Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Should Christians Get Tattoos?

The question of whether or not tattoos are acceptable for Christians came up recently in a Facebook discussion and I thought I would post my thoughts on that here.

The only verse I know of that could be construed as forbidding tattoos is Leviticus 19:28: "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD."

It is a little unclear about whether or not this is a
moral or ceremonial law as written. Moral laws are still binding on us today while ceremonial laws were given to the Jewish nation and do not apply to Christians today. In this case, the prohibition on tattoos is preceded by a verse about not cutting the corners of a beard (probably a ceremonial law) and followed by a prohibition on prostituting one's daughter (obviously a moral law). The final part of the verse, however, seems to indicate at least a moral component in this law. If the reason for prohibiting cutting and marks in the flesh is that God is the Lord, it would suggest that this law (or at least the reasoning behind it) is enduring since God is still the Lord. It appears that body modification such as cutting and tattooing is not approved by God.

Since there is a little bit of uncertainty about that verse, I think that some Biblical principles should be considered that apply to this issue. One of these is the direction to take care of our bodies as a temple of God. Tattooing isn’t all that safe or healthy. This principle also means that our bodies are not ours to do with as we please since they belong to God as His temple. We should be doing only what pleases and glorifies God.

It is also true that Christians have historically abstained from tattoos as being a pagan practice. And even in our culture today, people still recognize tattoos as being a sign of rebellion and not practiced by Christians. In that light, even if the prohibition on tattoos in the OT was not binding on us today, we would do well not to hinder our Christian witness by marking ourselves in ways that make others associate us with being non-Christian.

Another thing to think about is that at least part of the reason for the prohibition of tattoos, even if it was a ceremonial law, was to set the people of God apart from the world. That part is still in effect. We Christians, as followers of Christ, are to look and act differently than the world. Refraining from tattoos is certainly one good way to do that.

So, a cumulative case against tattoos for Christians can certainly be made. Between wisdom and issues of the body as a temple, our Christian witness, being separate from the world, and an outright prohibition in the OT that appears to have a moral component, it's best not to get one.

Is it a sin to get a tattoo? It depends. For some people, especially those who don't know any better, it may not be. Some things are immoral, whether someone knows it or not and some are only a sin when the person knows to do better and doesn't. I would put tattoos in the latter camp. Keep in mind that if your purpose in getting a tattoo is to fit in with the world or to flaunt your "freedom in Christ," regardless of the effects on your Christian witness, then yes it is a sin.

Those not convinced that getting a tattoo is a sin would do well to remember Paul's warning that not all things are beneficial (I Corinthians 10:23). The mature Christian uses wisdom and discernment to stay away from unwise things, not just those things that can be absolutely identified as sin.