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John Mark Ministries

Should a Christian Get a Tattoo?

If you want to amuse yourself, type the question 'Should a Christian have a tattoo?' into an internet search engine and watch the sparks fly! Some people see tattoos as okay while others see them as 'evil' and inappropriate for a Christian.

The Bible teaches that God is holy and that he has called us as his people to be holy also. 'Holy' means set apart to the Lord. Holiness is primarily a matter of the heart and it refers to what's happening on the inside of us. This was the focus of Jesus' teaching (see Matt.5-7 as an example).

There are many misconceptions about what holiness is, including an overly strong emphasis on external appearance and particular stances on a variety of non-sinful issues. Having a tattoo does not necessarily make a person 'unholy' nor does not having a tattoo make a person 'holy'.

I don't think you can build a water tight Biblical case against tattoos. It is only mentioned once in the Bible ...

Lev.19:28. "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord." NIV

If you take this as authoritative and with direct relevance to today then you shouldn't cut your hair on the sides or trim the edges of your beard, as instructed in the previous verse.

Lev.19:27. "Do not cut the hair at the sides of the head or clip off the edges of your beard." NIV

You also shouldn't wear clothing with mixed materials, as mentioned a little earlier in this same chapter.

Lev.19:19. "Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material." NIV

Are you weating a cotton and polyester piece of clothing today?

These prohibitions were primarily aimed at ensuring that Israel avoided pagan religious rites. God was clearly forbidding them from various forms of occultic and pagan worship (see also Lev.21:5). Lacerations and disfigurement of the body were common among pagans as signs of mourning and to secure the attention of their deity (see 1 Kings 18:28). These laws were specifically forbidding pagan mourning practices involved in ancestor worship, both of which were major components of life outside of Israel (c.f. Deut.14:1-2. Jer.48:37).

Today there is no earthly ritual system with reference to which we can make distinctions in this way, so the applicability of these laws has ceased to exist. They are no longer directly relevant to us today.

So that leaves the matter of choosing whether to have a tattoo or not as a conscience issue for each individual.

So what principles would we apply to whether or not a Christian should get a tattoo today?

The following questions are worth at least considering:

  1. Why do you want a tattoo? Is this just to follow a trend?
  2. What do you want a tattoo of? There is a big difference between a cross and a snake (or a nude body)!
  3. Have you really thought through the ramifications? Tattoos are permanent and don't come off. For instance, tattooing "I love Mary" on your arm may not go down too well if you end up marrying someone named Jane! I heard a story recently of a woman asking for a tattoo of the name "Brett", only to discover the tattooist made a mistake and tattooed the name "Bert" instead! Of course that's better that a recent article in our local paper of someone going to Thailand and asking for a tattoo of the words 'Geelong Cats - Day Premiers' to be placed on their right arm, only to discover that that tattooist got it wrong and wrote 'Geelong Cats - Gay Premiers' under the actual words 'right arm'!
  4. How big is this tattoo you want? There is a big difference between a small tattoo and covering your whole arm, leg or neck, for instance.
  5. Where is this tattoo going to be? There is a big difference between something discreet than one on your face, for instance.

As far as parents and teenagers, this is an issue for the parents to sort out, not for the church to make a ruling on. Our church does not have an official stance on this issue. Parents have the God-given authority to make a decision either way on this issue for their teenagers (as they do in other areas such as whether to allow them to see certain movies, etc). Teenagers need to obey and honour their parents on matters such as this. Obviously, teenagers may ask 'why' and parents need to be prepared to answer this (which may simply be - "Because I said so", although a more in-depth discussion may be more beneficial). 

 

This is no doubt a controversial issue but we must separate 'Biblical mandates' from 'personal convictions'. Both are necessary and important but we must not confuse the two.

 

P.S. As far as people who already have a tattoo ... church communities should seek to be places that accept people as they are, not based on certain criteria on debatable issues. We want people to feel loved, welcomed and valued - just as they are, in the same way that Jesus did.

Comments

That's funny! I personally don't hugely care if people have tattoos or not. Probably because I grew up with a lot of tattooed people - whether family members or uni housemates. I think there's far more important things to care about... but that's just my opinion. I'd be more worried about getting tattooed with something I got sick of a month or two later! That one about the "gay premiers" is hilarious. Imagine that!

Mark, its really so great to see how you address this issue that many other preachers would consider taboo. This has really helped me to understand and gain perspective... thanks heaps!

