is fair to look upon, no that itself is not sin. However when we start to look with the intent of lusting on her features this I believe would constitute “covet”. Basically if you are married you should be avoiding those little glances because they encourage one to act out on flesh desires. If you continually look though that is showing a heart desire to commit adultery which is obviously not appropriate and I think that is the message Jesus was trying to convey. The desire itself can exist but choosing to think about it and ENCOURAGING it with the look is the beginning of the manifestation of the desire and therefore becomes sin.

  22. thrifty jim says:

    Why would jesus condemn man for doing what GOD wired him to do?man was created to desire woman for the sake of breeding.otherwise a man would not give a woman the time of day.something has to bring him back home.modern day”Christian women”have taken on a worldly feminist view wich is rebelious.

    • “Otherwise a man would not give a woman the time of day…”

      Wow…

      Filing this one in “the kind of men to warn my daughter against” file.

      • “…and the two shall become one flesh….” Reproduction is implied. Hence, breeding is implied. Marriage has sex as a primary mission. You are delusional if you think that your daughter won’t want sex.

        You are passive-aggressive. Very unmanly

  23. It’s also important to note that single women often (though not always) dress and wear makeup in order to attract men’s attention, so if that causes men to lust, then single women must bear a greater share of guilt for attracting men’s attention. I think that the author has clearly shown that sexual attraction is not sin, at least from the Sermon on the Mount. Attraction by women towards men is generally sexual and is really part of God’s plan. Wives are supposed to attract their husbands sexually and vice-versa. It isn’t something that happens suddenly once the preacher says, “I do,” but begins from some earlier time. Even during arranged marriages, the prospective spouses saw one another and were allowed to determine if there was sufficient sexual attraction for a marriage or else the whole thing would be called off.

    Wives generally want to be seen as attractive while in the bedroom and it is quite appropriate for husbands to desire their wives and for wives to attract/arouse their husbands by being seen naked. That is God’s plan for the bedroom.

  24. John DelHousaye says:

    Jason, thanks for your insight. Have you considered this reading: “But I say to you: anyone who looks at a wife so that she lusts already committed adultery with her in his heart”?

    πᾶς ὁ βλέπων may be the understood subject, but the explicit subject of an infinitive clause is in the accusative case—αὐτὴν. Wallace calls this the Accusative Subject of the Infinitive (1996, 192). This reading presumes it takes two to tango: another man’s wife responds to the lustful gaze with a similar desire.

    I was curious if you had an opinion. Preparing to teach a course on this.

    Blessings,

    John

    • It’s an interesting thought, but I don’t think the reading can work. Accusative-Infinitive construction is used for paraphrase or indirect quotation, which is not the case here. Instead, we have an articular infinitive followed by the object in accusative. The translation is thus a fairly straightforward, “Everyone who looks at a wife/woman in order to covet her…”

      Thanks for the comment, and I hope your course goes well.

  25. Hey Jason, thank you for the very clear explanation of this passage. I will have to think very often of it, because me myself have been haunted many many times by the wrong interpretation of it in my daily life.
    Am I allowed to print a copy for my self?
    Again, thank you very much !

    Blessings,

    Edwin

  26. Mary Ann Bullard says:

    I’ve read some garbage before. And as it may, I am continuing to read more garbage.
    The way humans twist the word of God to benefit them, is quite disgusting and very unfortunate.
    To the males who agree with this untruth, please pray to the Lord about it and see His guidance in this area. Men will write articles like this to mislead you and cause you to fall further away from God. I find this “interpretation” if that is what you call it, so hard to believe. Especially when a prominent character in the bible, Job, stated: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman” Job 31: 1
    We’re talking about a man so well promoted by God. A man who was considered righteous. I just can’t imagine the Lord agreeing with this article.

    If you have a hard time keeping your eyes off of women, here’s a good solution.
    The answer is Jesus.
    He preached so much about sex and money. Because He knew people would twist His words to make their sin seem less apparent. He knew someone would disagree with Him and try to use his ministry to promote their immoral behavior. But I want to warn you all….don’t make excuses and agree with people are misunderstood to continue in your sinful behavior.
    God does not reward the ungodly.
    Adultery is a matter of the heart. You can “reinvent” the meaning all you want, but Jesus knows your heart. And each of you should honor him with your heart, as well as your eyes.
    FLEE from the devil and his schemes. Flee from the idea that it is okay to “lust” after another woman (outside of your marriage of course! LOL)

    My prayers are with all of you.

    • Hi Mary Ann, thanks for the comments. How would you define ἐπιθυμέω then, and on what grounds? The post does its best to explain what Jesus said and what it means in context. If you are to disagree, you may want to explain what Jesus said and what it would mean in context. Simply stating something does not make it so; do you have a basis for your comments?

      Also, for what it’s worth, you didn’t cite Job 31:1 precisely. A more precise translation of that verse says, “I have made a covenant with my eyes. How then could I gaze upon a virgin?”

      You also seem to have badly misunderstood the post. Nowhere does it say what you suggest it says.

      • Jason, thanks for such an elegant reply to Mary Ann. It’s amazing the lengths that people will go to to defend an inaccurate translation/understanding of a passage. They think that they are defending the Word of God when really they are undermining it. The originals were inspired; the translations, not necessarily.

