Christians and Tattoos

“Worth thinking twice about it.”

Errol Hale

“I really like your look,” the young woman said to her hairdresser. “But why don’t you have any tattoos?”[1]  So, instead of tattoos being an option for the edgy, they are, at least in the eyes of some, an essential—without them, something is missing.

Why consider tattoos?  Besides the fact of their popularity, might we have crossed the line from tattoos are an option, to they are the standard, and not having any makes a person incomplete?  Add to that, the fact that the Bible is not silent on the matter, and for biblical Christians, that should matter.  Let us ask and answer two pertinent questions and then draw some conclusions, not only from God’s Word but also from a purely practical vantage point.

Question #1: Does the Bible prohibit tattoos?

Some say yes, some say no.  What does the Bible say?  Not a lot, but what it does say is rather pointed.

Leviticus 19:28  You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD.

I’m not sure anything could be clearer.  It is even punctuated by the oft repeated statement, “I am the Lord,” which is understood to remind the reader of the authority behind the words.

How do pro-tattoo enthusiasts answer this?

1.     There are those who dismiss this either with, “The Bible is irrelevant,” or with, “That’s the Old Testament, we’re not under the law.”  To those who dismiss the importance of the Bible altogether, we have no basis for discussion.  For Christians, the Bible is the sole authority for all matters of faith and practice.  For those who claim to be Christians who dismiss what is written in the Old Testament, we would respectfully state that the Bible is one book, all of which is written by God, cautioning against discarding any part of it.

2.     There are those who dismiss this as being part of the ceremonial or civil law, not the moral law.[2]  We would again respectfully state that this is much more of a moral issue associated with respecting the human body made in the image of God and redeemed by Christ (1 Cor 6:19-20).

3.     There are some who dismiss this because it was intended for Israel not to follow the practices of the pagans around them.  If that is true (and I believe it is) then why would we want to follow the practices of the pagans in our day?  We would respectfully ask, “Where did we get the idea of tattooing?  From God’s Word?  Or from pagan practices that have seeped into our culture and are now accepted as the norm?”

Question #2: What is the real motive behind tattooing?

1.     Some Christians insist that it is for the glory of God.  Really?  If it is something that glorifies God, wouldn’t God have told us about it, including telling us to do it?  Instead, He commanded His people not to.  Glorifying God is a good thing, but God tells us in His Word how He is to be glorified—tattooing is never mentioned as a means to glorify Him.  As a matter of fact, in Deuteronomy 12, God tells His people not to worship Him in the manner in which the pagans worship their gods.

2.     Though we cannot, nor do we want to judge anyone’s heart, isn’t it true that tattooing is a way for drawing attention to oneself?  Is that a Christian virtue?  Especially when the motive behind drawing attention to oneself is generally to be thought of as “cool”?  If the real motive is to draw attention to oneself, might that not be a pride issue more than a means to glorify God?

3.     Another motive behind tattoos is to follow the world.[3]  The practice is popular in the world (much less so among the redeemed!).  So, many Christians who do get tattoos do so to be like the world.  What does 1 John 2:15-17 say about that?[4]

4.     Another motive behind some tattoos is rebellion.  It is a way of making the statement, “I’ll do as I darn well please—I don’t care what anybody thinks.”  It is a way of saying, “I will run with scissors and color outside the lines—and you can’t stop me.”  Do those sound like Christ-like attitudes?

From a purely practical perspective…

1.     Why do now what you might (likely will) regret later?  It has been said that tattoos are a permanent reminder of temporary insanity. 

2.     What is cool now is often later regretted.  And removing tattoos is not easy or inexpensive. (It is estimated that $66 million are spent annually for tattoo removal[5]—and that accounts only for the tattoos removed by those who could afford it.  Most can’t.)

3.     Tattoos almost always lose their supposed luster on aging skin.

4.     Because many people have reservations about tattoos (and the people who tat themselves), be prepared to either have to cover them (where possible) or be denied opportunities (jobs, etc.).

Conclusions:

While we certainly do not condemn people for tattooing themselves, we would conclude with a few questions of our own:

1.     When the Bible speaks clearly, why do some feel they have to “interpret the Bible” to make it say what it does not?

2.     Why can’t people be honest that the reason for getting tattoos is not to glorify God but to draw attention to (glorify) self?

3.     If one wants to glorify God, does doing something the Bible says not to do sound like the best way to do it?

4.     Even though getting a tattoo may not be a sin, at least not an egregious sin, given all the facts, is it wise?  Or might it be a decision made from a position of naiveté or a lack of wisdom?

1 Corinthians 6:12  All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

1 Corinthians 10:23  All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.

5.     Since fads and fashions come and go, are you sure you are prepared to live with your decision to tattoo your body, knowing that what you think is cool today is not likely to be cool (even in your own mind) someday?  It is worth thinking twice about.

 

 


[1] Not a made-up story.  This was actually said to a hair dresser I know personally.

[2] The Law of God can be divided into three categories: civil, ceremonial, and moral.  The details of the civil law about the government of ancient Israel and the ceremonial law about the Jewish religion are not binding on Christians since they were fulfilled by Christ. The moral law, however,  is timeless and no less applicable today than ever.

[3] Is there anything to the fact that tattoos are most prominent among gang members and prisoners?

[4] 1 John 2:15-17  Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  16For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.  17And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. Also see James 4:4

[5] IBIS World.com, 2014, cited by Mental Floss.com “By the Numbers: How Americans Spend Their Money