Great write-up and very well addressed! I am however not for tattoos. Perhaps its a personal conviction which rests partly in how my conduct (both in character and external appearance) may have on other christians. Certainly comes in line with the stumbling block argument pointed out by the Apostle Paul. I think all Christians must be mindful of this. Personally, as a youth worker, I have to be extra conscious of not putting my "brethens" in a confused state. What i find most damaging is not when a leader falls alone, but when an entire flock he/she has influenced falls as a result of the leader's actions, which may not be damning to hell - but could possibly have consequences and leave a scar. I'm well aware that there's no way we can please everyone, but there are arenas to be avoided - if there is an act that doesn't add much value/benefit, then why enter into it? What do you think?

Having said the above, we must be equally sensitive and not judge others. In all things, love must flourish.

Every blessing to you Pastor Mark!

There is another aspect of this issue that is usually not realised by Christians and applies in other situations as well such as bringing home souveniers from other countries. That is: where was the tatoo applied, who applied it and what is the image of?

In many Asian countries and tourist destinations, lovely looking (for example) carved faces etc. can be Hindu fertility Gods and are often dedicated to that God whilst being made. This sometimes results in the actual habitation of an assigned demon being attached to that object and subsequently causing havoc in the naive tourist's home as it is proudly hung up on a wall.

So it can be with tatoos also, in fact very frequently. In my capacity as leader in prayer ministry I always look for any obvious tatoo on a 'client' as it often can be a source of trouble. I remember clearly the first time I did this, I was told by the 20-something woman that she and her new husband had both got this cute little unknown tattoo on their honeymoon in bali. It looked fairly innocuous but I decided to lay hands on it anyway and cover it with the blood of Jesus. If people could see and experience what then happened, they would be quite shocked.

Lastly, it may be OK to go and have a beer in a pub also but one must remember that many pubs are also dens of iniquity with all sorts of criminal acts and sin taking place on the premises. So you are willingly exposing yourself to this environment; I have not seen too many 'tattoo joints' that are not full of hideous images with horrendous meanings - and what about the person literally changing a part of your body - where have they been and believe in?

All these dangers may be avoided with some trouble, I guess, but the common, hidden spiritual danger needs to be emphasised especially to the young who usually have little idea of the hidden spiritual darkness and motives behind many popularised things of today.

Why would you bother?

There is another aspect of this issue that is usually not realised by Christians and applies in other situations as well such as bringing home souveniers from other countries. That is: where was the tatoo applied, who applied it and what is the image of?

In many Asian countries and tourist destinations, lovely looking (for example) carved faces etc. can be Hindu fertility Gods and are often dedicated to that God whilst being made. This sometimes results in the actual habitation of an assigned demon being attached to that object and subsequently causing havoc in the naive tourist's home as it is proudly hung up on a wall.

So it can be with tatoos also, in fact very frequently. In my capacity as leader in prayer ministry I always look for any obvious tatoo on a 'client' as it often can be a source of trouble. I remember clearly the first time I did this, I was told by the 20-something woman that she and her new husband had both got this cute little unknown tattoo on their honeymoon in bali. It looked fairly innocuous but I decided to lay hands on it anyway and cover it with the blood of Jesus. If people could see and experience what then happened, they would be quite shocked.

Lastly, it may be OK to go and have a beer in a pub also but one must remember that many pubs are also dens of iniquity with all sorts of criminal acts and sin taking place on the premises. So you are willingly exposing yourself to this environment; I have not seen too many 'tattoo joints' that are not full of hideous images with horrendous meanings - and what about the person literally changing a part of your body - where have they been and believe in?

All these dangers may be avoided with some trouble, I guess, but the common, hidden spiritual danger needs to be emphasised especially to the young who usually have little idea of the hidden spiritual darkness and motives behind many popularised things of today.

Why would you bother?

If getting a tattoo is a sin? As mention in the bible, that tattoos are wrong. Then, would u think ear piercing is wrong?? And what more guys piercing their ears?? Some CHRISIAN guys pierce their ears to0... So, does this ACTUALLY mean that they have COMMIT a sin greater than murder or worst than lying to ur spouse?? Tattoos doesn't mean someone is unholy. Holiness comes from action and words and most importantly from the heart.

Hi Mal. Thanks for your comments - you've added some important thinking to the discussion.

Sally, no we're not saying that having a tattoo is sinful nor is ear piercing.

Anonymous - good point!

