A very controversial topic that often comes up among Christians is that of tattoos. As often is the case, many Christians are divided over the issue. Some think tattoos are acceptable, others do not. Some think it is a personal decision. I thought I would finally dig into this issue.
First just let me say, if you do have a tattoo, please do not be offended at all by this article. I am just providing general scriptures, along with my interpretation and views.
I received a great question recently regarding tattoos. I have actually been planning on eventually addressing the issue in detail anyway, so I am glad to finally be able to write about it. Here is the question:
What does the scriptures say about tattoos? I recall reading some where in the Bible that tattoos are a portal for evil spirits to enter your body. Please correct me if I have misunderstood. If I am on point please give me some good details and reference. Thanks for all of your help. I truly thank you for the insight you have given me.
Thank you very much for your question Hunnee. I will try to explain what the bible says about tattoos, and try to explain my opinions and beliefs about them. I know that this is a very controversial topic among Christians, and I have carefully considered the scriptures, as well as both arguments for and against the practice of getting tattoos by other Christians.
What Does the Bible Say About Permanent Tattoos, Body Markings, and Ink?
The bible does indeed specifically mention bodily markings of what we call “tattoos” today. This verse occurs in Leviticus 19:8:
“ ‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.
Now, this is a very direct verse, and God seems very firm and serious about it. He commands not to cut on their bodies (a common pagan practice), and not to put tattoo marks on themselves (yet another pagan practice). Then He reminds them of his authority at the end by proclaiming, “I am the Lord.” In other words, God says don’t do this….why you ask? Because I am the Lord and I said so, that’s why!
So let us consider some possible issues that are around this verse. First, what is the context of the scripture? Secondly, is this a law or covenant only for Israel, or does it apply to all? Thirdly, what is a tattoo anyway, and what does it mean? Is it God’s best for us? Did Jesus get a tattoo?
Before I get to that, let me address the part of your question about the evil spirits entering from the tattoos.
Are Tattoos Portals for Evil Spirits?
The bible only mentions tattoos in that verse above. I have seen nothing else to suggest tattoos have anything to do with evil spirits or anything like that. Pagans may have gotten tattoos to worship idols or evil spirits, but that doesn’t mean tattoos will invite them or allow them to enter the body.
I know a lot of people who have tattoos, and they haven’t been possessed yet. I also know that the bible does talk about evil spirits, and never does it say they were there because of a tattoo. In fact, Jesus even drives out some demons from a boy, so I doubt a young child would have had a tattoo. So that is probably an ancient myth from another culture or piece of literature or history.
What is the Context of the Leviticus Passage About Tattoos?
In this passage, the context is that God is giving commands to Israel, and trying to separate and differentiate them from other (more evil) pagans that surrounded them. Keep in mind, these weren’t your typical odd neighbors. These people that surrounded Israel at the time would kill their firstborn children to sacrifice to false idols, they would drink blood for fun, kill random people, and all sorts of demonic and bizarre activity that would absolutely be frowned upon today.
In other words, they weren’t very Godly people. God knows this, and makes very sharp commands for them to refrain from this behavior. I suppose God does this for many reasons. First, perhaps God doesn’t want a foreigner to be mistaken as a fellow Israelite or vice versa. So he doesn’t want an Israelite to have a similar appearance as the pagans. Secondly, these pagans would do things such as draw tattoos in honor of false Gods, and God clearly didn’t want them doing that either, etc. Thirdly, there is a serious risk of infection from cutting, piercing, or tattooing the body at this point. It isn’t like they can disinfect it with a bottle of alcohol they purchased from Walmart. So there is a legitimate medical reason as well.
Does This Command Apply Only To Israel and the “Old Covenant,” or Does it Apply To Everyone?
There is no doubt that God makes it very clear that some laws are meant only for the nation of Israel, and some laws are universal laws for all of mankind. So how do we know which law is which?
First, we can immediately identify laws meant only for Israel because they are specifically directed to Israel. For example, there is a law which dictates that if a man has a rash, he should go outside of the tabernacle until one of the priests can see him. Obviously, that doesn’t apply today. Instead we go to a doctor, and there is no “tabernacle.”
God tells Moses to lead Israel around in the wilderness. Obviously, this is only meant for a specific period of time. It isn’t meant for us today. It is history. They have been made a nation.
Other laws, however, still stand today. These include all laws which were not for the temporary “covenant” meant only for Israel. These laws include the 10 commandments, and more.
The bible says not to drink blood , but I think we can all agree that this applied to everyone, not just the Israelites.
What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos? Is it a sin?
This is a question many Christians struggle with. I believe tattooing falls into the category of "disputable matters where the Bible is not clear.
But wait a minute, you might be thinking. The Bible says in Leviticus 19:28, "Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord." (NLT) How much clearer can that be?
It's important, however, to look at the verse in context.
This passage in Leviticus, including the surrounding text, is specifically dealing with the pagan religious rituals of the people living around the Israelites.
God’s desire is to set his people apart from other cultures. The focus here is prohibiting worldly, heathen worship and witchcraft.
God forbids his holy people to engage in idolatrous, pagan worship and sorcery which imitates the heathens. He does this out of protection, because he knows this will lead them away from the one true God.
It's interesting to observe verse 26, "Do not eat meat that has not been drained of its blood," and verse 27, "Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards." Well, certainly many Christians today eat non-kosher meats and get haircuts without participating in the forbidden worship of pagans. Back then these customs were associated with pagan rites and rituals. Today they are not.
So, the important question remains, is getting a tattoo a form of pagan, worldly worship still forbidden by God today? My answer is, this matter is disputable, and should be treated as a Romans 14 issue.
If you are considering the question, "To tattoo or not to?" I think the more serious questions to ask yourself are:
What are my motives for wanting a tattoo?
Am I seeking to glorify God or draw attention to myself?
Will my tattoo be a source of contention for my loved ones?
Will getting a tattoo cause me to disobey my parents?
Will my tattoo cause someone who is weak in the faith to stumble?
In my article, "What to Do When the Bible is Not Clear," we discover that God has given us a means to judge our motives and weigh our decisions.
Romans 14:23 states, "...everything that does not come from faith is sin." Now that's pretty clear!
Instead of asking, "Is it okay for a Christian to get a tattoo," perhaps a better question might be, "Is it okay for me to get a tattoo?"
Since tattooing is such a controversial issue today, I think it's important to examine your heart and your motives before you make the decision.
Self Exam - To Tattoo or Not To?
Here is a self-exam based on the ideas put forth in Romans 14. These questions will help you decide whether or not getting a tattoo is a sin for you:
How does my heart and my conscience convict me?
Do I have freedom in Christ and a clear conscience before the Lord regarding the decision to get a tattoo?
Am I passing judgment on a brother or sister because I don't have freedom in Christ to receive a tattoo?
Will I still want this tattoo years from now?
Will my parents and family approve, and/or will my future spouse want me to have this tattoo?
Will I cause a weaker brother to stumble if I receive a tattoo?
Is my decision based on faith and will the result be glorifying to God?
Ultimately, the decision is between you and God. Though it may not be a black and white issue, there is a right choice for each individual. Take some time to honestly answer these questions and the Lord will show you what to do.
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