The question of whether or not God approves of tattoos has been a topic of debate among Christians for many years. Some argue that tattoos are a form of art and self-expression, while others believe that they are disobedient to God’s commandments. In this post, we will explore the biblical evidence to uncover the truth about tattoos and how Christians should view them. We’ll also discuss practical considerations for those who are contemplating getting a tattoo or have already chosen to wear one.
As followers of Jesus Christ, our primary aim should be to live our lives in a way that brings glory and honor to God. This involves seeking His guidance in every aspect of our lives, including matters as culturally relevant and personal as tattoos. To help increase our understanding, let’s dive into these key takeaways and biblical explanations for each perspective.
- The Old Testament prohibition against tattoos in Leviticus 19:28.
- The cultural context of the Israelites and the surrounding nations.
- The relevance of Old Testament laws to New Testament believers.
- The principle of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit.
- The potential testimony implications of tattoos.
- Personal conviction and respect for others.
- A potential connection to vanity or excessive self-focus.
- The impact of tattoos on our relationships with other believers and unbelievers.
- Key Takeaways
- Leviticus 19:28 – The Old Testament Prohibition
- Cultural Context – Israelites and Surrounding Nations
- Old Testament Laws and New Testament Believers
- Our Bodies as Temples of the Holy Spirit
- Testimony Implications
- Personal Conviction and Respect for Others
- Vanity and Self-Focus
- Impact on Relationships
- In Conclusion
Leviticus 19:28 – The Old Testament Prohibition
“Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.”
When discussing tattoos from a biblical perspective, the most frequently quoted verse is Leviticus 19:28. This verse outright forbids the cutting of one’s body and the putting of tattoo marks upon it. At first glance, this verse may seem to provide a definitive answer to the question of whether God approves of tattoos.
However, we need to examine this command within the context of the other regulations and instructions in the same passage. Leviticus 19 contains various laws given to the Israelites, ranging from moral commands like not stealing to ceremonial laws related to offerings. This broader context can provide valuable insights into the purpose and weight of the tattoo prohibition for ancient Israelite society and its relevance to modern Christian faithfulness.
Moreover, it is important to acknowledge the Bible’s unchanging nature while also understanding its cultural context. The ways people marked their bodies in ancient cultures are indeed different from the motives and purposes for tattoos today. Consequently, one must consider if the tattoo itself is inherently anti-God or if it’s the motive behind the marking that determines acceptability.
Cultural Context – Israelites and Surrounding Nations
The cultural context of the ancient Israelites and their interactions with the surrounding pagan nations is important to examine when interpreting Leviticus 19:28. During that time, many pagan religions used tattoos and body markings as a means of worshiping their gods and honoring the deceased. Thus, forbidding tattoos may have been a way for the Lord to differentiate His people from the pagan nations around them.
It is also worth noting that the tattoo prohibition is connected to the command against cutting one’s body for the dead. This highlights the association between tattoos and pagan mourning rituals in the ancient Near East. By prohibiting these practices, God makes it clear that the Israelites were to worship and express their devotion to Him in a way that was distinct from their neighbors.
Understanding this cultural context raises the question of how much the prohibition against tattoos is tied to specific ancient pagan practices and how much it is a broader principle with ongoing relevance for God’s people. In comparing the tattoo prohibition to other Old Testament commands, sensitivity to the underlying purposes of each law can help believers discern their ongoing relevance and application.
Old Testament Laws and New Testament Believers
While some view Leviticus 19:28 as a direct command against tattoos, others argue that it is important to consider whether this Old Testament law applies to New Testament believers. With the new covenant established by Jesus Christ, certain laws were understood to have been fulfilled, while others still remain relevant.
One approach to determining the current relevance of Old Testament laws is evaluating whether they fall under the categories of moral, civil, or ceremonial law. While moral laws remain binding for Christians today, civil and ceremonial laws were often specific to the Israelite nation and not applicable to believers in Jesus Christ. For example, laws related to sacrifices and rituals fall into the ceremonial category and have been fulfilled in Christ.
In the case of tattoos, the application of Leviticus 19:28 to New Testament believers is debated. Some argue that the prohibition reflects a moral principle that transcends time and culture, while others suggest that it is more of a ceremonial law specific to ancient Israel. Nevertheless, even if one concludes that the specific tattoo prohibition is part of the ceremonial or civil law, the larger goal of having God’s people set apart from pagan practices and reflecting a unique devotion to the Lord remains valid.
Our Bodies as Temples of the Holy Spirit
As Christians, we believe that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), and we are instructed to honor God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20). This perspective leads some to conclude that tattoos are inherently disrespectful because they involve permanently altering the body that God has given us.