Great post, Mark! Many people tend to quote Lev.19:28 only and not taking the passage into context of its entirety. Guess it would be good to address that too, huh? =)

I totally agree that it's a personal conviction (whether tattoos or earrings) - one should honestly consider the above questions you listed.

Awesome stuff, Mark! Love reading your posts.

I personally think tattoo's are sweet. I am in love with Jesus Christ, and have been for most of my life, but i ran from him a long time ago. Now, i'm back in his arms, but thats besides the point. I have a huge tattoo on my bicep of the Chi-Rho, or Labarum, which is the first two letters in the Greek spelling of Christ. And, what do people ask me? "Sweet tattoo! What does it mean?", and a door is wide open!

And, i'm hesitant to say this, but in 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about adopting some of the customs of those he was trying to reach specifically for the purpose of reaching them. In a culture of superficial Christianity and churches, alot of people with tattoo sleeves and five piercings in their face are cast out of the church. Thats a whole different problem in and of itself. But, what i'm saying is that, the tattoo I have opens up a door for me to relate to people who do have tattoo's. And, I do plan on getting more. And, i believe its a personal act of worship.

I dont think that tatoos should be worn by christians. Apart from the Biblical injuction warning agains tatooing(Lev.29:18), putting hedious marks on the body attract demons to the person. We should not be decieved by the devil in these last days.

King

Thank you for posting such a balanced look at the tatoo issue! Showing the context of Lev 19:28 really puts things into 'context'! We're often too quick to pull our proof texts out to back up shaky positions. Do I think it's a good idea to get a tatoo? Not really. I'm speaking from experience as I have 4 tatoos. Getting or not getting a tatoo is a matter of personal conviction, but it may not be a profitable action. Be advised that it may hinder you in numerous ways, and even be embarrasing under certain circumstances. It could cause others who are 'weak in the faith' or unbelievers to stumble. Also, please remember, "...do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body. (1Co 6:19-20) Our body is God's temple, so we should bring glory to God with our body. Will your tatoo bring glory to God? I agree that it is a matter of personal conviction, and one that we should not judge one another over. But on the other hand, it is also a matter for mature consideration and prayer since it will be a mark placed permanently on God's 'temple', your body. Certainly, God probably won't appreciate graffiti on your body, and honestly so many tatoos may be in that catagory. Be wise, "Everything is lawful," but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is lawful," but not everything builds others up." (1Co 10:23) It's your decision, only seek God first.

Mark Conner, you say, in the above text “I don’t think you can build a water tight Biblical case against tattoos. It is only mentioned once in the Bible...” You also mention other laws laid down in Leviticus as being too impractical to keep.

BUT jesus actually said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5: 17,18 – New International Version).

Of course, in today’s world most people find it practically impossible to keep the Law down to the smallest letter or the least stroke of a pen, but I do happen to know that it’s very easy NOT to get tattooed....

Frank Mitchell, is it then a matter of keeping the easy laws and only writing off the "stoning the adulterers" and "avoiding pork" and other things that seem a bit tricky? What good does fulfilling the "little" laws do if you have dispensed with the "big" ones.

I think the law is great for showing us the character of God. Purity. Justice. Faithfulness. Mercy. Compassion. Holiness. All of these things are depicted as God's nature by the law. And Jesus fulfills all of this - the WHOLE law and the Prophets. Our new commandment becomes to display the character of God - whether that involves or precludes having a tattoo seems to be very much a product of the culture, and whether it's beneficial - a separate concern.

King - philosophically speaking, how do you determine what attracts demons to one's body? Marks left by surgery? Birthmarks? Moles? I can see an argument if the tattoo design is spiritually based in the occult, and applied by an occult practitioner with occult prayer. But as a Christian, doesn't the mark I bear of Jesus' blood trump any claim some little demon will try to put on me? It's like curses. Any spiritual aspect to a curse can be dispensed with in ten seconds by reminding the power behind the curse that we belong to the Absolute Power, and its claims are revoked by Jesus' atonement and deliverance.

I think that sets us free from concerns like that. It makes sense to ask not "Is it wrong?" or "Is it a sin?" Everything is a sin if you try hard enough. Rather ask "Will it bring glory to God?" and "Will it help my fellow human to know God?". Love the Lord and love one another - that's the law and the prophets right there.

It's great that Josh's inked shoulder actually enables him to share the gospel. In other contexts, maybe it would be a hindrance. And if he had a random design, maybe it would do no good and no harm. Context is important. Does it bring glory to God? Does it help people? If yes and yes, ink away!!

