The second episode of the spanking brand new podcast has been released and I took on a look into the world of tattoos as it relates to Christians. It was really odd how it came up as a subject for me. I thought about all the things we do (christians) and don’t give it much thought, or think about it too much. I wondered what you thought about it. I posed a question on Facebook and got a good response.
I thought about all the bikers and ex offenders I knew that had tattoos. I knew they had a story. That the markings on their bodies were put there in honor of God more than not. I knew my generation didn’t agree with it. Baby boomers believed only outlaws, bikers, police, and military veterans had them and most of those ‘guys’ weren’t “church” people. But what if you were a believer? I prayed on it and read the Bible with this understanding.
It wasn’t, and isn’t 100%. I have to wait for the Lord to judge if I got it right or not. A friend and fellow Marine asked to chime in on it and I have him as a guest on this episode. He doesn’t agree. You may not. Your mileage may vary but it was a good topic to touch on. I learned a lot and I hope you do too.
Is getting a tattoo a sin and is your tattoo a sin? There are many faithful Christians with tattoos, and there are a lot of Christians with strong feelings, pro and con, about tattoos.
Let’s address both questions and see what we can discern from the Bible.
Is getting a tattoo a sin?
Some say that getting a tattoo is a sin, because in Leviticus the Bible forbids placing any type of mark on the body.
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.
With a simple reading of this verse, it appears that tattoos are clearly forbidden in the Bible. However, while it’s true that tattoos were forbidden under Levitical law, we must remember that these laws were given to the Nation of Israel, not the Body of Christ. As Christians, not all of the laws given to Israel apply to us. In the Old Testament, God gave moral, civil and ceremonial laws.
For Christians, the moral Law (The Ten Commandments) remains in effect to direct our moral judgment and to command us to obey God. While the Law has no power to save us, it certainly has power to direct our lives by guiding us to make godly choices to avoid sin and to live in a way that honors God. The Ten Commandments reflect the very nature of God–His perfection and His righteousness. We can never attain the perfection God’s Law commands, but we can live our lives moving in that direction. Jesus magnified the Ten Commandments, the moral Law, during His earthly ministry and Paul confirmed this Law for the Church. God does not change, nor does His moral Law change. Therefore, we are called to obey the Ten Commandments.
The ceremonial and civil laws were given to the Nation of Israel. As a whole, these laws are not binding on Christians, although many of them are good for our instruction and our sanctification. We find many repeated in the New Testament as directives for Christian living (e.g. restitution for wrongdoing). The ceremonial and civil laws were given to Israel to instruct them how to live in relationship with God and to keep them separate from the nations and holy unto God. Many of these laws have no relevance for Christian living (e.g. the prohibition of mixed fibers and shellfish).
So, what about tattoos?
The prohibition for tattoos in Leviticus 19 falls under the ceremonial laws given to the Nation of Israel. The body markings, tattoos, during that time were symbols of pagan worship or identification with other gods and nations. Israel was clearly told to avoid such markings of their flesh, but there is no such prohibition given to Christians.
So, is it a sin to get a tattoo?
The simple answer is…it depends. It depends on the motivation behind the decision to get a tattoo, the image of the tattoo, and what it might “say” to others. So the answer is really not very simple at all. This is a question that requires personal discernment using biblical instruction. A Christian knows that they have liberty in Christ Jesus (Galatians 5:1), but with this liberty comes great responsibility.
Discerning the Tattoo
Tattoos are adding a mark to one’s skin, therefore they alter the appearance of one’s body to some extent and make a statement. In many ways they are similar to make-up, hair color, tanning, piercings, clothing, etc, that alters one’s appearance. Such things affect the way in which we present ourselves and the way in which others perceive us. However, unlike make-up, hair color, etc, tattoos are permanent. Therefore, anyone considering getting a tattoo should carefully and prayerfully consider what the tattoo will look like like, and what it will “say,” both today and in years to come.
If getting a tattoo is not sinfully motivated (e.g. by rebellion against authority, to adorn, elevate or call attention to oneself in a prideful way, to make a statement for evil, etc) and, if the image and the message of the tattoo is not sinful, then getting a tattoo is not likely a sin. There are many tattoos that honor God (crosses, verses, etc.). There are also many that are innocuous (hearts, flowers, anchors, eagles, etc). But sadly, there are also those which are definitely sinful because of the artwork or messages that dishonor God (you know what I’m talking about). When the image and message of a tattoo is sinful, most often the intent and reasons for getting the tattoo was also sinful.
New Testament teachings support that as long as the intentions and motivations are not dishonoring God, and the actual art is not dishonoring in any way, then getting a tattoo is not a sin and the tattoo is not sinful…
HOWEVER…Paul said “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” (1 Corinthians 10:23) Paul emphatically stated (1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23) that while something might be lawful (not against the Law), it might not be helpful or instructive for improvement. Therefore, marking one’s body is not forbidden for Christians, but Christians must determine if getting a tattoo is beneficial for them and they must be certain the tattoo is God-honoring.
Carefully and prayerfully consider getting a tattoo and evaluate whether it will be “helpful” and will “edify.” Be certain that the artwork is God-honoring.
Thanks for being a part of the conversation. Next week I have a dynamic speaker of a Christian apparel company that fought against one of the biggest clothing industries for using the word Armor.
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Here’s the latest episode: http://traffic.libsyn.com/speaklife/Two_You_and_Your_Tattoos.mp3