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).
The great news of the gospel is that Old Testament law no longer binds Christians. Avoiding tattoo parlors or Red Lobster doesn't make you righteousJesus' death and resurrection do! While you need to remember your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16), you don't have to let other people's sense of religious propriety constrain you.
Maybe you should invite your Bible study friends over for a girl's movie night to watch Madea's Family Reunion, because midway through the film, a hilarious scene perfectly illustrates the danger of taking a Bible verse out of context!
How does this affect me?
Before you get the tattoo, journal through Psalm 139 to remind yourself God thinks you're beautiful with or without embellishments. And remember, the butterfly you get now will likely resemble an amorphous blob when your skin succumbs to the stretches and wrinkles of age.
Most important, consider your motives for getting tattooed. Certainly some people do so to rebel against authority; if that's your reason, remember all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23). Still, other people get tattoos for positive and deeply spiritual reasons. I recently went on a mission trip with a young man who had the story of the Crucifixion tattooed on his arm. He told me the tattoo was a great catalyst for dialogue with teenagers turned off by conservative church culture.
In the end, don't worry too much about how you decorate your exterior as long as you devote your interior to Christ.
Lisa Harper has a Masters in Theology with an emphasis in biblical studies from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. She's a sought-after speaker and has written several books, including Holding Out for a Hero: A New Spin on Hebrews (Tyndale) and What the Bible Is All About for Women: A Book of Devotions (Regal). Visit her at www.lisaharper.net.
Have a faith question for Lisa? E-mail Great Question at email@example.com.
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