Looking on a woman to lust

I ought to avoid making a mountain out of a molehill and derailing the current discussion (though one more argument about same-sex marriage is the last thing I’m interested in, so I don’t really mind if it gets derailed). Nevertheless, I think I should explain some of the cryptic remarks I made about lust more fully. Besides, I’m an academic. What else could I do but make mountains out of molehills.

Danithew said “it’s a disabled soul that has not lusted.” I responded “Would you submit that Jesus lusted or that he was disabled? I meant to leave it at that, questioning whether Danithew had thought through his claim enough, but the discussion has continued, so I’m moving it to its own post.

Here’s a fairly literal translation of Matthew 5:48: “But I say to you that each who looks at a woman with desire, he himself has already committed adultery in his heart.” The verse fairly straightforwardly says that if a man thinks of a woman as an object of sexual desire, he has already sinned. I see no other way of reading it, despite the many attempts in Sunday School and Priesthood classes to weaken the claim, such as “As long as you don’t continue thinking that way it isn’t a sin.” Jesus didn’t say what we say; he said that we sin when we have sexual desires for others (to whom we are not married—a proviso that I won’t keep repeating, but that should be remembered). In other words, he said, “Yes, even if you stop thinking that way very quickly, you have sinned.” Perhaps because it is obvious, he didn’t discuss degrees of possible sin. Isn’t it better to think about another briefly and then to turn one’s mind to something else? Of course, but I ought not to think that because I did that I didn’t sin.

I doubt that it is news that we all sin, and I think it is important to deny that Jesus Christ did. I know Margaret Barker’s take on Jesus’ mortality. I know John Murphy-O’Connor’s. I’m familiar with Raymond Brown’s. Etc., etc. Within the last year I’ve sat in seminars from both of the first two and I’ve read the work of a number of others. I have a great deal of respect for many of these people and I have learned a great deal from a number of them. But I don’t think that what New Testament scholars have to say on this issue is relevant. Indeed, on this issue, they have no more expertise than anyone else since the texts don’t talk about the question. On this question, the only experts we have are the prophets, who’ve said many times that Christ was a sinless human being. That is why he could work the Atonement: he was the only fully human being who did not sin.

It seems to me that means that if looking on another as an object of sexual desire outside of marriage is sin, then we ought not to assume that Jesus had that experience. Whatever it means to say that he grew in self-understanding (Luke 2:40; D&C 93:13), I don’t think that we can accept the idea that he moved from a state that we recognize, where we have to discipline our passions because we find ourselves sinning, to a state of perfection. To be the only sinless man is not to be a sinner and then to become sinless somehow.

I wasn’t trying to say that doesn’t Jesus understand my sins. Of course he does. But I found Danithew’s remark—”it’s a disabled soul that has not lusted”—troubling and I wanted to show why: because it suggests, I’m sure unintentionally, that Jesus Christ was not perfect.

32 comments for “Looking on a woman to lust

  1. Jeffrey B.
    July 9, 2004 at 1:24 am

    What you said is clear and precise, in that it needs no more development; we shouldn’t lust after others. But, in reading your comment something become very aware to me. Something that I never really considered. We know from the prophets that Jesus was sinless. He had to be. In Luke 2:40 it says that Christ grew in wisdom. What I never realized was, that even though he grew in knowledge and wisdom he did not need to grow up to a knowledge of what was sin and what wasn’t. So it seems that His moral acumen needed no evolvement, unlike everything else.

  2. Greg
    July 9, 2004 at 1:29 am


    How do you understand the statement in Alma, and elsewhere, that Jesus suffered, and resisted, temptations of every kind? Would Danithew remark be rehabilitated by saying “it’s a disabled soul that has not been tempted to lust”?

  3. July 9, 2004 at 1:38 am

    Greg, good question. Conceptually it is a real problem how we can say that Christ was perfect and that he was tempted as we are since there are reasons, like the verse in Matthew, for thinking that having the desire to do evil is already sin.

    Would it be enough to say that Jesus had a body like ours and desires like ours, so he knew what it meant to have those bodies and those desires; nevertheless, he never used his body in an evil way nor desired what he should not?

  4. July 9, 2004 at 1:41 am

    If so, the “tempted as we are” comes in having the same capacities and opportunities as we.

  5. Greg
    July 9, 2004 at 1:58 am

    I think you are right that Jesus somehow understood the desire to sin without actually having that desire. If so, perhaps we need to understand the term “temptation”, when applied to Jesus, to mean something more like “enticement” (something external to the temptee), rather than than “desire for the illicit” (a mental state of the temptee). In other words, Jesus suffered enticements of every kind, but never had a desire to commit sin.

    The dictionary nearest to hand conveniently includes both of these senses of the term:

    “1: something tempting or enticing [syn: enticement] 2: the desire to have or do something that you know you should avoid; “he felt the temptation and his will power weakened” 3: the act of influencing by exciting hope or desire; “his enticements were shameless” [syn: enticement]”

  6. July 9, 2004 at 2:19 am

    What do we mean by desire in that passage?

