So with the likely potential of ruffling a few feathers here goes…
The common practice among Christians I write about today is that of tattooing. Now by no means do I want to give anyone the idea that getting a tattoo is some sort of “mortal” sin. There are numerous New Testament passages that would suggest we’re at liberty to do many things that were once condemned under the Old Covenant. My query with Christians marking their bodies with tattoos is one of testimony. I believe we need to ask ourselves the question of why God at one time condemned the practice of tattooing. Note Leviticus 19: 28 were God states: “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.”
So if you haven’t studied this passage before “Joe” or “Sally” Christian what would your answer be if someone inquired about the rightness or wrongness of believers getting tattoos?
Would you say that’s just the Old Testament and it no longer applies to us today? Or would you take a more defensive approach and answer the question with another question? A defensive posture would be to question the practice of eating certain meats from unclean animals, blending different cloths together, or planting a field with two kinds of seeds also known as intercropping. These three practices were at one time forbidden for God’s people to do but not now. I’m sure many believers would argue that the prohibition for tattooing is no different than these other restrictions, and with the establishment of the New Covenant our views on such a practice should change. In support of this argument one most likely would point to a passage such as Acts 10 where God corrects Peter’s attitude concerning things clean and unclean or the writings of the Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 8) where he addresses meats offered to idols.
Actually it’s unfair to take one verse out of a particular writing without providing the proper context to the whole article. So, Leviticus 19 begins by focusing on the holiness of God and the statutes which follow are standards for the nation of Israel to keep which reflect His holiness. The keeping of these laws also served as a testimony to the world that God’s people were to be a separate people. Again we need to take the entire passage in its proper context. Each of the laws in Leviticus 19 fall under one of the three distinctions: ceremonial, civil, or moral, and it’s not uncommon as we read the Old Testament to find these distinctions overlapping.
Ceremonial laws related to Israel’s worship and ceased with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Civil laws were those which guided Israel’s daily life, and moral laws were those such as the Ten Commandments which addressed man’s relationship with God and other individuals. Of the Ten Commandments, nine are spoken of in the New Testament as still in effect today. We should expect then that a multiplicity of unquestionable behaviors and activities would be categorized under these nine commandments.
As one reads through Leviticus 19 it becomes obvious that verses 26 – 31 are religious in nature and address pagan practices dating back to the time of Moses and before. It’s also clear that some of these statutes would fall under the area of civil law while others under the moral banner. One could say there are no specific prohibitions against these practices in the New Testament, but then how does one deal with verse 29 which speaks of turning one’s daughter over to prostitution? Surely all would agree to sell a daughter into prostitution is morally reprehensible. I also believe many Christians would agree that verses 26 and 31 concerning witchcraft and other contrary religious practices are wrong from at least a spiritual standpoint. We cannot isolate one part of a scriptural passage in order to justify or condemn a particular practice we may or may not agree with, in general. Remember many laws overlap where we might find commonality with a civil law and a moral law.
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth he did address at least one pagan practice and the applications derived from this teaching are many today. To make a long story short, Paul essentially states we’re at liberty to partake of some things that were once considered part of pagan rituals but freedom doesn’t necessarily equate to a right action. The bottom line comes back to our Christian witness. Again I’m not saying that getting a tattoo is a sin. What I am questioning is the message we’re sending to other impressionable Christians and the world.
In our social media driven society do we really need to see “Sally Christian’s” new tattoo emblazoned across the upper portion of her breast or her lower back? Does “Joe Christian” need to show us his new cross tat and scripture verse on Facebook no matter how good the message may be? When the Church begins to look and act like the secular society in which we live how can we expect the world to see any real distinction? Isn’t the Church called to be different just as the nation of Israel was called to be a separate nation?
I hope you know I don’t mean to sound legalistic or judgmental. I’m just asking a question in brotherly love. Maybe you see tattoos as an art form or even a way of expressing your faith. I’m really just questioning the wisdom of the placing and exhibiting of these markings.
I realize all Christians have a life before Christ and a life with Christ. I readily admit I’ve made many mistakes in my life and even now I still don’t get everything right. Also, in light of all that is taking place in our world with terrorism, extreme poverty, and assortment of other issues in humanity tattoos aren’t a big deal, but our Christian witness is always significant to a lost and dying world.
P.S. No I do not have any tats!