I don’t think that anyone can just walk away from the words of Jesus. Talking about the Law, Jesus also said “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5: 19 - N.I.V.) He was referring to the whole Law until the end of time, no exceptions. Now there are several passages of laws the keeping of which are not only impractical for us, nowadays, but which, if kept, would subject us to criminal prosecution in our own countries. But none of this revokes the Law. It simply means that none of us will be keeping the whole Law. The apostles recognized this problem in Acts 15: 5-11, when Peter stated that the Law was a yoke too great for Gentiles and even for the Jews to bear (i.e. TOO DIFFICULT), so they decided not to preach the Law because simply keeping it saves nobody and they were concerned primarily with saving people’s souls, which is accomplished by faith. But they couldn’t revoke the Law. We all recognize that keeping the Law does not bring salvation to anyone. Job himself recognized it when he said “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25 – N.I.V.) So even Job was to be saved by faith rather than by keeping the Law.
But I do think that I must keep the Law TO THE EXTENT POSSIBLE because a person shows his LOVE for God by obeying His commands. So, regarding “The Christian and tattoos”, i.e., SHOULD a Christian get one? Well, the only time that God mentioned tattoos He said “no”! Now,
in addition to our love of God, why else should we keep the law concerning no tattoos? Well, a lot of scholars think that the law against tattoos was proclaimed in order to distinguish the Jews from their pagan neighbours who had tattoos. So WHO until about ten years ago had tattoos, in our Christian society? As far as I know, they were bikers, military men and hookers. So when supposedly Christian women (for example) started turning up with tattoos they caused a lot of upset in their communities because they were no longer keeping themselves distinct from hookers as far as body decoration goes. And that factor still exists in the minds of many people today.
Paul wrote about food: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.” (1 Corinthians 8: 9-11 – N.I.V.) The principle is the same when applied to tattoos. So I’m very surprised when I hear of Christian women and even pastors flaunting their tattoos in front of their neighbours, many of whom feel offended at the sight. These Christians are doing with their tattoos what St. Paul would not do with food.
Many Christians, even today, will give up their lives for their neighbours. But many Christians will not give up even their “right” to a tattoo!!!

I don't think anybody has a "right" to a tattoo. I'm not advocating tattoos. I AM advocating against a firm No Tattoos position. I think what tattooed Christians (and many untattooed Christians) would struggle with is a perception that they're being held to the letter of law even as Christ assures them he has accomplished all of it on their behalf.

You speak of us keeping the law regarding the tattoos as though it continues to be God's absolute will. From the same source we get the dictates about facial and head hair. Do you also advocate the avoidance of beard trimming or cutting the sides of the hair? Do you eat pork? Do you sacrifice the correct number of pigeons or spotless lambs as prescribed in the Mosaic law? If you do, full credit to you. But it still doesn't count for much, as the apostle Paul attests - he was a star Jew and still found he fell short.

The law has been fulfilled. Jesus did it, and gave us new access and new laws - in him, if we love God and love our neighbour - we (i.e. Jesus and us - effectively, Jesus!) have the law covered. We are now able to approach the Father directly and say "Daddy God, do you think I should get a tattoo?" If the answer is "Yes, Frank/Tristan, I can see your motive there, and it will bring me pleasure and help to spread my love to the people in your community when they ask about its significance!" then obey. If the answer is "Frank/Tristan, I don't think that's a great idea, because of XYZ reasons. Thanks for asking - I love you!", then obey.

I think the meat-offered-to-idols dilemma is often the true test of a mature and wise person in any situation. All things are permissible in Christ, but not everything is beneficial. I can paint my head purple and walk around like that all day, but will it do any good? Will people listen to my testimony on the bus, or will they write me off as a nutter, or will I be surrounded by curious kids and be able to share the gospel with them? Some things are not sinful or wrong, but they're just misguided and unhelpful in some circumstances, and helpful in others. That's what I'd be wondering about the tattoo - what's the fruit? What good comes of it. Does it advance the kingdom?

If all my friends had tribal designs and random Chinese and Kanji characters, and I had a big fat cross and John 3:16, I'd still be set apart, right? There'd be no mistaking me for a bikie or a hooker, especially if everything else about me said "man of Godly integrity and compassion".

