In Christian circles tattoos can often be a topic of heated discussion. The Bible clearly speaks against them in Leviticus 19:28, which says, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourself. I am the Lord.” It seems pretty straight forward in this verse, so why is there so much disagreement? Why do some people have extremely strong convictions against them while others seem to feel no guilt at all? I have done a fair amount of research into both sides, and I would like to share some of my findings.
The History of Tattoos
To help you understand a little bit more about what tattoos meant to people around 1440 BC, you need to understand the reasons why certain people chose to get tattoos. Tattoos during this time were not meant for decoration. No one’s tattoo story started with, “I just went into the tattoo parlor and picked it out because it was pretty.” Tattoos were primarily marks of ownership, which can mean several different things. The Romans used tattoos to identify a person as a slave or a criminal. Other cultures used tattoos to show which God they served, and the Egyptians believed that tattoos created a spirit connection with dead family members. This way you would be able to find your family members in the afterworld. (http://www.thetattoocollection.com/history_of_tattoos.htm)
What does this have to do with Leviticus 19:28?
In Leviticus 19:28, God gives instructions to the Israelites to keep their bodies pure and free of markings. Why was this important? Because God wanted his people to be separate from the cultures around them. They did not need tattoos to show which God they served or which master – they all served him. He was their Lord. Allowing the Israelites to have tattoos would have been equivalent to allowing them to worship other gods (In my opinion). They did not need markings to prove who they belonged to, they were his people simply because he chose them. He did not need them to mark themselves to prove his ownership of them like those of pagan cultures.
There are a lot of different commandments in Leviticus chapter 19. Some of those commandments are ones we still follow today, and others are not. Leviticus 19:19 commands the Israelites not to wear clothing woven of two kinds of material, and also not to plant two kinds of seed in one field. Leviticus 19:27 says not to cut the hair on the sides of your head or trim your beard. Leviticus 19:26 says not to eat meat with blood still in it. There were very good reasons for those laws to be put in place for the Israelites. These laws set them apart as a culture, as God’s people who kept themselves holy.
So… what does this have to do with tattoos today?
Tattoo’s today have a very different meaning. We no longer use tattoos to denote ownership. We use tattoos to express a message, but they unlike the tattoos of the 1400’s they do not define us.
My personal reasons for getting a tattoo:
I chose a tattoo after 6 months of careful consideration. It was not a decision I took lightly. I chose a tattoo that reflected the person that I am, and the person that I want to be. I chose a tattoo that glories God and gives me an opportunity to share the gospel if anyone asks about it. I chose a location that can be easily covered up, and researched tattoo parlors to find a reputable location.
I believe that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. This is why I chose to get a tattoo – as an act of worship.
Some Questions to think about…
All this is not to say that tattoos should be taken lightly. I do believe that some people get tattoos for the wrong reasons. A tattoo is something that will last forever on your earthly body, and so there are many questions to consider.
1. Does this tattoo honor the Lord? If your answer is no, then think about why you are getting it. Do you want the cute butterfly/jellyfish/flower/whatever just so you can show it off to your friends?
2. Am I getting this tattoo for myself or for other people?
And there are also some practical considerations:
3. Will the location of my tattoo prevent future job offers (depending of the type of job you want, some employers do not allow visible tattoos)?
4. Will I still like this tattoo in 10 years? 20 years? 30 years?
Some people will not agree with this post, and that is okay. If your convictions are so strong that you believe it is a sin to get a tattoo, then you should absolutely not get one. Romans 14:14 says that if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. In other words, for those people who do believe tattoos are acceptable, don’t flaunt your tattoos in front of someone who thinks they are wrong and try to convince them to get one. For those who are against tattoos, stick to your convictions and do not do anything that you feel in your heart is wrong.