    The reason I ask this is because I think the Sunday School and Priesthood comments come out of a recognition of the basic instincts and drives of human biology. This leads me to the obvious question. Can you reconcile your position, Jim, with Jesus being fully human? Doesn’t it seem to follow that for your position to be true Jesus wasn’t *really* like us in terms of instincts and drives.

    It seems that either we have to reconceive of perhaps what is being talked about or get rid of the idea of Jesus as really human or really sinless. The obvious choice in that dilemma is to assume that the desire talked about is perhaps slightly different from the straightforward reading.

  7. July 9, 2004 at 2:26 am

    Just to add to the above, I think that perhaps the other reason people make the distinction you mentioned is because they see a difference between a desire *given* to them and a desire *chosen* by them. The instinct may *give* to me a desire for a beautiful woman walking by. However if I change my mind and think of something else I’ve not chosen the desire.

    This is, of course, framed upon a kind of dualism – often cast between body and spirit. I tend to reject that kind of dualism, but I’m willing to accept a somewhat more artificial division between consciously chosen acts and more instinctual acts.

  8. July 9, 2004 at 3:00 am

    Let me state this as clearly and bluntly as possible:

    I don’t believe that Jesus Christ ever committed a sin.

    On the other post, in my comments, I made sincere efforts to follow up my rather blunt statement about lust with some more reasoning to show what I actually meant. I certainly never meant to suggest that Jesus was disabled in his soul. Jesus was spiritually and morally perfect.

    My understanding of the scriptures is that part of the condescenion of Jesus Christ meant that he was subjected to the full range of human experiences and temptations. Some verses might even suggest that he suffered a level of temptation that was far beyond anything a human being could endure.

    Again, I do not believe Jesus ever yielded to temptation or committed a sin. I would speculate (as there is no scripture to back this specific point up) that as a healthy heterosexual male, Jesus was subjected to temptations of a sexual nature. I don’t think the adversary would have failed to try that tactic against him.

    In my mind (perhaps not necessarily in the dictionary) there are a variety of definitions for the word lust. One definition of lust might involve the component of sin. Another definition of lust might be more general and less specific, simply signifying a feeling of sexual desire or passion.

    As us males all know, we sometimes feel sexual desire or passion without even trying to have those feelings or without even thinking about sexual matters. I guess what I originally meant, before this possibility was brought up, was that a person of age who has never felt any sexual desire/attraction/passion/arousal at any point in their lives, must somehow be disabled. Since we’re talking about Jesus as a real healthy person who experienced mortality, I think we might not be horribly remiss if we make certain assumptions.

    For example, I can’t confirm this scripturally, but I believe that as a real-life baby Jesus probably soiled his diapers. I’m also guessing that as He matured in His mortal life, He probably also occasionally experienced arousal (but not sinful lust) in the normal and healthy human way.

    This was ground that I tried to cover earlier in my comments on the other post. I am hoping what I am writing here is sufficiently detailed and explicit. I’m concerned that I’m beginning to approach sacrilege which I did not want to do.

  9. Susan
    July 9, 2004 at 3:14 am

    Or maybe that statement in Matthew about lust just got it wrong. Don’t Mormons still believe something about plain and precious passages or some such. . . . . .

  10. Nathan Tolman
    July 9, 2004 at 3:40 am

    I think there is a fundamental difference between attraction and Lust. Attraction is just noticing that women (or men) are attractive, something like “She is pretty,” etc. Lust, in my opinion, is a desire to have sex with and objectify someone a a sexual thing, something like “I gotta have her.”

    Attraction is natural and could lead to the temptation of lust. Christ would have had natural attraction, but not let it develop into lust. Temptation without actualization.

  11. Mike
    July 9, 2004 at 4:36 am

    I think Clarke’s arguments make sense here.

    Of course it is important how we define lust or desire, but I think the wording here could be important as well. (Unfortunately, I know little about the original wording)

    But whether we say lust or desire- doesn’t the statement say that the sin comes in “looking upon a woman to” rather than simply feeling lust or desire.

    I think there is a difference between looking upon a woman to (I am assuming the word to in this context means “for the purpose of”) desire her and simply feeling lust.

    I think there are three possible ways we could interpret what it means to look upon a woman to desire her.
    1. To feel sexual desire
    2. To look at some one for the purpose of lusting after or fantasizing about them.
    3. To look at some one as an object.

    If there is a substantial difference between the first interpretation and the last two then I think that danithew’s argument makes a bit more sense. You can feel sexual desire toward some one but choose not to look at them as an object. You can feel sexual desire toward someone- but choose not to physically look at them in order to satisfy or intensify that lust.

    We are counseled when seeking a mate to look for some one with whom we are compatible- one of those elements is being sexually attracted to one another. If it is a sin to be sexually attracted to some one at all before marriage – then it is impossible to determine whether we are compatible with some one.
    Yet, we are commanded to marry.

