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In Webster's dictionary lust is defined as:

a strong feeling of sexual desire OR a strong desire for something.

Is this is the same as the Greek and Hebrew definitions? If so, is lust always sin or is lust sometimes acceptable?

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closed as off-topic by El'endia Starman Sep 19 '14 at 11:54

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"But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:28 NIV) – Double U May 30 '14 at 1:14
I think the verse means that lust is sin, because it can lead people to do sinful things, like committing adultery. – Double U May 30 '14 at 1:16
@Anonymous isn't that an untenable position? According to the current definition of lust, you an lust over your own spouse. That does not lead to adultery. Or does that verse mean lust is only sinful when it's not your partner? – rpeg May 30 '14 at 1:43
What do you mean by "current definition"? – curiousdannii May 30 '14 at 2:00
I think it's best to read within context, rpeg. – Double U May 30 '14 at 2:28

Yes, in a simple form and a more complicated one.

I do not often like to refer to the Greek (mostly because I know little about Greek) but in this case I think we need to.

One word in the original language which you are probably referring to as 'lust' is this. Greek word

ἐπιθυμία epithymia deep desire; lust. (phonetically sounds like: epi-thee-me-a)

By looking at the various tenses of the word in different contexts we can probably be in a position to answer the question more objectively.

First, using the ESV passions (in each case this seems to be used with the implication of evil passions:


Ro 6:12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Eph 2:3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 2 Ti 2:22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

Next desires (this is mostly used for evil desires but sometimes just neutral desire of even a holy one:

Gal 5:16 Keep in Step with the Spirit But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Other examples:

Mk 4:19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. Jn 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Ro 13:14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Php 1:23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 1 Th 2:17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 1 Ti 6:9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. Jas 1:14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

The ESV translates this word using 'lusts' in only a few instances all related to strong sexual desire outside of marriage. Other English translations often use the previous 'desires' as lusts also

Complete listing in ESV version:

Ro 1:24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 1 Th 4:5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 2 Pe 2:10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones.

Sometimes it is translated as covet (basically a discontented desire)

Ro 7:7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” Ro 7:8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.

Lust is a term when denoting an evil impulse assumes a desire not derived out of love for God. As the bible defines good behavior as deep love for God from which all other desires should stem, lust is explained by a strong contrary desire to love for God.

There is deeper doctrinal aspect to the Biblical explanation of this: Humans are born dead with evil desires as punitive justice for the sin of Adam extended to all. By faith in Christ they are regenerated internally from sin and death to love and life. Having new life and thus new love for God as a result of being declared righteous by grace apart from moral deeds, they have a dual nature. Consequentially a believer has strong holy desires as well as remaining sinful desires of the old life inherited through Adam. This indwelling sinful nature lusts against the new nature and they are at war with each other. Therefore lust is a remnant of any desire stemming from the old nature of Adam under the curse of God's law for his sin imputed to all. Any desire from that nature is the lust of the flesh. It is sinful because human nature is contrary to God's nature under His punitive justice. It knows nothing of love for God. Being a Christian is first obtaining new inward life in Christ and inwardly dying to the 'fleshly' life inherited from Adam. Then upon the death of the body, the entire evil nature inherited from the curse of Adam's sin will be gone, along with all its desires forever.

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The question is about the 'feeling' a husband feels for his wife and his wife feels for him and that is how babies come into this world. That 'feeling' is not derived out of the love for God but without that 'feeling' certain things do not happen in the male anatomy. In English that 'feeling' is called 'lust' in the Webster's dictionary. So the reason for the confusion is in the English language where one word describes many things. 'Lust' in all its forms can be a positive or a negative force. – gideon marx May 31 '14 at 10:22

Catholic perspective: always wrong/bad, not always sinful.

Self-control Sirach 18:30-31 (RSVCE)
30 Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.
31 If you allow your soul to take pleasure in base desire, it will make you the laughingstock of your enemies.

Pertinent numbers in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2514 St. John distinguishes three kinds of covetousness or concupiscence: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life. [cf. 1 Jn 2:16]. In the Catholic catechetical tradition, the ninth commandment forbids carnal concupiscence; the tenth forbids coveting another's goods.

2515 Etymologically, "concupiscence" can refer to any intense form of human desire. Christian theology has given it a particular meaning: the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason. The apostle St. Paul identifies it with the rebellion of the "flesh" against the "spirit." [cf. Gal 5:16,17,24; Eph 2:3]. Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of the first sin. It unsettles man's moral faculties and, without being in itself an offense, inclines man to commit sins. [cf. Gen 3:11; Council of Trent: DS 1515].


From a catholic perspective, therefore, lust is always wrong/bad. Whether it is sinful depends on full knowledge and full will, for Catholics, a matter for the confessional.

[E.g., you, a person, and another passes before you dressed to appeal to the lower (now rebellious after original sin) instincts. Those instincts spontaneously combusts. One does not commit a sin if one, saying a prayer, averts one's eyes and rejects those base instincts. But as said above, for Catholics, the judgment belongs to the confessional.]

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@Mike has a great answer, but I think I'll expand on the sexual aspect of it. Why is sexual lust a sin?

Because desiring someone other than your spouse is contrary to God's eternal committal nature. The relationship between a husband and wife is suppose to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church.

Eph 5:21-32 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

The very definition of sin is "to miss the mark", and since the mark is Christ, and to lust is to do something Christ wouldn't do, to lust is to sin.

It would be a sin for the church to desire someone other than Christ, and it would be a sin for Christ to desire someone other than his church, his bride. To want someone sexually without committing to them for life is to want them for selfish reasons. Christ loves unselfishly.

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"Why is sexual lust a sin? Because desiring someone other than your spouse is contrary" Who says lust is about desiring someone else other than your spouse? That's what I'm asking. Is it defined like that somewhere? – rpeg May 30 '14 at 16:24
@rpeg; There's nowhere in the Bible that says "Lust is defined as..." so in order to determine what lust is you have to look at how the word is used in context with other scripture. @Mike's answer shows that scripture broadly shows lust as a deep, powerful desire, and more specifically a sexual one. You can go to [blueletterbible] and query the word "lust" to see how it used in this way. – LCIII May 30 '14 at 17:59

whether it's about desiring sex with someone who is not one's spouse, or whether it's about sexually objectifying any person of the opposite gender (or the same gender if that's one's sexual orientation), attitudes behind that is sin. appreciation of sexual beauty need not be this objectification. desiring to have sexual fulfillment need not be this objectification.

looking at it as a heterosexual male, i would say that the sin is when, in a man's mind, women are toys to be played with. but looking forward to sex with one's spouse (or soon-to-be-spouse) is normal. not sin.

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I'm downvoting because of the poor grammar. It has been a persistent yet easily remedied problem. – fredsbend Jul 28 '14 at 18:37

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