Throughout my ministry I have been asked questions concerning the Christian and the tattoo. No, not the little guy from Fantasy Island, but the printings that more and more people, within the body of Christ, are having permanently put onto their bodies. Let me explain why I’m wanting to write about this now. As many of you know, I am currently looking for full time employment. Since resigning as Lead Pastor of Desperation Church I have had some interesting ‘jobs’, to say the least. Although they each have had their difficulties, I am so grateful to the Lord for allowing me to have experienced them. Finding a job that pays the bills, while allowing me to continue in my calling to ‘pastor’ people, has proven to be somewhat challenging. I’m confident that God is in control of our lives, so I truly am not concerned about finding a ‘job’, however, I’m also learning that being a ‘pastor’ for over two decades is a hard thing to shake. I guess I just still really want to be one. One of the things that has been challenging, besides needing to be in a place that will provide the right ‘climate’ for my wife and her health issues, are my tattoos. Funny, but I’ve run into numerous people (especially Christians) who don’t compute how a radical Christian man can be okay with permanent ink marking his body, even if they are all Bible verses and ‘Christian’ symbols. I suppose I can’t blame them, because honestly… most of the people I see with tattoos are a little scary. I often see some guy, all tatted up, sitting on the side of the road smoking something that smells like skunk, and think to myself, “Do I look like that to other people?”
Regardless, because I am asked so often, here’s some thoughts on Christians having tattoos. I hope this helps shed some light on why I feel this is an ‘okay’ practice… when the Holy Spirit has led a person to do so.
The Scripture often sited as to why Christians should not get tattoos is Leviticus 19:28. In the KJV it states, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord”. In the NASB it states, “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.” Maybe you’re thinking, ‘Wow, Michael. That seems pretty straight-forward‘. Well, not so fast. This is the only verse that comes anywhere close to even mentioning this practice. Why does it mention it? Tattooing and body piercing were commonly done for the dead in Egypt, as part of their religion.
R.K. Harrison (author of Tyndale Old Testament commentaries: Leviticus) states the following on the verses in question:
“The ancient world was burdened unbelievably by gross superstition of this sort, which had absolutely no place in the life of a nation dedicated to obey the One and only true God… The shaping of the hair on the temples and beard or the incising of patterns on the skin, formed part of pagan mourning practices and as such were prohibited. The disfiguring of the skin, which probably included some emblems of pagan deities, dishonored the divine image in a person, and was forbidden because it did not reflect God’s holiness. Bereavement must be accepted as part of God’s will for the individual’s life, and no attempt must be made to propitiate the deceased in any way.”
I find it interesting that those who use this verse to make the point that tattoos are always wrong, never seem to call to attention verse 27, which states, “You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard.” The practice of shaving a man’s long side-burns or trimming his long beard is not seen as wrong at all, whereas tattoos and piercings are considered by so many to be ‘Biblically wrong’. This seems inconsistent.
The word translated ‘mark’ or ‘tattoo’ in these verses is the Hebrew word, “qa’aqu“ and it is a masculine noun referring to a mark, but it indicates incised marks or patterns on a person’s body. Obviously, “incised” means to make or cut into with a sharp tool, to carve into a surface, to engrave (Webster’s New Riverside Dictionary). Thus, the latter part of this verse seems to be re-stating the former part, which basically says, “don’t make any cuttings in your flesh”. This does not sound as though it is describing the modern practice of tattooing.
Also interesting: The statement, “I am the Lord” is repeated fifteen times in this chapter of only thirty-seven verses. It is a statement through which we are reminded that as Lord, God not only had the wisdom to establish laws He knew would lead to the happiness of holiness, but that He had the power to enforce them as well. The truth is that God loves His people and wants His very best for them. God’s people had been in slavery for many years. Their former ‘masters’ would oftentimes ‘mark’ their slaves, much like modern-day farmers ‘mark’ their cattle, in order to show whom they belonged. God, in these verses, seems to be stating (15 times to be exact) that His people don’t have any other master… “He is their Lord” – “He is their Master”. They shouldn’t be ‘marking’ themselves in any way which associates them with their pagan past or their pagan present culture.
When I am reminded by some that “our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and thus we should not get tattoos because we are desecrating His temple” quoting 1 Corinthians 3:16 (“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”), I remind them of the following verse that states, “…for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple“. The temple is now the corporate gathering of believers in Jesus Christ. When two or more of us gather in His name, He is there in our midst. Even in 1 Corinthians 6, we read about our bodies being God’s temple, but the context is Paul’s teaching about church life and the sexual immorality that was occurring in their local church at the time. If our individual bodies were truly supposed to be that important, then we should all be in the gym for hours a day. Perhaps the muscle-bound folks that spend hours working on “their bodies” are truly the holy ones after all? Obviously, I say that with tongue-in-cheek. 1 Samuel 16:7 declares to us a wonderful truth about our God, “…The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (NIV).
Sometimes I’ll hear Christians say, “Yeah, but we’re not supposed to look like the world!” To that I say, “Amen“. But what does that mean? Does that mean that we are not supposed to wear the same clothes that the world wears? Should we all wear robes? Should Christian women wear make-up? I mean, where do we draw the line on appearance? Perhaps, when the Bible speaks of not looking like the world, it is speaking of our behavior?
I am a God-follower, and I have multiple tattoos. Each of my tattoos are reminders to me of some particular aspect of my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. To write about each one of them and what they mean to me would take far too long for the purposes of this writing. However, when someone, who is already a God-follower, asks me questions concerning whether or not they should get a tattoo, my standard response is:“Have you asked God? What do you feel the Holy Spirit whispering to you about it?” In other words, “Who cares what I think… what does God want for you?” Further, I will ask them to consider, “Will the tattoo associate you with anything other than God? Is it just a ‘mark’ that you think is ‘pretty’ or ‘cool’, or is it something that reminds you of, or points you to, God? In the deepest part of your heart, honestly, why do you want to get it? Is your answer one that you feel makes God smile?”
Ultimately, that’s all that really matters, right? Making God smile? I want my life to bring the Master massive amounts of glory… that’s it!