    So it may seem that if there is a difference between the three- and the first one is not what is meant but one or both of the other two- then feeling desire is not a sin- but taking action (even if that action is so small as to look at some one or change the way we perceive some one or changing the focus of our thoughts) based on that desire is a sin.

  12. July 9, 2004 at 11:02 am

    Traditionally in the church, the word lust is used negatively to describe a sin. I haven’t examined the scriptures closely on this one, but I’m guessing that the scriptures back this up.

    It would be interesting to look up the Hebrew and Greek texts where the word lust has been translated to see if the same words are consistently used and to find out how these words are understood in the original languages.

    Jim F.’s post and my consequent consternation makes me laugh a little because it reminds me of arguments I sometimes have with my father. My father and I fundamentally agree on most things… but we sometimes get hung up in arguments to the nth degree about the exact approach or the tone of things sometimes. We may both agree that Kennedys are inherently evil… but sometimes I just can’t stand the way he talks about it.

    I bet if we wanted to, Jim F. and I could argue all day long about whether the first glance at a woman (and consequent sexual attraction) is a sin or not. But I’d rather just concede the argument to Jim because if we accepted that a single glance was ok then we’d have to answer another question. Are you allowed one glance a day? A month? A year? A lifetime? Hey, none of us want the deacons to be thinking they can get a free glance.

    Greg asked:

    Would Danithew remark be rehabilitated by saying “it’s a disabled soul that has not been tempted to lust”?

    I think Greg made an excellent suggestion here and I would answer this question by saying yes.

  13. July 9, 2004 at 11:08 am

    Did you see that?!?! Did you see how humble I was? Man, I am so impressed with myself.

  14. D. Fletcher
    July 9, 2004 at 11:15 am

    This is a similar discussion to what we used to term “righteous lust.”

    I actually think that sexual attraction is necessary — it’s the very thing that brings people together. It also keeps people together, in many cases. There’s nothing wrong with it.

    I believe that Jesus suffered every kind of abominable temptation (and yes, that might include same-sex attraction — remember, he spent a lot of time alone with the Apostles!) but was perfect for refraining from temptation. If it is true that Jesus was married, then he must have felt sexual attraction, because it is natural and not a sin. It is no more a sin than feeling hungry. If one is hungry, one seeks food, but HUGE amounts of food could be called gluttony, a sin.

    Lusting in one’s heart is something more akin to wanting power over another human being. And of course, the scripture may be improperly translated (I’m not a Biblical scholar). “Lusting in one’s heart” may be another way of suggesting, “wishing for adultery,” which would be tantamount to adultery itself.

  15. blaine
    July 9, 2004 at 11:24 am

    Isn’t there a problem with considering something a sin that we don’t purposefully commit? Doesn’t there have to be an intent, some sort of mens rea?

    If we posit that every human (maybe Jesus, maybe not) has an instinctive sexual desire toward the opposite sex (or toward the same sex for that matter) wouldn’t it require that we have to do something once we feel that desire in order for it to be considered a sin, either an omission or a comission? Otherwise, we’re being punished for things we really have no control over, and not just no control over it because we’ve made decisions in the past that have constrained our ability to act, but we really have no control because it’s programmed into us.

  16. greenfrog
    July 9, 2004 at 12:20 pm

    Jim F,

    I don’t want to derail this thread, but I would be interested in exploring, perhaps on a different thread, what it means to say that Jesus was sinless. When I looked for evidence of that conclusion in Biblical texts, I was surprised to see how limited the basis is for that assertion. If memory serves, Jesus comes very close to specifically disavowing his own perfection (“There is none good…”), and Pilate concluded that he could find no fault in Jesus, but that, of course, was a pretty limited conclusion from a pretty limited review by a pretty limited person. It is only in the epistles that Jesus’ perfection is mentioned, and while I find the authors of those accounts admirable, I’m not sure they were really in a position to attest to every aspect of Jesus’ life. Subsequent prophetic statements could be understood as revelation, but they could also be understood as derivative of the scriptural accounts.

    We perform baptisms, and we assert that following baptism, a person is sinless. Similarly, we teach repentance, and we teach that following true repentance, a person is sinless, and the prior actions are not even remembered. It does not seem to me to be beyond the pale to consider that Jesus was equally sinless through similar actions.

    Of course, this approach might make the dilemma of this thread a little less difficult to address.

  17. Rob
    July 9, 2004 at 12:25 pm

    OK…for me, it is important to try and figure out what we’re really talking about by looking at the word lust. From the NT, it is tough to know what Jesus really said, since he probably spoke it in Aramaic and the NT we have is in Greek. The Greek word used for lust here is epithumeo–which means to turn upon a thing, to have a desire for, long for, to desire, to lust after, to covet. The word occurs 16 times in the NT and is variously translated desire (8), covet (3), lust (3), lust after (1), and fain (1). So this verse is the only time it is translated lust after. Interestingly, it is most often translated as desire–in a good sense–though sometimes if it is improper desire, it is translated as covet–as in Ro 13:9.