In the interests of full disclosure, I'll let you know that I have no tattoos, and don't plan to get any, although I appreciate the artform and don't have a problem with people (Christians or otherwise) who do have tattoos except for where it's obviously a foolish move that will actually hurt them (swastika on forehead, horrible artistic skills, misspellings(!), etc.) It's more for the reason that I can't think of one particular design I'd like on my body for the rest of my life, and it wouldn't particularly benefit those around me in the same way as, say, sponsoring a child in the Third World (which I do).

I must admit that in spite of your warnings, I can muster no sense of shame about the way I flaunt my trimmed beard and short sided hair in front of my neighbours, and the last barbeque where we had marinated pork spare ribs didn't cause me the slightest twinge of conscience. :)

Could it be that you're choosing your observable laws based on societal convention and convenience - and as per your statement about whom, to your knowledge, had tattoos ten years ago, not only that but your particular perception of societal convention? I dispute your knowledge in that regard, by the way.

I respond with these points not as an attack or disrespect, but I'm curious to know how you go about practically maintaining the position that the law remains in force for our lives in this era of the Lord's favour. I understand that it isn't revoked, but how are you choosing which bits to retain and which to ignore (aside from the stuff that our society has declared illegal, like stoning adulterers)? I ask for information, not as a rhetorical "How CAN you?!" Fill me in - I'm happy to be corrected by wiser heads.

Good discussion - thanks Mark for letting us graffiti your blog with such ramblings.

Tristan, you wrote that “You speak of us keeping the law regarding the tattoos as though it continues to be God’s absolute will. From the same source we get the dictates about facial and head hair.”
But the Bible states “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind." (1Samuel 15:29 – N.I.V.). So, yes, it must continue to be God’s absolute will.
You also asked if I advocate the avoidance of beard trimming or cutting the sides of the hair or if I eat pork or sacrifice the correct number of pigeons or spotless lambs as prescribed in the Mosaic law. But what I may happen to advocate or eat or sacrifice in no way changes Christian doctrine. I’m not that important! A question has been raised in this blog, viz, “Should a Christian get a Tattoo?” and in answer to that question I’m merely repeating the law on tattoos and that Jesus said, in Matthew 5, “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” I don’t think that leaves any room for “interpretation”.
But, yes, I do take part in ritual sacrifice under Mosaic law every time I take communion!
You say “The law has been fulfilled.” Yes, it has been fulfilled by Jesus and embraces every person whose name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 21: 27) including people in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Job knew his Redeemer (Job 19:25), and David refers to the Book of Life in Psalm 69:28. So Jesus fulfilled the Law by complying with the Law’s requirement by which a perfect sacrifice had to be made to atone for every living person’s sins (“living” in the Biblical sense), whether they lived in the Old Testament or in the New Testament. So why attempt to say that ONLY people in the O.T. were under an obligation to keep the Law but NOT people in the N.T.? Are people today so much better than Job and David and Moses himself?
If the Law were not to apply to us, then neither you nor I would need Jesus to have paid for our transgressions! Paul made the point that Jews and Gentiles are all under sin (Romans 3: 9). We Gentiles could not be under sin if the Law did not apply to us. And John wrote that “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins.” 1 John 3: 4,5 – N.I.V.)
You ask “Could it be that you're choosing your observable laws based on societal convention and convenience - and as per your statement about whom, to your knowledge, had tattoos ten years ago, not only that but your particular perception of societal convention? I dispute your knowledge in that regard, by the way.”
But when I was a young man, dating British and American and Brazilian girls, no educated young woman of our Christian culture would have dreamed of getting a tattoo. No way! (No intellectually honest person who lived at that time would dispute that.) And I’ve spent many, many years on tropical beaches with not a tattoo in sight. Sure, those are things I could see personally, but so could (and did) anyone else see and hear the same things. The only female tattoos to be seen were on hookers. None of that was MY particular perception, as you imply.
But, for good measure, I copied this from a site that is not anti-tattoo: “Regardless of the origin, the primary focus of modern tattoos is self-expression. Once seen as taboo in Western cultures, the stereotypes associated with tattoos are slowly being disbanded. In years passed, some viewed tattoos as a symbol of lower social classes. Years ago, tattoos were only worn by slaves, harlots, prostitutes, and adulterers. Many years later tattoos became a trend among sailors. The trend gave way to men in various branches of the service, baring arms in ink. Although still not socially acceptable, tattoos began to become more common in the 60's. Bikers made a name for the tattoo industry in the late 60's and early 70's. Then in the 80's and 90's, heavy metal music and big hair bands saw a surge in the American tattoo trend, which brought it front and center in the public eye.” (from Tattoos: Yesterday’s Stigma or Tomorrow’s Statement? by Nickole Bane, July 21, 2008)
There is also the common expression “tramp stamp”, referring to tattoos on the lower back.
I’m not writing all this to condemn anyone who got a tattoo. I am attempting to answer the question that was asked on this blog, which now involves explaining why so many people have felt upset at the appearance of tattoos in Christian communities, particularly among women.
Also, you ask “how are you choosing which bits to retain and which to ignore (aside from the stuff that our society has declared illegal, like stoning adulterers)? I ask for information, not as a rhetorical "How CAN you?!" Fill me in - I'm happy to be corrected by wiser heads.”
However, what I myself do (or fail to do) in no way changes the Law. Again, I’m not that important! But you can be sure I’ve broken many, many laws.