        “I have made a covenant with my eyes. How then could I gaze upon a virgin?” The implicit understanding is that a virgin has been betrothed to another man already. Were women who went in public veiled in Job’s time? Is there an implication that gazing on a virgin would mean that he has somehow sinned, maybe by removing her veil? From a quick glace at the context, I don’t see any clues.

        I’ve seen similar gyrations to defend the traditional translation of “eikn” in 1 Cor. 15:2 as “in vain” when it clearly should be translated “carelessly” or “recklessly” or “without due diligence.”

        Isn’t it interesting that a woman arrogates to teach men when Paul clearly says that women are not to do that? Isn’t it also interesting that a woman, who has no _empathetic_ understanding of how men find women attractive, deigns to lecture us about sinning with our eyes?

      • Hi Jason! Man, thank you so much for this! All this has got me to want to learn Hebrew and Greek – because people don’t have a clue how languages work. If you look at the context – it seems to me that christ was referring more to people that are married – if you look at the context. I am a single man. So if I see a beautiful woman – and I have a desire or want for her, then I have committed adultery in my heart? If that is the case, and everyone followed that law – then no one would be on this earth after those times because you must have some type of “desire” or “want” even before getting married and having children.

        Adultery (definition) – voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.

        Key word “ADULTERY”. How can I commit adultery if I am not married? Some of these people need to go look up the meaning of ADULTERY – then comeback and put it into context of what Jesus was saying. If a man is with his wife and then desires and take steps to see another woman – he is already guilty within his heart.

        Just like the show on MSNBC when undercover cops were catching older men going to 15 year old girls homes. Even if the men just walked by the house and never went in – they still got arrested because the INTENT to be with her was there.

        What are your thoughts on this Jason?

        • Mel, good questions. You’re right that Jesus is primarily addressing married people in this statement. Even the words for “man” and “woman” are the same words used for “husband” and “wife” in Greek. That said, it does seem to apply by extension to coveting in general, which involves the attempt to commit an illicit act. In that sense, even a single man could conceivably covet, though this would inherently involve acting upon that desire in some way.

          • Heather says:

            I have explained the word “covet” to my little boy as “wanting to take something that does not belong to you”. If applied here, this would translate to those who are single as well as to those who are married. A single woman does not yet belong to a single man who finds her attractive and vice versa. Seeing something/someone and appreciating their beauty is not the problem. Continuing to look to the point where imagination grows and thoughts of, “What would I do if that thing/person were mine?” is how temptation to commit sin enters the picture. I think most people, if they are honest with themselves, know the difference between sincerely pure appreciation and “lust” (as Americans know the term to imply). Once promises have been made where the two DO belong to one another, as long as harm is not intended, they are safe in thinking about one another in this way – it is no longer covetous.

      • James 1:14-15: “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Jason, doesn’t this Bible verse refer to lust as sin?

        ~~ZG

        • No more than it refers to sin as death. Lust/desire is the step preceding and leading up to sin, which by definition means it is not the same thing as sin. Likewise, sin is not death, but it leads to it.

          • Would that mean that we would have to avoid lust so we don’t sin?

          • No, that human beings have desires is presumed. The point of the passage is that the origin of sin is not outside a person but in a person’s own desires. The answer in James is not to eliminate desire but to have it be transformed and directed toward good purpose.

          • And also, how do we know that sexual desire is not in itself sinful?
            (Sorry if this is a obvious question…)

            ~~ZG

          • “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). There is no law against sexual desire.

            Secondly, all human beings are born with the biological drive for sex in the same way they’re born with the desire for food. One is no different from the other, and each can lead to sin if misdirected. But it is the misdirection that is sinful, not the desire. Again, desire leads to sin (sin results from desire) but is not to be equated with sin.

          • Ok…

            ~~ZG

  27. Jason, I think it’s safe to say that if our fathers hadn’t lusted after our mothers, none of us would be here today!! I agree with what you’ve written here, and I remain amazed that so may evangelicals want to constantly make things harder than they ought to be. (That last phrase might be more than a little Freudian.) God bless.

  28. Thank you brother for your insight.I am actually

  29. James Williamson says:

    There are so many translations of the Bible now of days and so many opinions but just a thought, have you ever shared this blog of yours that I have just read with Benny Hinn for, he is one who knows the Bible inside and out and studys the Bible diligently and is very knowledgeable. what is his reply to the views you shared in this? Please be humble enough to get his view and options and let us know.

  30. It’s funny how all the nasty criticism of this article is being spouted by WOMEN – who have no idea what it feels like to be a man, and deal with the thoughts and feelings that a man has to handle.

    This article confirms other teachings I’ve heard in churches, and it makes sense. I have a hunch that those flying off the handle here haven’t bothered to read the article properly, but rather are just looking for an excuse to vent their pent-up hate and frustrations. Nowhere does Jason encourage lusting after women. Instead, the message I get is that – contrary to what some self-righteous legalists try to impose on kids – that God doesn’t break your legs then expect you to run a marathon.

    “My yolk is easy and My burden is light.” — Lord Jesus

    • Heather says:

      Unfortunately, some women struggle with sexual lust just as much as any man. I have known quite a few.
      I can’t speak for the other women who have posted here, but my concern would be that some men might take away from this the idea that sexual lust is okay as long as it is not acted upon.
      Certainly everyone (yes, even women!) has preferences when it comes to attraction and notices when they see someone who fits the bill. And, of course, men sometimes lack control of their physical response to such a sight. But noticing is one thing. Continuing thoughts, giving way to fantasy, is another – one which I am certain the Lord does not condone.
      As sexual and “instant gratification”-minded as our Western culture has become, it seems like taking that extra mental step doesn’t take long. I wonder how many Christian men struggle to train their minds to be like Jesus and the Apostle Paul, who looked on “older women as mothers and younger women as sisters”?