    It’s possible that Jesus was referring to Pr 6:25–“Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids”. If so, the word translated here as lust is the Hebrew word chamad–to desire, covet, take pleasure in, delight. It is the same word translated as covet in Ex 20:17 (the tenth commandment). It occurs 21 times in the OT, and is translated variously desire (11), covet (4), delight (2), pleasant (1), beauty (1), lust (1), delectable things (1). Interestingly, it is the same word used to describe the pleasant trees in the garden of eden (Gen 2:9) and the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:6).

    Of course, in English, the word lust has a range of meanings–only one of which is sexual desire (see OED entry pasted at the bottom of this comment).

    So what did Jesus mean by lusting after here? Does my little quest into the language of the teaching get us anywhere? Not sure, but maybe the letter of the law is kills the spirit here?

    [Common Teut.: OE. lust masc. corresponds to OFris. lust masc., OS. lust fem. (MDu., Du. lust masc.), OHG. lust fem. (MHG. lust masc. and fem., mod.G. lust fem.), Goth. lustu-s masc.:O.Teut. *lustu-z, prob. repr. a pre-Teut. *s-tu-s, f. the zero-grade of the root *las- to long for, occurring in Gr. – (:*li-lasy-), Skr. la (:*la-ls, a reduplicated form); the suffix -tu- forms nouns of action from verbal roots.
    Cf. ON. loste wk. masc. (MSw. luste, loste), Da. lyst, mod.Icel. lyst (see LIST n.), which are cognate and synonymous, but differ in declension. The mod.Sw. lust has been assimilated in form to the Ger. word.]

    1. trans. To please, delight (also absol.); pass. and refl. to be pleased or delighted. Obs.

    c1230 Hali Meid. 34 Hare muchele vneaw, et bere ham ase beastes to al et ham luste. a1300 E.E. Psalter lxxvi. 3 And i am lusted [Vulg. delectatus sum]. 1340 Ayenb. 246 er he him uette, er he him loste, er he him reste. c1430 Pilgr. Lyf Manhode III. vii. (1869) 139 This is interieccioun sorweful wer inne is no thing that lusteth.

    b. intr. To delight in (something). Obs.

    c1400 Destr. Troy 3869 Noght ferfull, ne furse,..Louet he no lede at lustide in wrange.

    2. impers. me lusteth: I have a desire. Obs.

    1390 GOWER Conf. II. 213 Him lusteth of no ladi chiere. a1553 [see LIST v.1 1b]. 1555 W. WATREMAN Fardle Facions I. v. 55 As thoughe me lusteth ware lawe.

    3. intr. To desire, choose, wish. a. Const. inf.
    In the first quotation the verb may be impersonal: cf. LIST v.1 1, quot. a1300.

    a1425 Cursor M. 22601 (Trin.) No creature shal luste [Cott., etc. list] play, Seint petur shal be doumbe at day. 1459 Somerset Medieval Wills (1901) 192 Such time as God lustith to calle you owte of this present life. 1526 Pilgr. Perf. (W. de W. 1531) 24 Who so lusteth to rede this lytell treatyse. 1562-3 Jack Jugler (Grosart 1873) 43 You may saye..That you lusted not this night any supper make. 1563 Homilies II. Holy Ghost II. (1859) 463 He that lust to see examples, let him search their lives. 1586 A. DAY Eng. Secretary I. (1625) 45 Insomuch as he that never lusted to helpe others, was not now able to helpe himselfe.

    b. With ellipsis of inf. (Chiefly in clauses introduced by relatives, when, where, etc.) Obs.

    1526 TINDALE Matt. xvii. 12 They..have done vnto him whatsoever they lusted. 1536 in Strype Cranmer II. (1694) 36 A man is at his choiss to choose him what proctor he lust best. 1590 SPENSER F.Q. II. vii. 11 Do not l kings create,..And, whom I lust, do heape with glory and renowne? 1605 CAMDEN Rem. (1637) 403 Here is Elderton lying in dust, Or lying Elderton, chuse which you lust. 1618 M. BARET Horsemanship I. 70 In letting him doe what hee lust, hee will become so stubborne and idle [etc.].

    c. refl. in the same sense. Obs.

    a1568 R. ASCHAM Scholem. I. (Arb.) 50 To giue them licence to liue as they lust them selues. 1583 STUBBES Anat. Abus. I. (1879) 34 To flaunt it out in what apparell he lusteth himself. 1599 HAKLUYT Voy. II. I. 271 They rate the goods without reason as they lust themselves.

    d. trans. To desire. Obs. (Cf. LIST v.1 3.)

    1648 SANDERSON Serm. (1653) 4 The Spirit and the flesh are contraries, and they lust contrary things.

    4. intr. To have a strong, excessive, or inordinate desire. Const. for, after, unto; occas. with inf. or noun-clause. arch.