Thanks, Frank. I appreciate your insight there. You're right, there IS a large stigma associated with tattoos. What I was getting at is that generations of sailors and soldiers have had tattoos, and they were not unheard of in upper class circles even several centuries ago - but tended to be displayed less openly than the "tramp stamp" or full sleeve of today - neck-to-knee bathing costumes hide a lot of skin!

I'm wondering whether, as the public perception of tattoos moves from "harlots and bikies" to "anyone who chooses that method of self-expression", whether so too will the view of their suitability for Christians.

I understand that God and the Mosaic law do not change, but it seems to me that God's methods DO change. He remains the same, yet he is always doing new things. The way he relates to people changed after Jesus' death and resurrection - a new covenant, which, as you said, we share in communion.

The "cause a brother to stumble" consideration regarding tattoos is likely to become less pertinent with cultural change, dying out along with the generations that equate tattoos with prostitutes and nogoodniks, in the same way that the wearing of earrings and lipstick and trousers for women is becoming a set of non-issues.

No doubt we all have broken many laws, but I'm trying to find a coherent position where the law is either a guideline or to be followed to the letter. That's why I'm exploring what you think, Frank - though, as you humbly admit, you're not the final authority, you've obviously thought hard about it and have some insight.

Regardless of what you personally have or haven't done in following the law, if you're advocating abstaining from tattoos on the basis of the law remaining in effect, musn't you also (philosophically, at least) advocate for the abolition of the pork and shellfish industries (Deut 14:8-10) and greater regulation of the barbering sector with regards to the hair on the sides of the head (Lev 19:27)? In the same way as we lobby against abortion and for third world debt relief, mustn't we try to rescue our nation from the grip of eating unclean pigs and so on?

I'm not suggesting that we need those things, but it seems the logical extension of the "keep following the law" part of your reasoning for avoiding tattoos.

It seems to me that unless we are to go the whole hog (the completely wrong expression, given the above example!) and place back on ourselves the requirement to observe the entire Mosaic law, rather than to adopt the new covenant of Jesus which fulfills but does not revoke the law, we can't really use it to support the no-tattoo position.

In my view, it's similar to the circumcision issue that the early church grappled with. Paul's vision of the unclean animals coming down from heaven, with God's instruction "Eat" (Acts 11:1-10 is applicable to more than just pigs and shellfish and rock badgers (mmm, tasty!) - Paul himself applies it to circumcision. It says "The law - it's still in effect. But now that Jesus has done it for us, if God says it's OK, it's OK."

I think that the needs of others (1 Cor 8:13, Romans 14:13 and 14:21) are very pertinent, and hold up much better as grounds for an anti-tattoo stance. It's where the stigma comes into play. We can agree that tattoos hold certain connotations for certain demographics, and that if it becomes a problem for those people, it's not wise to wave our liberty in their faces and plead innocence when they struggle with it. But if a day comes where having a tattoo is NOT going to cause brothers to stumble, I don't see any problem.

That would be my position. Tattoos - not always a great idea, but not prohibited just on the basis of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. If in doubt, the default or cultural norm (the least brother-stumbling option) is the way to go. In this case, it's having no tattoo - very rarely a problem.

So I think you're right, Frank, but I'm curious to see where your position on the law takes you when you follow it through to its logical conclusions. Perhaps I'm still missing the point, or maybe I still have a lot to learn. I respect your willingness to engage in dialogue. I guess we're getting away from the topic at hand and into "replacement theology and its implications", so I think I'll leave it at that, so as not to inappropriately clutter Mark's blog with my meta-topic diatribes - closing the barn door now that the horse has bolted?! :)

Thanks for the discussion, Frank. Bless you, man! I pray we all find God's view, whatever it is.