  31. As a female, and a wife of someone who has tried to hide and overcome his secret Internet addictions for years, it was difficult at first to read this article. Very emotional subject that hits home and very recently at that. I too thought you were possibly trying to justify pornography or a man’s mental infidelity, but in reading the article, post replies and also looking up the Greek myself, I do understand the distinction that you’re making. My husband has used the same argument/scriptural analysis to tell me that pornography is not a sin and he’s not crossing the line into coveting or lusting for sexual relations, I believe he has finally realized that is a lie and wants to be free of it. Your article coincides with what I believe the Lord has revealed to me for personal purity too, one example that comes to mind is driving by a male jogger (we seem to have an abundance of shirtless ones in our community). If I look at/notice him and have immediate notice things like: great abs, tan, handsome… and look away, no problem, but if I have those thoughts and purposefully look again to view those things, to me that is crossing a line. He said “No second looks” because that leads to temptation for me, and I appreciate having a boundary. We are all going to be exposed to initial reactions, I know my husband is going to notice beautiful women and that’s ok, we all notice the opposite sex and can’t help that. It’s always a battle but I also think we can live without guilt/shame and live victoriously and govern our thoughts. I regularly think of the men in my church as brothers like the word says to and that helps me see them in a different light and keep my heart right. To the men who got offended at my sisters who posted comments please have grace, we are hurting, deeply at times, and need men to be proactive in their purity, as many of you are. Thank you Jason, I do believe you have rightly divided he word and are sincerely trying to bring freedom in this complicated issue.

  32. Hollie Smith says:

    Hi Jason, I read your article and I am going to show it to my husband because we have been in churches like this much of our marriage. We are finally free of that nonsense but for me the scars are huge. Thus far it has ruined a part of me. It not only hurts men but also women. I battle fear of losing my husband in some way to some other woman. It isn’t that I am afraid he will have an affair but that he isn’t happy with me. I am afraid of what his thoughts are and if I am enough to keep him satusfied. I am an attractive woman. I am told often by others and him and I am not overweight. I take care of myself and stay in good shape. So, I shouldn’t fear. But I have heard sooo many times that women should love their brother enough to dress “modestly” and not CAUSE a man to stumble or sin. Those words made me feel dirty and made my husband feel defeated. Our marriage has suffered greatly. For years I only wore skirts or dresses and would not look another man in the eyes (at the store or anywhere) since I was told that my eyes are too pretty and could cause a man to lust for me. I took all of this very seriously and tried my hardest to be a good woman. All of this occurred in my 20’s and 30’s. I am now 41. I feel like I lost my youth and am angry about that. I don’t choose these feelings of fear and anger but they just happen. I feel like I suffer from PTSD like what soldiers suffer from after war. Well I just wanted to point out that yes, my husband suffers from being raised like this and it is a shame but he claims to be living in freedom now. It is me that is hurt more and struggling. So, women suffer from this as much as men. I wasn’t raised like him. I didn’t even go to church growing up. We spent the early part of our marriage in those churches. It really hurts!! I used to think if a woman is so dangerous then we must be bad and why do we exist? After being married for a few years I began to feel worthless. It was only the other woman that had any “value”. She was the one so powerful that she could destroy a man with one glance. I saw myself and still do sometimes as worthless. I know I am a daughter of the king and loved by God but I have to constantly remind myself of my value in Gods eyes and my husbands. My husband has always been faithful and I am thankful for that. Thanks for the article we are going to read and study this together and continue to claim the freedom God has given us. I don’t mean freedom to sin.

    • Crystal Marie says:

      Hollie, firstly, stay encouraged and KNOW that you are NOT worthless! I’m sure you’re beautiful, smart, kind, loving..all the things your husband deeply appreciates about you.

      Secondly, I wanna challenge you to do something new, liberating, and adventurous…

      Go to Victoria Secrets or Fredericks Hollywood, and purchase a beautiful & sexy lingerie set. Add some perfume, and do your hair differently. Add some nice makeup. Plan a lovely evening with your husband to his surprise, however you like, and HAVE FUN!!! I have faith that this will revitalize your confidence, bring some spice into your marriage, and drive your husband wild! He’s yours so you don’t have to feel dirty or worthless about anything! Sometimes we have to venture out into simple yet rejuvenating experiences. If this all sounds like too much for you or even comical, alright. But it’s time you get your confidence and esteem back. Doesn’t hurt to try. Even if you don’t, pray for God to restore your confidence and peace through the Lord Jesus Christ. You will heal. Live your life and enjoy it!! :-)

  33. So if it is not a sin to lust, then the sexual attraction I feel when I look at women is okay with God even though I am married? So what should I tell my wife when she feels upset that I am attracted to other women? I can’t help it, can I? God made me to be attracted to women who are attractive, right?

    When I look at an attractive woman, I pretty much immediately feel sexually attracted to her. But as long as I don’t allow that natural sexual attraction to go anywhere then I’m good, right?

