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Should a Christian Get a Tattoo?

TattooAngel, from Pune India, asked: Is getting a tattoo on the body against Scripture?

Good question.

There are health concerns and there are social concerns… but are there major religious concerns? Let us forget for a moment that health concerns and social concerns ARE ALWAYS religious concerns as well.

Biblical laws have particular aims in society… they are meant to address specific concerns confronting the community. They are proclaimations from a loving creator… if you can’t see the love, you don’t understand the law yet.

In Haiti, voodoo (a type of pagan magic/spirit worship) is practiced where many who sell their souls to “Satan” wear wedding rings… or so my wife was told when visiting for a summer to help build a church.[1] So the Christians (at least those that my wife met) don’t wear wedding rings or any other type of jewelry. When my wife visited they asked her to remove all her rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces etc. It preached the wrong message, and for those who had come out of voodoo it was a stumbling stone, a draw to their old pagan ways.

Just so, many biblical laws are meant to address the pagan practices common around Israel that prove a wrong message for a YHWHist to associate with, and a draw to sinful ways.

Tattoos appear to be one of those laws. Leviticus 19:28 says, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.”

So the answer is not easy.

Some favor a wooden literalist interpretation that says, “Hey, I don’t care about the whats and whys of this law. It says don’t do it, so we shouldn’t do it. Period.”  I don’t disparage those who feel this way on tattoos, but would be far less pleased if they pulled that on laws like Deuteronomy 22:11.

It says, “Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together.”

I just don’t want to give up my wrinkle free poly-blends… and know that what is forbidden here is the common use of a sacred mix of linen and wool (This is the mix of the temple curtains and priest garments) and is not based on any old blending of anything else. The terms for “divers sorts” appears to be a technical term for that mixture.

Some imagine these laws as daily practice of NO MIX. “I don’t plow my field with two kinds of animals, don’t sow my field with two kinds of seeds, don’t dress myself with blended garments… and I don’t marry pagans.” I.e. “I don’t mix, don’t mix, don’t mix, don’t mix.”  Read the law in context:

  • Deu 22:9  Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled.
  • Deu 22:10  Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together.
  • Deu 22:11  Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together.
  • Deu 22:12  Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself.

The key here seems to be the fact that the 9-11 commands are followed by 12, which grants to every male in Israel a priestly tassel that violates the command in vs. 11.[2]

So… back to Tattoos. All biblical laws have contextual goals… those goals are all important in properly applying the law. So, with a goal oriented approach to the Tattoo law, I must ask what the impact of Tattooing is where I live and move and have my being. Are Tattoos innocuous in regard to health, social implication, and religious imagery?

For the health concerns, let me defer to others. Try WebMD, which as you know was started by Peter Parker after he retired from the hero game and finished his university studies and residency. http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/tattoos-are-they-safe

In America, tattoos do have serious (but ever diminishing) social ramifications if they can be seen. They do NOT have religious connotations, beyond the fact that many a Christian frowns on them because they tend to be popular among the “Low Brow.” They are gaining more popularity, however, and have less social stigma attached to them.

I cannot speak to your Indian culture. I’ve not learned about tattoos there. You must make those judgements carefully for we all live and find our security in community and cannot disregard that bond without hurting ourselves going forward.

If you are asking me if God is sitting up in heaven judging you over the very idea of getting a Tattoo. I think not.  Some disapprove of marring the body in anyway, but there are no biblical commands regarding many other types of marring, like nose rings and ear rings. (Ask me some day what I think of nose rings and I’ll tell you that I feel differently about them in America than I do when I’m in India.)

That said, there are many other things to consider:

  • How will this impact your Christian witness to others?
  • Will you getting it lead other weaker souls into sin or compromising situations by your example?
  • How will this affect your social standing with… Family? Job? Friends? Community at large?
  • How will this impact your family’s social standing?
  • What are the real life health issues involved?
  • Will the tattoo be visible… and what moral compromises are involved in getting it where you want to get it?
  • What does the Tattoo symbolize or say?

These are NOT small matters, and God DOES care about the ramifications of a tattoo even if the tattoo itself is not an innate problem in a different world.

Personally, I am always concerned about permanent marking of the body and other forms of self-mutilation… ummm, I mean decoration. This would be with you FOREVER. A friend of mine who had several tattoos gives young people this advice. If you want a tatto, wait until you are 30. If you still want a tatto at 30… wait until you are 35.

Angel replied: Actually I seriously don’t want a tattoo because I don’t believe it is a correct practise. However, my friends were debating saying that if the body doesn’t go to heaven, why then is it a problem to ink something on it?

Okay, the body does “go to heaven” in a sense, but our future is not some spirit floating existence in some ethereal heaven. Rather, according to my reading of Scripture is a resurrected life on a new earth.

Even so, I’m not sure we will be carrying our disfigurements with us. Sad day for burn victims if that is the case. Though I enjoyed a discussion by Gordon Hugenberger, (One of my beloved Profs) on the matter of Christ’s crucifixion wounds and what they bode for us in our own resurrected state. He imagined that the only wounds that we would carry with us are those that bring glory to God. Polycarp should be worried.

 

 

[1] The relationship between Satanism & the common religion of Haiti is not this simple, but this is the explanation my wife was given when she arrived. Voodoo has a lot of complexity to it and is not technically involved in overt Satanism. For a more in-depth consideration see: http://www.britannica.com/topic/Vodou

[2] Read my articles on Tassels elsewhere in my blog.

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