    1530 TINDALE Deut. xiv. 26 Goo..and bestowe that moneye on what soeuer thy soule lusteth after. 1530 PALSGR. 616/1, I luste or longe for a thyng, as a woman with chylde doth. 1563 Homilies II. Rogation Wk. II. (1859) 492 If we be an hungred, we lust for bread. 1611 BIBLE Gal. v. 17. a1701 SEDLEY Tyrant of Crete II. iv, So barbarous a place which dares do Any thing it lusts unto without regard Of laws or hospitality. 1761 STERNE Tr. Shandy IV. xxii, I have lusted earnestly, and endeavoured carefully..that these little books..might stand instead of many bigger books. 1882 Pop. Sci. Monthly June 211 All those who lusted after the gains and possessions of the Jews. 1898 Pall Mall Mag. June 221 The..Spaniards lusting for their destruction. 1898 G. W. STEEVENS With Kitchener 150 Charging with the cold bayonet, as they lusted to.

    b. spec. of sexual desire.

    1526 TINDALE Matt. v. 28 Whosoever eyeth a wyfe, lustynge affter her, hathe committed advoutrie with her alredy in his hert. 1596 SPENSER F.Q. IV. ix. 21 But Paridell of loue did make no threasure, But lusted after all that him did moue. 1605 SHAKES. Lear IV. vi. 166 Thou hotly lusts to vse her in that kind, for which thou whip’st her. 1634 SIR T. HERBERT Trav. 200 Societie with that sex, is much lusted after by all inflamed Asiatiques. 1727 SWIFT Circumcision E. Curll Wks. 1755 III. I. 163 Instead of lusting after the real wives and daughters of our rich citizens, they covet nothing but their money and estates. 1838 LYTTON Leila I. vi, Yet dost thou lust after the daughter of our despised race.

  18. Rob
    July 9, 2004 at 12:35 pm

    So I wasn’t satisfied with lust…so I’m looking further into the verse in Matthew and find that the woman we are not to lust after is from the Greek Gune–a woman of any age, whether a virgin, or married, or a widow. So whatever is meant seems to be pretty sweeping. It’s not just coveting another man’s wife…whatever the lust is, it seems to apply to any woman.

    Now, the interesting part, the word translated as looketh here is blepo–(from crosswalk.com)

    1. to see, discern, of the bodily eye

    1. with the bodily eye: to be possessed of sight, have the power of seeing
    2. perceive by the use of the eyes: to see, look descry
    3. to turn the eyes to anything: to look at, look upon, gaze at
    4. to perceive by the senses, to feel
    5. to discover by use, to know by experience

    # metaph. to see with the mind’s eye

    1. to have (the power of) understanding
    2. to discern mentally, observe, perceive, discover, understand
    3. to turn the thoughts or direct the mind to a thing, to consider, contemplate, to look at, to weigh carefully, examine

    # in a geographical sense of places, mountains, buildings, etc. turning towards any quarter, as it were, facing it

    So, the act of looking seems to be something that requires a physical act of the eye and turning of both eye and mind. So it isn’t just noticing, it seems to be something more. You notice an attractive woman, then you start looking at her and turning your mind towards her to desire her. If this is the meaning of the verse, our whole mass media and consumer culture is built upon a foundation of violating this teaching.

    Which gets me to the question about this teaching. Is it then a commandment not to do this, or was Christ just pointing out that we shouldn’t be patting ourselves on the back if we don’t manage to actually have sex outside of marriage, because we’re going there in our minds all the time anyway? So, is it a command or an observation?

  19. Taylor
    July 9, 2004 at 1:52 pm

    While I find the discussion about the nature of the sin of lust interesting, I find the Christological implications of Jim’s statement much more interesting.
    First, as a side note, I would like to make a distinction between the theological discussion of the meaning of sin here and the historical question of what did Jesus do on a day to day basis. [Warning: I am about to make some positivist historical statements, which epistemologically I don’t really beleive]. To get technical for a moment, the historical person of Jesus probably didn’t say this at all, at least not according to the standards of biblical criticism, because it doesn’t belong to the collection of sayings in Q. Now, I am not saying it is impossible that Jesus said it, just that from a historical point of view it is less likely. That doesn’t make it any less binding on us as a commandment, but it may tell us something about the historical Jesus.

    Now, about the Christological question of the “sinlessness” of Jesus. We often hear this, indeed, the scriptures say it explicitly. However, we have to ask ourselves, exactly what does this mean? You can answer this either minimalistically: Jesus was an exceptionally good human being; maximalistically: Jesus did absolutely everything right at all times; or definitionally, since Jesus was God, everything he did was by definition the correct thing.

    I don’t happen to like the last answer, but if anyone wants to defend it I will look at it serioulsy. For the minimalist view, the problem is that it seems to interfere with a certain view of the atonement that sees Jesus as the paschal lamb, without blemish, as a pure offering to God for our debts. The problem with the maximalist view is that it presents an incoherent notion of righteousness. What does it mean to be absolutely sinless? If we take Spencer Kimballs maximalist notion of sin, including sins of ommission, etc, I think that Jesus fails the test. As Son of God with the power to heal and do good, he clearly didn’t do this to the fullest extent of his ability. He maybe healed a few people here and there, but largely allowed great suffering to continue. The sins of ommission list could go on and on, including the fact that it is unlikely that Jesus was married. Additionally, we have to recognize that commandments change from time to time. A sin of mine may be failure to do my home-teaching, but it was not even possible for Jesus to sin in this way.