  34. As a new believer back in the day, I asked an older man in his eighties, ” How old we’re you when you stopped wrestling with sexual desires?” He said, “I don”t know. I’m not that old yet.” lol. Jason, thank you for dealing with the misunderstanding and guilt many have with healthy sexual desire. The sin is, as I believe was your main point, is when it becomes inordinate desire that says, ‘I would if I could and/or I will no matter what anyone else says.’ James 4:1-6 gives a good picture of desire that has run amuck. To close, as I get older I see the sexual relationship between a man and his wife not as an end in and of itself. I believe it is the strongest echo we have of something that is deeper than sex. The intimacy we can have with our spouse and the intimacy that beckons to us from our Savior. When asked whether the relationship between the man and woman in the Song of Solomon is literal or figurative my answer is yes. I don’t think it is either/or. I believe it is both and God is right in the middle of our sexual relations whether we use them rightly or wrongly. I really appreciate what the young women say to the bride and bride groom in the last part of chapter 5 verse 1. “Oh, lover and beloved, eat and drink! Yes, drink deeply of your love!”. Oh, the beauty of one of the most powerful gifts we have been given and yet the destruction this power can work when we lose sight of and taste for the One Who has so freely given to us.

  35. Hi Jason, i see that the word translated here in Matt. 5:28 is “ἐπιθυμῆσαι”, or “epithymēsai”. This means “to lust after”. I know that the whole word epithumeo means; long for, covet, lust after, and set the heart upon. However my question is, since epithymēsai means “to lust after” do we then have to use the modern definition for “lust” in this passage, as in sexual desire? Or do we refer back to the word in greek for epithumeo?
    I also noticed that the term for covet in greek is epithymēseis, so how did you connect that “lust”, (epithymēsai), is synonymous with”covet” “, (epithymēseis), in Matthew 5:28?
    One more question, and this is the easiest one of them; what does “covet” mean in greek?

    Please reply back to my questions..
    Thanks
    ~~ ZG

    • Always go back to the Greek word to understand what is happening in a Greek text. English translations are always only approximations of what the Greek says.

      As for Matthew 5:28’s relationship to the concept of “coveting,” it uses the same term that the Greek Old Testament uses for “covet” in the tenth command. That’s the connection.

      As far as the definition of covet, that’s a bit more complicated, but I understand it as a step beyond innate desire to the point of attempting/intending to fulfill a legitimate desire through illegitimate means. I typically teach it by analogy of “attempted sin,” (e.g. “attempted murder,” or “attempted adultery”), which every legal code has provision for.

      • But shouldn’t we not change the words that Jesus said?

        • Of course not, but Jesus didn’t speak English, so that makes it all the more important to go back to the Greek.

          • I’m confused it seems like we are changing the Bible to say what we want it to say, am i missing something here?

            -However, could sexual desire be called not sinful on the bases that it desires sex, (which is by definition good since Lord God created it)?

            -However would this also mean that sexual desire would be wrong if I am not married?

            -Col. 3:2 “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (KJV)
            Does this refer to sexual thoughts as sinful?

            – Phill. 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

            Deuter. 23:10 “If one of your men is unclean because of a nocturnal emission,
            he is to go outside the camp and stay there.”

            Leviticus. 15:18 “When a man has sexual relations with a woman and there is an emission of semen,both of them must bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.

            Leviticus 15:16 “When a man has an emission of semen, he must bathe his whole body with water, and he will be unclean till evening.”

            Jason, these three versus refer to any emission of semen as unclean or impure, however Phill. 4:8 tells us to think about pure things, wouldn’t that mean that sexual thoughts are sinful to think about?
            I’m sorry if this is a big comment.

          • Yes, you’re missing something here. Nobody is changing the Bible here; we’re discussing the best way to understand what the Bible says. Perhaps you are mistaken in thinking that “the Bible” is a particular English translation; we’re starting from the Greek here, and any discussion of how best to understand it also involves discussing the best way to translate it into English.

            Col 3:2 does not refer to sexual thoughts as sinful any more than it forbids hunger for food.

            Likewise Phil 4:8. Sex and the desire for it is not impure or unlovely or of bad repute; rather, the marriage bed is pure and undefiled (Heb 13:4).

            Deut 23:10, Lev 15:18, Lev 15:16 all refer to ritual impurity, which has to do with whether or not an Israelite could approach the sanctuary. Nothing having to do with mortality, reproduction, or the impermanence of human life was permitted to enter the sanctuary; specific instructions to purify oneself had to be followed before entering the sanctuary. But this had nothing to do with sin, which is a different kind of impurity in the Torah. Phil 4:8 refers to the latter kind of purity/impurity.

          • I still do not understand how lust can be converted to covet in this passage.
            Also what about all the other verses about lust being sin?

            3. Job 31:11-12
            4. Romans 6:19
            5. Romans 12:1-2
            6. 1 Corinthians 1:2, 30
            7. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
            8. Ephesians 1:4
            9. Ephesians 4:24
            10. Colossians 3:12
            11. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
            12. 1Thessalonians 5:23
            13. 2 Timothy 1:9
            14. Hebrews 12:14
            15. 1 Peter 1:15-16
            16. Thessalonians 4:7-8
            17. Matthew 5:28

            I am getting really frustrated with this subject and almost had a mental breakdown over it to determine which side is the right one.

          • Zach, there are numerous problems here. Not one of these passages says lust is sin.