Tristan, thank you for your generous comment.
I agree that tattoos might tend to offend less and less, as people grow accustomed to them, but the law concerning them will not change. On the Day of Judgement, those who do NOT belong to Jesus will be tried and condemned.... under the Law.... with not one letter altered by God....
So I think it’s unwise to preach “no law”. It’s wise to preach “forgiveness for breaking the Law”....
I believe that Paul adopted a “don’t ask; don’t tell” policy (1 Corinthians 10: 27-29).
I’m happy to read that you lobby against abortion. It’s a great divider!
About food. For ten years I followed very strict rules concerning food. I hadn’t yet read the Bible but I did it out of conscience: no pork; a minimum of fish and fowl and so on. I stopped when I perceived it was harming my wife. Also, 100% cotton whenever I found it. Afterwards I read the Bible (thanks to my wife). And I discovered that we are now allowed to eat of anything (Acts 11). How do I regard that? Well, James Bond had a licence to kill (even though the law forbids it). And God has given me a licence to eat....
Other rules and regulations: I don’t follow the Law, but prefer to apply the “beneficial and constructive” criterion. And here we come to the nub of the matter: to acknowledge the difference between legal and illegal (especially when we do what's illegal), and the difference between true and false.
I’m not looking to point my finger at anyone with a tattoo. I’m just trying to get at the TRUTH about tattoos and the Law. Jesus said “I am the way and the TRUTH and the life”....
So, that's it....
I wish you the best, in this life and (hopefully) the next!

Thanks, Frank. I'm leaving it up to Jesus to determine who I'll be seeing in the next life - I hope we're both there with him too!

It's come to my attention that it was Peter who had the vision of the unclean animals being lowered down in a sheet (Acts 11), rather than Paul as I incorrectly said in my previous post. Sorry about that. A case of robbing Peter to pay Paul? :)

I don't understand how people with tattoos can cause others in the faith to stumble, as it has been stated here, any more than anything could cause impressionable people in the faith to stumble. It seems ridiculous to me.

And what about THIS passage, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."

I am a Gothic person by the way, and EXTREMELY so. What do you all have to say about extreme makeup, clothing, and Gothic ideas/attitude as it applies to religion/Christianity? I'm just curious.

Hello, Courtney. I’m answering your comment because when you write “as it has been stated here” I think you’re referring to one of my comments.
1) Paul in his writings recommended that Christians should not openly do things which others believe to be wrong, because it would be an example which they might follow and so violate their own consciences. He was talking about food, holy days and suchlike, which were issues amongst people at that time. In one of my comments I applied the same reasoning to tattoos, which are an issue today.
2) About 1 Corinthians 6: 19,20. Those verses are the continuation of a passage in which Paul told men they should not sleep with whores, which would desecrate their own bodies. By the way, the only women in our own culture who got tattooed, until fairly recently, were whores. That is what is getting a segment of Christians upset when they see Christian women doing, today, what only whores used to do until recently, in matters of body decoration.
3) If you describe what “extreme makeup, clothing, and Gothic ideas/attitude as it applies to religion/Christianity” are, then it might help me to understand you better, if you’re interested in my views. I just hope that my foregoing comments haven’t turned you off, but they are factual.

Hi Courtney

There are many different dress and clothing styles that vary from generation to generation and from culture to culture (including sub-cultures). Biblically, there is a good argument for ‘modesty’ in dress but beyond that we don’t have much to go on. I see it as a matter of personal preference and appropriateness.

As far as not causing other people to ‘stumble’, this is an important principle but is often over-used by religious people to take away the freedom we have in Christ. The ‘weaker brother’ is the person who has a weak conscience and we need to be sensitive to them and do everything in love. However, that does not mean trying to please everyone. You’ll never do that and whatever you do, someone may criticise it. Jesus spent time with ‘sinners’ and this offended the Pharisees but he did not stop doing that.

Some Christians have a conscience that permits them to drink alcohol in moderation or get a tattoo. No doubt, Christians may be offended by this due to their sensitive conscience in those areas. You would want to be aware of this and maybe not drink in their presence or flaunt a tatto but it does not mean that you have to give up every freedom you have because someone might be offended by it.