    It seems that we have to define what we mean by sinlessness, and what leeway we are going to allow.

  20. Jack
    July 9, 2004 at 5:23 pm

    The visitation of the Holy Spirit is a sign of divine acceptance. I assume that the Savior never did anything to grieve the living law of the Spirit. In this He was perfect and therefore always did that which was acceptable the Father.

  21. July 9, 2004 at 6:53 pm

    Thanks to all. I shouldn’t have gone to bed last night shortly after posting! I’ll try to respond to the various respondents more or less serially, except that I’ll start with Danithew because I think I offended him and I didn’t mean to do so. I hope not too many more people make comments while I’m trying to respond to the ones posted so far.

    Danithew: I did not intend to suggest that you believe that Jesus yielded to temptation or committed a sin. As I said, I think the statement you made could be understood to suggest that, but you didn’t intend it to be understood that way. My criticism was not a criticism of your beliefs, but a criticism of how what you said could be understood.

    I’m not sure that the analogy of soiling diapers and lusting will hold since it is not morally wrong for a baby to soil its diapers. But perhaps that was the point of your analogy: neither is it morally wrong to look on a woman lustfully; it’s just the way nature made us and, therefore, something to be overcome, disciplined. I understand that point, but it seems to me only to repeat what you said earlier without explaining Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:48. The problem remains: how can it not be the case that such desires are not sinful if it is sinful to lust after another person?

    In response to your post about looking up the Greek. I think that, after your post, Rob did a good job of that. The short version is: “the Greek uses ‘epithumia,’ which means not only ‘lust,’ but ‘covet'”; it connotes excessive desire.

    Greg: You and I agree that there is some difference between a temptation that is external and one that is internal and that the difference may make it possible for us to explain how Jesus was tempted without sinning. However, there is a problem with this view: I can only be tempted by what I find tempting. I have never been tempted to eat dog manure because I do not desire it; temptation is always a matter of desire, and desire is always mine rather than something external to me. I take it that this is James’s point in James 1:14: “Every man is tempted [peirazo—”tested”] when he is drawn away [exelko—”to lure”] of his own lust [epithumia—the same word used in Matthew 5:48 and translated “lust”; literally “desire” with a prefix that intensifies the word, perhaps “excessive desire”] and enticed [deleazo—”to entice,” similar in meaning to “exelko,” both are hunting metaphors ].” One straightforward way of reading this is that I only sin because I carry out my desires. That seems to suggest that all sin is internal.

    I think there is a possible explanation, but I’ll say more about that in my response to Clark.

    Clark: I think you’re right that this raises the question of how to reconcile Jesus’ full humanity with his sinlessness, and I don’t have any good answer. I, too, resist the metaphysical dualism by which we often deal with the problem: “My body has natural tendencies that my mind has to resist” is one way to put the usual answer. But there may be another kind of dualism, the dualism of the self. I don’t think that there is a self in the Cartesian sense (though we often interpret “intelligence” and “spirit” in Cartesian terms), a fundamental unity on which all experience is based, namely the Cartesian ego. Instead, I think the unity of our experience is “constructed” in response to our life in the world. It comes to be in response to experience. In Paul Ricoeur’s terms, not only are others other than I am, I am other to myself.

    If we understand ourselves in those terms, then though there is no mind-body dualism, but we are nevertheless fragmented beings who are always working on making a whole of those fragments: the “I” is a project, an activity, rather than an entity. The non-Cartesian-ego I would be the resulting whole, the fullness of that activity. If Christ is whole, if the parts of his being are parts of a great, on-going whole rather than mere fragments, then he could be fully human (embodied, living in a human way, etc.) yet sinless (whole or integrated/integrating). In contrast, we are trying to construct such a whole, but we finding it impossible to do so without help from someone who is already doing it. We find it impossible because sin is the rejection of wholeness and we are all sinners; having rejected wholeness, we cannot restore ourselves to it; we cannot bring the fragments of our existence into a relation of wholeness. But if no person who has become a sinner can make himself whole, then wholeness can only be restored to a person by someone who is whole and never sinned.

    On this basis we could distinguish between the desire that is “given to me” and “the desire I choose,” but not because the former has its origin in something not-me, something external to my being. Its origin is in the part of me that is outside the constructed “I.” “Given to me” means “not assimilated to the ego.

    Susan, Rob, and Taylor: I think that the LDS response to scriptural problems, “maybe that is something left out/inserted by scribes is almost always a cop out. Nevertheless, it may be that Matthew 5:48 is not something that Jesus said. It is not part of Q as currently reconstructed.