            Job 31:11–12 doesn’t mention “lust.” It says זמה, which means something like “wickedness” and certainly does not mean “lust.”

            1 Thess 4:3–8 doesn’t say lust is sin; it says following “covetous passions” or “lustful passions” is sin. Again, we’re talking behavior here. The passage is clear on that.

            The rest have nothing to do with this discussion, as they assume what we’ve already been talking about: following fleshly desires in an improper manner is sin:

            Rom 6:19
            Rom 12:1–2
            1 Cor 1:2, 30
            1 Cor 6:19-20
            Eph 1:4
            Eph 4:24
            Col 3:12
            1 Thess 5:23
            2 Tim 1:9
            Heb 12:14
            1 Pet 1:15–16
            1 Thess 4:8

            Many of these verses reference “impurity” and similar concepts; it appears you’re conflating these things with lust, which is again mistaken.

          • I’m sorry Jason, however i think the major problem i have with the “lust” and “covet” thing is that you didn’t provide a reason for why we should change it to that.

          • I’m sorry Jason, but i am still not convinced, i am going to ask a bunch of loaded questions about this soon, however i would like to know if there is any easier and faster way to contact you about this?

          • Hi Jason, i had a kind of “eureka” moment earlier when i woke up today.
            The word is epithumeo, and it has four definitions, I long for, covet, lust after, set the heart upon. The word here for epithumeo is a verb, however lust by itself is a noun, “lust” is a strong desire used either sexually or non-sexually, lust is a thing, it is not a verb. “Ran” is a verb. So we cannot use lust (noun) by itself as a translation (verb) of the passage, that would be grammatically incorrect.

            Covet on the other hand is a verb, “covet” is described as taking action towards a certain act. This fits well within the word, epithumeo (verb) should be translated as covet (verb), not lust (noun).

            Thank you for helping me like this.
            However like other new things i find out there are new objections to this.
            -“Lust” by itself is a noun, however, lust after is a verb, so can this be used for the verse?
            – Isn’t the original greek word in this verse “epithumia”, which means lust after, and therefore we can’t use the root word to change it to covet?

            http://biblehub.com/greek/1939.htm

            – What determines that the greek word is a verb?
            – English and Greek are two different languages, however how do we know that English grammar is relevant to, or the same, as the Greek gramar in the Bible?
            ——
            Now here are three objections that sound very extreme, but however has been in my mind for a while now.
            – How do we know that sexual desire is not part of the sin nature we inherited from Adam?
            – How do we know that sexual pleasure was not the result of sin? (this is very extreme i know)
            – How do we know that it is not sinful for us to have sex for pleasure?
            – Is fiction condemned by the Bible, (1 Timothy 1:3)? (this is also very extreme)
            – What are the versus that refer to the emissions mentioned in Leviticus as ritually impure?
            – Isn’t having sexual thoughts selfish and self-centered since you are only doing it for yourself?
            – How can sexual thoughts glorify God?
            ————————————————————————————-
            I am probably the only one on this comment form that has this many (and possibly more) questions, however, the reason why is because i want to make sure that sexual fantasies are not a sin.
            Please refute all of these in point-by-point form.

            Thank you.

          • First of all, I’m not sure how you are making the leap from what is discussed in this passage to “sexual fantasies,” which is not what is being discussed above.

            Secondly, in English, “lust” can be ether a noun or a verb. That isn’t really relevant to the question of translation here, however.

            Thirdly, the Greek word in this passage is an inflected form of epithumeo. The form of the word determines that it is a verb; it’s simple grammar, just like any other language.

            Fourthly, English and Greek grammar are not the same. No one would suggest that they are. The process of translation involves doing one’s best to convey the idea expressed in one language, which has its own grammar, to another.

            In terms of your “objections”:

            1) Your question assumes a framework of Augustinian concupiscence, a conception of “original sin” foreign to the Bible. With respect to sexual desire, Adam’s blessing of the sexual union between man and woman (Gen 2:23–25) comes before the fall narrative. Similarly, God instructs human beings to “be fruitful and multiply” in Gen 1 (pre-fall), which presumes and blesses sexual desire and behavior.
            2) See above. Sexual reproduction is one of the things called “very good” in Gen 1.
            3) Is there any reason to think it would be?
            4) Seriously? Jesus tells fictional stories as teaching devices. Teaching false doctrine is not the same as writing or telling fiction.
            5) You already cited those verses yourself in a previous comment; a good portion of Leviticus addresses ritual purity and impurity.
            6) Isn’t hunger for food then also selfish and self-centered?
            7) Marriage.

            I have so far gone against my better judgment in addressing such questions, many of which are fairly far afield from the question addressed in this post, which simply concerns how best to understand Matt 5:28 and is not a treatise on proper sexual behavior. I don’t think it will be fruitful (or in keeping with the purpose of this blog, which addresses things more from an scholarly/academic perspective) to continue along these lines.

            I’m afraid most of your questions have reflected the sort of biblicism that will make sound interpretation very difficult, since you seem to be asking for specific proof-texts for any question that might be asked. That approach, however, is quite different from the approach taken throughout the Bible itself, and can easily lead to problems due to not understanding or accounting for context. I would suggest reading something like Fee and Stewart’s How to Read the Bible For All It’s Worth, which should help you better understand how to approach and interpret the Bible.

