Q&A: Are Tattoos OK?

My husband and I were talking the other day, and he said he thought it would be sexy if I got a tattoo.  What does the Bible say about this?  I haven’t found anything about it in the Bible, unless you call it defiling the temple, and I’m not sure if it is or not.  What do you think?

Tattoos are becoming very popular. What used to be only something you would see on a sailor or member of a motor cycle gang is now becoming very common place, even for people in the church. There is a verse in Leviticus 19 which is often cited as God’s law against all tattoos. “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.” We do really need to take the time to understand what the Lord was saying in this because the previous verse says that men are not to shave the sides of their heads or beards either. What was God’s concern when he declared these things?

The Hebrew people were overtaking the land and all around them there were non-Jews who were taking part in practices which involved acts that showed their pagan worship of the sun god during their mourning of deceased loved ones. The four practices mentioned in this portion of scripture refer to those acts of mourning. Cutting, shaving or pulling out hair from the sides of the head. Cutting, shaving or pulling out the hair from the sides of the beard. Cutting marks on the body. And printing marks on the body, aka tattooing. There are other places in scripture where the trimming of the head or beard is commanded as an act of mourning (Numbers 6) so we need to perceive what God’s intention was when he said these things.

What I believe this portion of scripture teaches us about God’s concern for us is that He does not want us doing things as worship to false gods. In scriptural examples, so often two people did the same thing, but it was their heart that determined if it was acceptable or not. Cain and Able are a perfect example. They both brought offerings to the Lord, but they had radically different heart conditions. One was acceptable, one was not. We must do everything unto His glory. He wants His people set apart. When we mourn, He wants us to seek Him as our comforter.

All this context is vital to perceiving a godly response to the question, “Are tattoos OK?” It is easier to pile up all the evidence for and against and then place a yes or no judgement that would apply to all people, but that is not how I believe the Lord operates. The older I get, the less I see the world in black and white. I don’t think we can say that everyone is free to go ahead and get a tattoo. Neither do I think it is wise to say that tattoos are absolutely forbidden in all circumstances for all people. If I am convicted that it is not right for me to be tattooed, I ought not put that judgement on another person. And if I have been given freedom to be tattooed, I ought not look down on my sister or brother with pride because they do not have the freedom that I do. How many different examples could we give in this? Whether or not to consume alcohol. Whether or not to wear make up. Whether or not to marry. Whether or not to celebrate halloween. The list goes on and on and on. It’s endless and few things are black and white. The heart of worshipping other gods is sin, but how that plays out in your life is between you and the Lord.

So I can not give the woman who wrote in a definite yes, that she she go ahead and get a tattoo. Her relationship with the Lord is vastly different than mine, but what I can tell her how this question has played out in my life. It’s quite simple. I grew up believing that all tattoos showed that you were in rebellion to God. I no longer believe this to be true. I have come to the place where I would like to get a tattoo and I have received freedom from the Lord that it would be OK for me. The reason I haven’t is because my husband is not convinced he would want me to and since my body belongs to him as well, I will not get one without his blessing. So you can see that even though I have received freedom, I am choosing to honour my husband above my freedom.

I hope this has helped you.

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