However, this principle is not primarily about adhering to an exact physical standard but more about the proper use and stewardship of our bodies. In this regard, it is important to evaluate whether a particular action, like getting a tattoo, aligns with the larger goal of honoring God and reflecting the holiness of His presence within us.
Others argue that if a tattoo is intended to glorify God or proclaim one’s faith, it can be a means of using one’s body to honor the Lord. Ultimately, the motive behind getting a tattoo, as with any other action, is crucial in determining whether it is honoring to God or not. For instance, tattoos that symbolize one’s commitment to Christ or portray a biblical theme can be seen as an extension of one’s faith, serving as a reminder and a testimony to oneself and others.
Our testimony as Christians is vital in fulfilling our purpose on earth, which is to share the good news of the Gospel. That said, we should ask ourselves if having visible tattoos might hinder our ability to effectively witness to others. In some cultures, tattoos are associated with rebellion, criminality, or unrighteousness, leading people to make negative assumptions about those with body art.
However, it is essential to recognize the changing attitudes and societal opinions towards tattoos. They have become more accepted and commonplace within mainstream culture, making them less likely to undermine Christians’ testimonies than in the past. This shift means that, in many contexts, the presence of tattoos may no longer significantly impact others’ perceptions of your faith or character.
Conversely, it’s important to recognize that tattoos may also provide opportunities to share our faith and engage in spiritual conversations. A Christian tattoo, for instance, may attract attention and questions from onlookers, opening the door for testimony. These opportunities should be embraced as a means of fulfilling our primary purpose in sharing the Gospel.
Personal Conviction and Respect for Others
Another crucial factor to consider when deciding whether or not to get a tattoo is personal conviction. Romans 14:23 states, “But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” If a person feels convicted that getting a tattoo is sinful, it would be best to abstain.
Furthermore, we must also recognize that personal convictions may vary based on factors like family upbringing, community values, and cultural background. Understanding and embracing our own convictions, as well as respecting those of others, can lead to deeper unity and love amongst believers.
In addition, respecting the opinions and sensibilities of other believers is paramount. As Romans 14:13 advises, we should aim not to cause another brother or sister in Christ to stumble by our actions (including getting a tattoo). In matters of personal preference and conviction, showing sensitivity and deference to others upholds the biblical principle of mutual love and edification.
Vanity and Self-Focus
Beyond the physical act of getting a tattoo, we must also examine our hearts to ensure that our motivations are not steeped in vanity or excessive self-focus. A desire for a tattoo may be an indication of a deeper desire for attention or praise from others. As Christians, our focal point should always be on glorifying God, not drawing attention to ourselves.
1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” This principle should guide every action we take, including the decision to get a tattoo. If the primary desire in getting a tattoo is to enhance our self-image, follow trends or receive compliments from others, it may not align with the Christian call of keeping Christ at the center of all we do.
Conversely, if one’s motive in getting a tattoo is rooted in spiritual growth or a desire to visibly declare Christ’s transforming work in their life, the decision may be more aligned with a God-centered heart. In the end, having a pure and God-focused motivation is paramount in making this decision.
Impact on Relationships
Lastly, we should consider the potential impact that having a tattoo might have on our relationships with others, both believers and unbelievers. Tattoos can be divisive and controversial, leading to strained relationships or missed opportunities for ministry. Weighing these possibilities against the desire for a tattoo can help determine the wisdom of making the choice.
While a tattoo may create temporary barriers with some people, it is essential to remember that relationships are built on many factors, including trust, respect, and shared experiences. If a person judges your faith or character solely based on a tattoo, perhaps it provides an opportunity to engage in dialogue and foster a deeper understanding of both your faith and decision to get a tattoo.
In our interactions with others, both inside and outside the Church, we should strive to be humble, understanding, and compassionate when faced with different opinions about tattoos. Displaying the fruit of the Spirit through love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), even amidst potential disagreements, aligns with the Christian call, regardless of personal perspectives on tattoos.
After delving into the various biblical perspectives and potential implications of tattoos, it becomes evident that the question of whether God approves of tattoos is not answered with a simple yes or no. Instead, believers must prayerfully consider their motivations, the cultural context, and the potential impact on their relationships and testimonies before making this deeply personal decision.
By seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit and examining our hearts, we can ensure that our actions align with God’s desire for us to bring Him glory in all that we do. As we continue to grow in our relationship with Christ and pursue godly wisdom, we develop a greater understanding of how we can best reflect His image and love to those around us – with or without tattoos.
Ultimately, the Christian life is a dynamic journey of constant growth and learning. As we navigate complex decisions like whether to get a tattoo, let us be guided by our primary goal: to honor and glorify God in all aspects of our lives. In doing so, we draw nearer to Him and become the salt and light that He calls us to be in our world (Matthew 5:13-16).