          • Is having sex for pleasure sinful,ie. (horny)? (please provide Scriptural support and justification for this).
            Is any form of birth control (BEFORE IT IS CONCEIVED), sinful, ie. using “condoms” (Again, please provide support for your answer)
            Also, what is a good site for the full definition of “epithumeo”?

          • In 1 Cor 7, Paul says essentially that men/women who are horny ought to marry to prevent against sexual sin. So Paul either believes that marriage will ultimately eliminate sexual desire or that it provides the proper outlet for the desire for sexual pleasure.

            The second question has long been debated among Christians, and I am not in a position to declare a definitive ruling on such a matter.

            As for the third question, I’ve already given that definition here. If you want more detail, you should consult the standard reference work in the field, BDAG.

  36. Hi Jason,

    Thank you for your helpful article. If you have the time, could you please help me understand 1 Col 3:5 in light of what you are saying about lust here. I don’t know any Greek, but Biblegateway tells me that Paul uses the word “επιθυμιαν” here, and I’m not sure how it’s different from the words for lust you use above.

    My question is, how do we know what form of lust Paul is condemning here?

    • Col 3:5 uses the term in its sense of “desire,” and modifies it with the word for “evil,” so it says to regard the members of one’s body as dead to “evil desires,” meaning don’t act on said desires and thereby sin.

  37. Costa Fotopoulos says:

    Hi Jason,
    I really like your explanation of Matthew 5:27-28 about coveting and lust. Therefore, if one has no intention to act on the desire but experiences pleasurable desire upon seeing a naked woman is not committing adultery. My question is: if one sees a naked woman and experiences physical pleasure upon touching her (but not experiencing orgasm) and has no intention of committing a sex act with her– is this coveting her to commit adultery or not? Thanks.

    • Hi Costa, I think it’s fairly evident that Jesus would have considered such activity far out of bounds. It’s one thing to have the desire, which Jesus doesn’t condemn, but he condemns taking even the first step toward adultery (coveting), which certainly would include such activity. His entire point in this passage is that stopping short of sex doesn’t mean it’s okay.

  38. TastyWallet says:

    I think before we even enter the discussion about weather or not the use of the word “lust” is correctly or incorrectly misinterpreted, we need to define what lust actually is. I believe that the author adequately pointed out that the word “lust” is a ” strong, passionate desire, used either of sexual desire or of a strong desire for something non-sexual.” This is a good definition because, as the author pointed out, lust is not necessarily sexual in nature!

    I have always looked at the word “lust” in this passage as a deliberate, conscious, strong sexual desire for another person. This seems obvious when Jesus makes the connection between lust and adultery by stating that lust is adultery of the heart. In my talks with other people, I state that lust, in this context, is basically sexual coveting. What I did not know is that the Greek suggested this also! That is good to know for the future when discussing this passage with others.

    As a minor comment, I would have liked to see the definition of “lust” before the author uses it. This, however, is just me being nit-picky.

    • The problem is that any discussion of the word “lust” must include both the denotative meaning and the word’s connotation, which at this point tends to associate fairly strongly with sinful sexual desire. That’s part of why it is a less suitable term for many translations these days.

  39. Jason, you didn’t seem to refute Alfred Sturges point below.

  40. I think this is a reasonable question: Is there any Bible verse that says that God wants us to enjoy his creation?

    • This is precisely the wrong kind of question to ask. There is no Bible verse that says chocolate cake is tasty, but that should not preclude coming to that conclusion. Again, this sort of question reflects the wrong kind of approach to the Bible.

  41. I C&P this from another site to offer what I feel is the true purpose of Christ’s words here:

    Jesus was, in this passage, describing the futility of trying to live a perfect life according to the law, and thus the universal need for forgiveness and grace. Love your enemies, don’t call people fools, divorce is bad, etc.. No one but no one has ever lived perfectly according to the law — WHICH WAS THE POINT!

    So, He said to a bunch of guys that the law says don’t commit adultery, but that if you really want to be perfectly pure, then you can’t even look lustfully. Unsaid, but understood by any guy, was “and you know you do that pretty much constantly, don’t you? In fact, Mark, would you please stop looking at Martha’s chest long enough for me to finish my point?”

    This was an illustration of a point, not the creation of a new law. It’s weird how people don’t get that Jesus didn’t rebuke the Pharisees for legalism just to come in and make stricter, more-impossible laws.

    The Bible is clear on sexual boundaries – simply put, ‘thou shall not have nookie with anyone than your spouse.’ And even secular psychologists are agreeing that pornography has detrimental effects on its users. But when you interpret, or teach, Jesus’s words on lust or anything else in such a way that it makes people associate guilt and shame with every sexual tingle, sensation, urge, dream, etc. it can have an extremely damaging effect on a person’s mind and walk with God. I speak from experience.

    • Hi Chris, thanks for your comment.

      I’m afraid, however, that the interpretation that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount only to describe the futility of trying to live according to his instructions is not only wrong but outrageously, catastrophically wrong. There is nothing in the passage or in the Gospel of Matthew that would suggest such a thing.

      Secondly, please find me one place where Jesus nowhere rebukes the Pharisees for legalism. You’ll be looking for awhile, because it doesn’t happen. Jesus doesn’t rebuke the Pharisees for legalism. Ever. He rebukes them for hypocrisy but not for legalism. Jesus’ criticism is not that they’re too legalistic but that they have inadequately kept the Law. He then gives instructions for how to actually fulfill the Law.