Gothic dress? It depends who you see yourself as and what your community is. If you live amongst conservative people it might be a barrier to reaching them ... while amongst other people of a similar sub-culture, it may help you reach them with God’s love. The key issue is your heart, your love for God, and your motivation.

Hope this helps :)

Yes, Frank, Jesus did come to fulfil all of the law.

The key issue for us as Christians today is which OT laws are applicable?. Jesus and Paul reaffirmed all of the 10 commandments (the moral law), other than keeping a literal Sabbath Day. However, all ceremonial laws were abolished at the cross due to the perfect and final sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Civil laws were for the theocracy of Israel which no longer exists, though there is wisdom in them for govenments today.

The one intruction was in the context avoiding of pagan idolatrous rites. This command is not repeated or reaffirmed anywhere else in the Bible, including in the New Testament. As I said in my original post, if we are to obey this command in full today, then to be consistent we should also obey the other commands around it (not wearing clothing of two kinds, etc). To pick and choose would be inappropriate.

My conclusion is that the biblical support against or for tattoos is weak (it's not good practice to build a strong case for anything on one Bible verse alone). Therefore, I believe it is a 'conscience' issue for each believer to decide prayerfully, considering the ramifications so their decision.

I don’t have a tattoo and don’t plan on getting one (probably because I couldn’t endure the pain!). My 20 year old son has a Celtic cross tattoo on his arm. For him it is a symbol of his faith, which he shares freely when asked about it. Each to his own.

Thanks Frank

Mark, hello. Thank you for your very interesting blog and for your patience in hearing me out.

I used to accept that not all laws were applicable to Christians today, until I came up against a solid Rock!

What Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5: 18) The words “not the smallest” and “not the least” make no distinction between civil, moral and/or ceremonial laws. I just cannot walk away from that! And heaven and earth only get to disappear in Revelation. On the other hand, those for whom Jesus died are, indeed, “free” from the Law, as Paul stated more than once. So let’s reconcile the two:

Let’s take a hypothetical person and call him (her) XYZ:


1) Let’s assume that Jesus was crucified to save a lot of people but NOT XYZ: In this case, XYZ will be tried, condemned and cast into the lake of fire, on the Day of Judgement. He (she) will be condemned for everything, including having a tattoo. “… The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” (Revelation 20: 12 – N.I.V.) and also “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12: 36 – N.I.V.) I cannot imagine unsaved Old Testament people being judged under one set of rules and unsaved New Testament people under another!


2) But now let’s assume that XYZ’s name IS in the Book of Life and that Jesus WAS crucified to save him (or her): In this case, XYZ has ALREADY been judged, condemned and punished for every single transgression, including wearing mixed fibres, committing adultery, robbing a bank, having a bad haircut and getting tattooed. XYZ has been judged and then put to death in the person of Jesus Christ, as He hung on the cross. So on the day of Judgement XYZ will not go on trial again, even if he (she) does have a tattoo. It’s the DOUBLE JEOPARDY RULE.


But Jesus said that every letter of the Law still exists. It has not been abolished. So, when the New Testament states that Christians have been “freed” from the Law, it simply means that one cannot be punished twice for the same transgressions and Jesus has already been punished on behalf of those He saved.

I believe that, even though certain things are unwise, the person is sacred. I believe that Jesus died for the prostitute but not for prostitution; He died for the homosexual but not for homosexuality; He died for the murderer but not for homicide; He died for the guy with the hair cut at the sides of his head (forbidden in Leviticus 19: 27) but not for his hairstyle; He died for the gothic girl but not for her tattoos… And so on.

Anyway, to the point: Instead of cherry picking my way through 613 (?) Mosaic laws and rules and regulations, I prefer to acknowledge that Jesus spoke the truth; that all the laws are still in effect and to confess that I’ve probably broken most of them and I really hope that Jesus died for me, too. I think that’s better than entering into a state of denial. I’m not getting a tattoo because the fact that I’ve broken most of the laws is no reason for me to invest money and pain just to break one more! Re the pain, we do have that in common! By the way, I have six grown-up children; one of the youngest has a couple of tattoos and she got an earful from my wife and me…

Again, thank you for your patience.

Thanks for your comments, Frank

Jesus was into 'simple'. He summarised all those 100s of OT laws into 2 - love God and love people. I think that is what God is looking for.

On debateable issues, Paul says we need to be convinced in our own mind and follow our conscience. Where we differ with other we can still love.

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