    (By the way, given Nazareth’s location and the probability that Galilean business men—like carpenters and fishermen—would have to have done business with Romans, whose language was Greek rather than Latin, several contemporary scholars have argued that Jesus and the Apostles probably spoke at least some Greek and could easily have been fluent in it; of course Aramaic would still have been their native tongue.)

    But even if Matthew 5:48 is not a genuine saying of Jesus, it comes early enough that it is certainly a genuine early Christian understanding of Jesus’ teaching. It isn’t likely that Matthew could have inserted something inconsistent with Jesus’ teachings in an early manuscript without those in the early Church who knew the oral tradition objecting to it. So I take it to be a genuine teaching even if not a genuine saying.

    The suggestion that Jesus is implicitly referring to Proverbs 6:25 is interesting. Evidence for that suggestion: in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament widely used in Jesus’ time), the Hebrew word “chamad” is translated “epithumia,” the same word translated “lust” in Matthew 5:28.

    Certainly “gyne” is a general term for woman, so Jesus seems to be condemning more than only coveting the wife of another. And I think Rob’s next point is important: the looking referred to in the verse is more than noticing. English and Greek agree here: in English it would be odd to say “I noticed her lustfully.” For us, too, looking at a woman lustfully is more than noticing that she is pretty. It is looking at her, gazing at her in a lustful way. I would modify Rob’s way of putting somewhat: “lust turning yourself toward another in a lustful way” or “to lust is to be oriented toward a woman in a lustful way.”

    I think Rob is right that Jesus is making an observation here, not stating a commandment. He is telling us what is the case. However, if God tell describes our behavior accurately—”you are wrong when you do x”—then it seems to follow that he has also implicitly given a commandment.

    And, finally (for this section), with greenfrog, Taylor is right that we probably must also unpack what it means to be sinless. Since that issue is separate from this one, I’ll post another thread on it.

    Nathan Tolman: I can see Rob’s distinction between notice and lust, but I’m having a hard time seeing your distinction between attraction and lust. What would it mean for me to be attracted to a woman if it didn’t mean seeing her as the object of my sexuality?

    Mike: I don’t think “pros” (the word translated “to” in the King James Version) means “for the purpose of” in Matthew 5:28. Used with the accusative case, as it is here, “pros” shows the direction of movement of something: “toward.” In this case, it shows the direction of our look, towards adultery.

    However, the problem you raise is interesting: if one cannot look on another as an object of sexual satisfaction, then it seems one cannot be attracted to another for marriage. What is the difference between legitimate sexual desire (which can be for someone to whom one is not married, as Mike’s case shows) and illegitimate sexual desire?

    D. Fletcher: I think you’re right that Christ suffered every kind of temptation. The scriptures teach that explicitly (as Greg pointed out when he referred to Alma 7:11). I’m less convinced of the analogy between sexual desire and hunger than you are. It is a commonly used analogy, but there is a bit of writing on the philosophy of sexuality that argues that human sexuality is very different from other so-called appetites. (I’m thinking, for example, of some of Levinas’s stuff.)

    Your point that lusting for another sexually is a desire to have power over them may be the key to the difference between appropriate sexual desire and inappropriate. Thanks for that insight.

    Blaine, you ask whether there must be mens rea for there to be sin. Though that is how we have understood sin, especially since after the Renaissance, I think it is questionable. For example, if there is community responsibility, then there can also be community sin. (See our earlier discussion of community responsibility.) You’re right that it cannot be the case the sexual desire per se is sinful. But it doesn’t follow that mental intention is the only alternative.

    Jack: I take it that your post was a response to Taylor. Since I’m going to start a thread on what it means to say that Christ was sinless, I don’t have anything to say here in answer to your post.

  22. July 9, 2004 at 7:04 pm

    Nah, I’m not offended. You made good points and it was an interesting discussion. At least I thought so.

  23. Susan
    July 9, 2004 at 11:26 pm

    Anyone interested that this is pretty much a guy-only thread. . .

  24. July 9, 2004 at 11:41 pm

    Susan, I assume you are suggesting that is because the particular sin in question, lustful gazing, is more a guy problem. You may be right.

  25. Susan
    July 9, 2004 at 11:50 pm

    Women do their share of gazing. I can testify to that. Maybe I’m wondering whether there is a particular kind of identification that guys have with Jesus that is animating this conversation. And that seems to get at something very interesting about Christianity, and even more about Mormonism. (And something, frankly, that troubles me.) There is so much about sex and biology animating these religions. And the subject position of a person makes such a difference in how one experiences and thinks about discussions about biology and sex (observe the discussion about rape going on in one of the other threads, for example). So how much in Christianity and Mormonism is complicated by the fact that Jesus is a guy? For Mormons, Jesus is definitely a heterosexual, even a polygamist guy (at least in the nineteenth century).

  26. john fowles
    July 10, 2004 at 12:13 am

    Taylor: I very much liked your post but I do have something to say about it.