      You are correct that the Sermon on the Mount highlights the universal need for grace, but it appears your definition of grace may differ from that of the New Testament. I suggest reading “Getting Grace Backwards” as a preliminary primer on the problem in that regard. The bottom line is that Jesus and the earliest Christians did not believe grace was a free pass not to have to keep the Law but the only way through which one could be empowered to keep the Law. That’s a pretty big difference, and it matters a great deal for understanding the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus in fact expects people to live according to everything he is saying.

  42. “This is a critically important point; Jesus is not suggesting that any sexual thought or inclination towards a woman is sinful. Nor is he suggesting that such thoughts or attractions being triggered by a look are sinful.” That is how i drew this connection, sexual thoughts about a woman is essentially the same as sexual fantasies.

  43. Ok, so why should we translate it as “covet”?

  44. Daniel Cartwright says:

    Jason, I like the way you break this down, but it still leaves me with some questions. When some other users asked you about pornography, you said that if the intent of the look was sexual gratification, it is wrong. I mostly agree, except I can’t help but ask the question: isn’t there a hint of sexual gratification any time we look? If I see a beautiful woman out of the corner of my eye, and I turn my head to look, it’s because I know (whether consciously or subconsciously) that when I look, there will be a certain amount of excitement/arousal/attraction gained from the look. We don’t tend to think it through that way, but isn’t that what we’re doing?

    Secondly, when it comes to sexual thoughts, obviously you condemn sexual fantasies, but again, how do we draw the line between a fantasy, and a naturally occurring sexual thought, due to the fact that we have a sex drive?

    I’m not asking these questions because I want to get as close to sinning as possible without sinning. I’m asking because it would just be nice to have a baseline/reference point rather than just some grey area.

    • These are good questions and perhaps above my pay grade. I do think the dividing line for Jesus in this passage seems to be the intent of the person. That’s different from a person’s desire, which is not condemned. The question is how one responds to the natural desire at the point of decision. I don’t know that there is a hard baseline in such circumstances, but intent appears to be the real driver here.

  45. Ok, now i know what our problem is, we have conflicting view points Jason

    You condemn sexual fantasy
    You also condemn looking at a women for sexual gratification.

    Please reply if i am right or wrong on this.

    • Hi, Zach. I’m more addressing the way this passage should be interpreted than I am condemning anything. As I understand this passage, it prohibits coveting, which probably captures what you’re referring to as ‘sexual fantasy’ and almost certainly includes looking at women specifically for ‘sexual gratification.’

      • So you do then…

      • How is looking at a women for sexual gratification coveting?
        I am referring to sexual fantasy as sexual thoughts, which you addressed in your article as this verse does not condemn, it.
        So you say that sexual thoughts are okay but sexual fantasies are not? They are the same by definition.

  46. If the lust for sex is like hunger for food, then what does a man do to sustain himself outside of marriage, or is marriage the only choice? Also homosexuals clearly have a desire for the same sex, is this also a lust made in their biology, or is this constructed from their choices? If it is a choice then wouldn’t our heterosexual desires also be choices outside of our biology?

    • Christian theology has always limited sex to marriage as the only choice. Unlike food, a person can live without sex. That does not mean the desire or drive for it disappears, but rather that if licit options are not available, abstinence is the only sanctioned option.

      In terms of your question about homosexuality, the traditional Christian understanding would be to treat such desires as equivalent to desires for any sort of illicit heterosexual sex. The urges are biological (fleshly), but the choice of how to respond to those desires rests with the individual. Again, traditional Christian theology has long forbidden sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage, but it has never denied the reality of sexual desires that may be directed toward such ends.

  47. I think of God like a candy store lol. Know really I read some of these posts I think I need a drink and some of you need meds. I was raised in a Christian home. It ruined my live all the fear and negative self talk. I believe most Christians have no business talking about sex or giving advice. So much damage has been done. The attraction a man has for a woman is a natural part of being human and this same desire is the same with Gay people they just prefer being with there same sex. It`s so sad how some people make then feel it`s sick. I say if God wanted a perfect world he should have made one because he`s God. makes no sense to think a God that maid all this would stop and set his little humans up to fail and knowing most would. Expecting them to ace a test or ask them to believe in him or burn forever because you don`t know if he`s even real. Makes no sense at all. I see lots of human logic in the bible it`s inherent for humans to control.

