Q: Should Christians get tattoos? I want one, but my Bible study girlfriends insist Scripture prohibits body art.
A: Christians getting tattoos is a timely and controversial topic. Google this issue, and you'll see opinions varying from "Go for it!" to "You'll go to hell for it." Many Christians have grappled with the tattoo question.
What does the Bible say?
Ink opponents typically ignore the verse that says God "inscribed" a picture of his people on his palms (Isaiah 49:16, NASB; the Amplified Bible says "tattooed"), and instead ominously quote another Old Testament verse: "You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:28, ESV). Understanding the context of the Leviticus verse, however, is imperative.
God gave this command to the Israelites around 1444 B.C. (right after the parting of the Red Sea) to forbid them from practicing the idolatrous customs they'd picked up in Egyptian captivity. Their captors had a nasty habit of slashing themselves to express grief and to appease their pantheon of imaginary gods. The Egyptians also tattooed their bodies with symbols of pagan gods. So Jehovah, the only true God, essentially said to the Israelites, I don't want you to practice those silly superstitions anymore. You're my people, and I love you. The heart of God's message isn't about body art, but about reminding the Israelites they belong to him.
Perhaps the gals in your small group didn't consider God's original intent for Leviticus. Because if Christians today adhered to the literal application of every moral and ceremonial rule handed down to the Israelites, no one could eat shrimp or cheeseburgers (Leviticus 11); moms would be "unclean" after childbirth (40 days of separation from society after a boy, twice as long after a girl), so new mothers couldn't go to Beth Moore Bible studies or Curves or book clubs for more than a month (Leviticus 12); menstruating women also would have to separate from friends and family for seven days during that time of month (Leviticus 15); no one could wear clothes woven from both linen and wool (Leviticus 19); and everyone who went out to eat after church could merit a possible stoning (Exodus 31).1
For Further StudyDownloadable resources to go deeper
- Carolyn Custis James: What It Means to Be a Woman in MinistryeBook Format Available! Author and speaker Carolyn Custis James offers leadership insights for women.