This is a controversial subject indeed. I try not to get into controversial things if I can help it. I realized the need for it the other evening when listening to a conversation between my wife and a group of teenage girls. All the girls come from good, Christian families. They had just finished a Bible study on discipleship. In the conversation, one of the girls mentioned that she could not wait to get a tattoo. Elena opened up to Leviticus 19 and explained to the girls that tattoos are presented in a negative light by God. All of them said that they had never heard that before. That is what caused my jaw to hit the floor. No one wants to cover the subject of tattoos because of the controversial nature. I am not going to land one way or another. I will present some facts and let you draw your own conclusions.
I. The Old Testament view
In Leviticus 19, we find this teaching on tattoos. Before getting to the verse about tattoos, I’d like to present an outline of some of the topics covered in this section of Scripture.
The entire section is about holy living before the Lord. Holy means, “set apart, different from everyone else”. Keep in mind that these laws deal with civil aspects of Jewish society, ceremonial aspects of Jewish society, and moral aspects of Jewish society.
- Honoring parents (respect)
- Do not have idols
- Be mindful of the poor
- Do not steal
- Do not lie
- Do not oppress others (take advantage of their disadvantages)
- Do not practice divination (witchcraft, magic, sorcery, horoscopes, astrology, zodiac)
- Do not practice prostitution
Now we get to the verses that deal with tattoos in the text.
26 ‘You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor practice divination or soothsaying.
27 ‘You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard.
28 ‘You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19)
I included verses 26-27 in the conversation because there is a broad subject here. Many who defend tattoos will point to verse 27 and claim that if you trim your beard then you are sinning against the Lord. Eating things with blood, divination, beard cutting, body cutting, and tattoos are all in the context of pagan, religious practices. These practices also included sexual immorality and communicating with the dead.
Some would argue that getting tattoos today is different. Others even claim that it is okay because they get Bible verses tatted on themselves. God does want us to write the Word of God all around us, but not necessarily on us.
4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!
5 “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
6 “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.
7 ” You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.
8 “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.
9 “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6)
18 “Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. (Deut. 17)
God wants His Word to be written on our hearts. We are to write it on paper as well as in prominent places in our homes. God even encourages us to write out all of His Word by hand for ourselves.
II. The New Testament view
But, we are not under the Old Covenant. We are under the New Covenant and we have freedom now. The Apostle Paul deals with this view in several passages of Scripture.
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
We do have freedom in the New Covenant but, in our freedom, we must not forget that we are still servants of God and that our freedom was bought with a very high price. Freedom is not a license to do whatever we want. Our freedom is manifested in our love of the Lord and our neighbor.
Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. (I Peter 2:16)
Our freedom is not to be a cover for us to do things that God says that we should not do.
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this -not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.
14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.
16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil;
17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14)
Is there a chance that your tattoo could become a stumbling block for others? You may be free to get one but, in doing so, you may cause another to stumble.
One of my favorite arguments for tattoos was used a couple of years ago when I was on a mission trip.
His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. (Revelation 19:12)
And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:16)
The argument was, Jesus has a tattoo on His body so there is nothing wrong with having tattoos. Two things, those accompanying Jesus in Revelation 19 are not tatted up and, you are not Jesus and I am not Jesus. Comparing my tattoo to Jesus’ name is not a very good comparison. When I played sports, I wore my name on my back. Clearly, it was not a tattoo. My name was on the shirt that was on my back.
What are you thoughts? What are your personal convictions?