  48. Jennifer Schmidt says:

    Just a few observations…first of all, regarding “Jesus didn’t speak English”…Gentile Jesus did not speak Greek, either. He is the Lion of the Tribe of Yehudah, and He spoke Hebrew/Aramaic. Secondly, I’m so happy that someone actually made the point that sex is a biological urge, but it is not a biological need. We need air, water and food and sleep to survive, but we will not die if we don’t have sex. If we are truly to “bring every thought into captivity to the mind of Messiah”, then how can we justify lust or coveting. True, the sexual urge, as someone stated, may be part of the fallen nature. Our Messiah Savior was celibate, as was Sha’ul, aka St Paul, Jeremiah, and probably many others. We weren’t born “married”, so St Paul’s admonition for those who are single to “remain in the state where the Master found us”, which for many people, would be single, so that they could be single minded in their devotion to the Savior. It makes sense. And last, but not least, we have been delivered, through the power of the risen Messiah Savior, and His indwelling Holy Spirit, from the “law of sin and death”, not from the Law of YHVH. If we understand that, then we can walk in newness of life. We have been set free FROM the world, the flesh, the devil and false “religion”, and free TO love, honor, obey, worship and serve the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, the God of redeemed, believing remnant Israe, through Messiah Yeshual. We are, in fact Saints, who mayfail, on occasion, but who do not cultivate and/or practice sin. As a matter of fact, we GET to obey, we don’t HAVE to obey. . We obey the commandments, NOT for justification, we are justified by faith in the finished work of Messiah’s death and resurrection, but for sanctification. (for being set apart, holy) Part of the New Covenant is that God intended to, Jeremiah 31:31-34, and in fact did, Hebrews 8:8-10, write His Law on our hearts and put it in our minds. That is what He did for us, to enable, empower us to do His Will. How He did/does that is when we meditate upon His Law as the Psalmist did. It becomes our new nature. “Two natures beat within my breast. One is foul, the other blessed. One I love, one I hate, the one I feed, will dominate”. There is a God and He is not silent. We don’t have to let our minds dwell on the flesh, we get to let our minds dwell on the things of the Spirit. Sex is part of the fleshly nature. That business about “continuing the species” is a stretch…because God destroyed the multitude of mankind before with a flood, and He will again, but with fire. His will and desire is having new creations, spiritual beings, not just numbers of humans. So, for those males, making these “male centric” comments, excusing themselves, and condemning some women for giving a woman’s perspective…women are also sexual beings in the flesh, which has to be overcome…in Him we are victorious over comers, and no longer victims of our fallen natures…I am praying for all of you. When men excuse themselves saying “I may be married, but I’m not dead”…that’s just a cop out. You are supposed to have crucified the flesh with it’s lusts. St Paul also said, “if you marry, you will have trouble in the flesh”…so it is better not to marry, he said. No, none of us have perfect knowledge, and none of us are perfect in obedience. But if we are in Him, we are “more than conquerors”, as we trust Him to bring us to Himself, and when He appears, we shall be like Him. And I don’t need to know all of the various multilingual language “laws” and nuances. Blessing and Peace, Jen

    • True, the sexual urge, as someone stated, may be part of the fallen nature.

      God gave sex and marriage before the Fall. Hence, your statement is in error.

      …we have been delivered, through the power of the risen Messiah Savior, and His indwelling Holy Spirit, from the “law of sin and death”, not from the Law of YHVH.

      I assume that you are not referring to the Law of Moses. That Law was only for Jews under a theocracy, which state obtains nowhere today.

      So, for those males, making these “male centric” comments, excusing themselves, and condemning some women for giving a woman’s perspective…

      Ok, now you’re into passive-aggressive feminist shaming tactics. Shame on you. Very unattractive. You’ll get no pussy pass from me.

      And I don’t need to know all of the various multilingual language “laws” and nuances.

      Yeah, because the truth is so inconvenient for you.

  49. I am amazed at so many women leaving condemning comments about men who are clearly trying to follow the Scriptures and define sin and see if they need to address it. Of course, that is not an excuse to try and indulge in inappropriate behaviors, but considering the world we live in in America it is hardly surprising men struggle with this. And I hardly think if a man is going to the trouble of analyzing the Greek in the Bible he is not, at least, striving for Godly behavior even if he stumbles some along the way.

    I truly appreciate the author’s efforts in analyzing this passage. In particular, the reminder to emphasize Scripture’s focus on the intent of the heart and choosing to act on impulses as this can be applied in so many areas.

Trackbacks

  1. […] seem to be borrowing from the Platonic notion of the soul as well, which I covered in some detail here (scroll down until you see the bust of Plato). This shouldn’t be surprising, as that’s […]

  2. […] “Whoever Looks at a Woman With Lust”: Misinterpreted Bible Passages #1 | Professor Obvio… __________________ I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. – PHILIPPIANS 4:13 Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. – Proverbs 16:3 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. – JOHN 3:16 […]

  3. […] more on this topic, I suggest reading “Whoever Looks at a Woman With Lust”: Misinterpreted Bible Passages #1.  It’s pretty straight cis male-centric, though, so keep that in mind as you read–not […]

  4. […] The misinterpretation of Matthew 5:27-28. […]

  5. […] of natural, God-given automatic reactions.  Jason Staples has a wonderful (if a bit technical) article explaining how this has been […]

  6. […] “…So it is clear that the grammar is reflecting purpose: “anyone who looks at a woman in order to covet her.” (“Covet” is preferable here in part because “covet” better reflects the intentionality reflected in the passage.) This is a critically important point; Jesus is not suggesting that any sexual thought or inclination towards a woman is sinful. Nor is he suggesting that such thoughts or attractions being triggered by a look are sinful. The look is not the problem (nor is the presence of a beautiful woman, which some of that day tended to blame as the real problem); no, these are assumed. What is remarkable (given the popular misinterpretation) is that Jesus likewise assumes the presence of sexual desire in the man as a given, and that sexual desire isn’t seen as the problem. Instead, Jesus addresses the matter of intent, of volition, the purpose of the look. The issue is not the appetite itself but how a man directs this natural appetite and inclination. (I’m reminded here of the old saying: If you’re a young man on a beach and a beautiful woman in a bikini walks past and you don’t feel any sort of excitement or attraction, it’s not because you’re spiritual, it’s because you’re dead.)…” […]

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