    If we take Spencer Kimballs maximalist notion of sin, including sins of ommission, etc, I think that Jesus fails the test. As Son of God with the power to heal and do good, he clearly didn’t do this to the fullest extent of his ability. He maybe healed a few people here and there, but largely allowed great suffering to continue.

    I have difficulty agreeing with this assessment. In fact I think it is wrong. I actually like the direction you are going with questioning this because I think it might be loaded with insight about what kind of duties God owes us, why there is suffering, and what kind of duties we owe each other as human beings. But your conclusion is difficult to swallow. First, Jesus did heal everyone–everyone that would accept his atonement that is. And even for those that don’t accept it and make it effective in their lives, they take part in the unconditional atonement, that is the resurrection, which is also an ultimate act of healing. As for the fact that he allowed suffering to continue in spite of his ability to stop the suffering, I don’t think that it is an omission on his part given the nature of the Plan of Salvation. If he did not heal them temporally at that time, he was sure of the fact that they would be healed in time. Perhaps he wept about it (cf. Moses 7:28-34), but he remained true to the overall plan. I think that we should defer to his greater knowledge on those things. But the fact that we perhaps have different duties, i.e. to help all people (“inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these thy brethren, ye have done it unto me”) does not mean that Jesus’ duties at the time of his mission were exactly the same. The duties remain different today. For example, of us it is expected to forgive all men, but the Lord will forgive whom he will.

  27. July 10, 2004 at 1:19 am

    Susan, I’m neither a qualified psychiatrist nor a qualified sociologist, so all I can do is offer some arm-chair remarks. I don’t know that I have seen much evidence of Mormon men having a kind of male-bonding relation with Jesus, so my guess is that there are other reasons that this thread hasn’t attracted many women’s responses.

    As for there being a lot of sex and biology animating Christianity and Mormonism: I agree, but there’s a lot of sex and biology animating most religions. It would be interesting to see how different religions are animated differently by sex and biology.

    I agree that Jesus is in principle a heterosexual male for most contemporary LDS men, but I think we most often think of him via the icons and language we have inherited from our tradition, where he isn’t much of a guy’s guy. In other words, I don’t think the principle has carried over into practice. We have problems created by our knee-jerk adoption of the standard view of authority, patriarchy, etc., but I doubt that many of those problems can be traced back to the way we think about Jesus.

    I also doubt that the 19th century talk of Jesus as polygamist has had much effect among 21st century LDS men, and I’m not sure how much of that was more than just talk in the 19th century.

  28. July 10, 2004 at 2:33 am

    For those few interested in me rambling on about the above I wrote about it in my blog.

    As I mentioned in the discussion on sinlessness from later today, I think part of the problem is equivocation over sin as chosen acts and sin as fallenness.

  29. Mike
    July 10, 2004 at 3:33 am

    I agree with John’s statement to Taylor about sins of omission.

    As for the definition of “to” I think that using it to mean towards makes a lot of sense (kind of how I used it in the first sentence.) Even if we take it to mean towards, does that really change the question? If to is describing the direction of our look- and the direction is lust does it mean that lust or desire itself is a sin? Or is it sin to look towards lust, to consciously choose to lust or focus on sexual desire. When we look at some one we look towards lust. That is the only or primary thing we see in that person because of our conscious choice. We don’t look at them to listen to them, we don’t look at them to help them, we look at them to lust.
    If we look at some one to listen and learn, to share and to teach, to befriend, and in doing so we desire them I do not think that this desire is sinful- that is it is not sinful until we start focusing on it- we look at them to lust- our direction, our thoughts, our intents change and become focused on sexual desire. I think we can look toward some one and feel desire- but if we look at some one to lust after them we do not look at them to do anything else. When that is the case we desire adultery- we desire to sin. I think there is a difference between feeling sexual desire and desiring to sin. Desiring to sin is itself a sin. If we want to sin and would do so if circumstances allow – we won’t get caught, the person also desires us, etc. If we feel desire but would not sin no matter what the consequences- even if it seemed there were none other than knowing that we had acted against the will of our father- is that significantly different than actually desiring to sin? I think there is a vast difference.

  30. Greg Call
    July 11, 2004 at 3:56 am

    Jim, thanks for the exegesis of James 1:14. I wasn’t aware of all that was in there. I’m certain that you’re right that all sin is internal. My “internal/external” distinction was just an attempt to sort out the way the scriptures use the word “temptation” in Alma 7:11 and similar contexts.

  31. July 12, 2004 at 2:32 pm

    Hmmm… another question that has arisen for me out of this thread:

    Church leaders today teach that homosexual desires are not, in themselves, sinful. How do we reconcile this with some of the questions above about appropriate and inappropriate sexual desire, and with the teaching of Jesus that is in question in this thread?

  32. MIke
    July 13, 2004 at 12:36 am

    do church leaders teach that desires are not sinful, or inclinations are not sinful? I think it perfectly legit to say that desire is not always sinful, incilination never is, acting on either in a harmful way always is.

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