Does the Bible forbid tattoos for the Christian?
Well the quick answer is no. The Bible does not forbid Christians from getting inked. Someone might say, “but I thought somewhere in the Old Testament it said not to get a tattoo.”
The passage many refer to is Leviticus 19.28:
Leviticus 19:28 28 ‘You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD
I remember as a brand new Christian, having just gotten my second tattoo, hearing a Christian friend encouraging me to have it removed because it was a sin to mark up my body. I was young and pretty biblically illiterate so I believed him (I did not do it, but agreed with his reasoning).
There are a couple of problems with mandating this passage as God’s categorical forbidding of tattoos and specifically relative to the Christian.
1) Leviticus primarily outlines the parameters and practice of worship for the believing Jew under the Old Covenant system. As a Christian we are not obligated to keep the all of the precepts of the Levitical Law, for Jesus Christ our saving substitute has kept them all in our place.
2) It is poor hermeneutics (Bible interpretation) and inconsistent to apply just this one facet of Leviticus to the Christian while not applying others. For example, in this very passage in Leviticus 19 we see prohibitions against: trimming sideburns or beards (v.27) and wearing garments with two different types of materials (v.19) …so much for those polyester/cotton blend white shirts so often sported by fundamentalists on Sunday mornings :/
3) There is some legitimate question as to whether or not the word translated “tattoo” means what we think of today with a tattoo. During the time following the redemption from Egypt the Jews showed signs of being influenced by pagan practices. Many would make deep gashes or cuts in their bodies as a form of self-sacrifice for the sake of trying to honor or appease the pagan gods of death. The Jews had apparently picked up this practice and God here strictly forbids this. When I got my tattoos I did not think of my deceased friends and relatives or any attempt to appease pagan gods.
Further, according to the World Biblical Commentary: “The exact meaning of kethobeth is unknown, it could refer either to making tattoos on the body or to painting the body. Painting the body was a pagan practice. Those preparing to attend a ritual painted their bodies.”
If the term could mean painting then what does that say for face painting at the church picnic? Or getting our hands stamped at the zoo? Or wearing makeup? (wait a minute, some fundamentalists forbid that too, never mind). You get the picture though, this could mean putting any type of mark on the body, whether it is permanent or temporary ink.
So I do not believe that the Bible supports the position that it is sinful to get a tattoo. Of course, as with anything else, one must exercise wisdom in making decisions relative to whether or not they should get a tattoo.
· Financial stewardship must be considered. Tattoos are usually pretty expensive, unless you are in jail, so it is probably a good idea to think through the financial ramifications.
· Location. You probably don’t want to get a tattoo on your face like Mike Tyson. It may hinder ministry a bit (maybe it’ll open new doors, I don’t know).
· Design. This is self explanatory; tattoos should be in good taste.
· Kids. If you are a parent you have the right to tell your kids not to get a tattoo, but just don’t tell them it is forbidden by God for Christians, because they have a brain and they can call you out for shaving your beard. Instead, if you don’t want them to get a tattoo, just pull the trump card (Eph. 6.1) “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right”. It is your rule and it must be followed.
Hopefully this is helpful to think through and a good challenge to interpret the Bible faithfully and consistently.
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