Online articles related to tattoos and religion have something in common. Each topic is capable of creating heated, angered debates in the reader comments. What happens when you combine the two topics is just pure chaos. Case in point, an article titled ‘Inking for Jesus: Dozens of church members take Lenten tattoo challenge‘ recently appeared on CNN’s belief blog. The resulting 900+ comments were exactly what I expected them to be. On one side there are the usual group of people who just plain hate tattoos. But on top of that you now add in the religious crowd who thinks tattoos are an abomination and go against the word of god. It is only a matter of time before the Leviticus quotes begin flowing. Christians just love to use Leviticus to prove without a doubt that tattoos are forbidden by god. The most often quoted passage is Leviticus 19:28.
At first glance, the argument seems pretty clear cut, but hand-picking a single line out of an entire passage doesn’t tell the whole story. If you take the time to read the Leviticus passage in it’s full context, you would see that these laws are referring directly to pagan rituals. There is an excellent article on the Sacred Ink website, http://www.sacredink.net/tattoo_and_the_bible/, which explains this in great detail.
Here is an excerpt where he speaks about Leviticus 19:26-31:
In this passage God is speaking to his covenant people Israel. He is specifically telling them to stay far from the religious practices of the surrounding people groups. The prohibited religious practices in these verses include eating bloody meat, fortune telling, certain hair cuts related to the priests of false cults, cutting or marking the body for dead relatives, cultic prostitution and consulting psychics. All these practices would lead God’s beloved people away from Him and toward false gods that were not Gods at all. In the midst of this context we find the word translated “tattoo marks” in verse 28. It is important to note here that the context of this passage is not one of body décor but one of marking one’s self in connection with cultic religious worship. Bible commentaries tell us much about the eastern religious practices that God was warning His people to shun.
Taken in context, it becomes very clear that it is not about modern day tattoos at all unless the tattoo is being used as part of a religious ceremony. This is why it’s acceptable for people to trim their beards and cut their hair today even though it is forbidden in Leviticus.
1. The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.
2. An act or instance of such falseness.
Leviticus has also been used by Christians to condemn homosexuality. Just like the tattoo argument, they choose to single out this law while ignoring such a large portion of the remaining verses of Leviticus. It must be nice to have the freedom to decide which laws must be followed, and which can be ignored completely.
This clip from The West Wing does a pretty good job of illustrating that point.
Some of the commonly ignored laws of Leviticus are:
- Any person who curseth his mother or father, must be killed.
- If a man cheats on his wife, or vise versa, both the man and the woman must die.
- If a man has sex with a woman on her period, they are both to be “cut off from their people”
- People who have flat noses, or is blind or lame, cannot go to an altar of God
- Anyone who curses or blasphemes God, should be stoned to death by the community.
For a more detailed look at these laws, head over to the Bible Babble website and take a look at this article: http://biblebabble.curbjaw.com/laws.htm
Can anyone honestly read all of these obscure laws and say that they are still applicable in the 21st century? It is generally accepted that we are no longer allowed to go around stoning people to death for cursing their mother or father. These laws are antiquated and many of them are completely irrelevant to our lives today.
For many people, this is no longer about obeying the word of God, but about using the bible to support their point of view. Claiming that “I wasn’t the one who said it, it’s in the bible”, is just a lame excuse that they feel gets them off the hook. But I rarely see anyone respond to the questions posed above regarding the laws which essentially encourage genocide. One of the excuses I recently heard was this:
We can’t stone people because it is against our law.
So, in certain circumstances, the laws of god can be overridden by modern law and you are willing to accept that. But other laws are deemed to be the word of god and nobody dare challenge them. There is no logic in this argument.
Other Pagan Rituals
Since the idea of prohibiting Pagan practices is at the crux of the tattoo argument, let’s examine that argument in a little more detail.
Lev. 19:26-28 is a condemnation of assorted pagan, witchcraft and heathen practices, of which tattooing is clearly one of them. Every commentary written on Lev. 19:28 says that tattooing comes from pagan origins.
The amusing part about this argument is that so many of the modern Christian holidays, symbols and practices were adapted directly from the pagans. We are not talking about obscure practices, but major holidays such as Christmas, and Easter. Practicing these holidays should be considered one of the worst offenses when trying to avoid pagan rituals. The details are far to lengthy and the topic for another post altogether, but those who are interested can read more here: NON-BIBLICAL HOLIDAYS
There was another extensively researched paper, ‘UNDER THE NEEDLE: AN ETHICAL EVALUATION OF TATTOOS AND BODY PIERCINGS‘, which was published in the Christian Research Journal in 2005. The author dives deep into the subject of tattoos, piercings and the bible and reaches the following conclusion:
If the tattoo or body piercing (1) will not violate your conscience or the conscience of others, (2) will not cause permanent harm or disease to your physical body, (3) will not harm your interpersonal relationships, and (4) is symbolic of a spiritual truth that will benefit your relationship with Christ and your witness to the world, then I believe that it will not desecrate the image of God and you as a Christian are free in Christ to go under the needle.
So, while there are a few caveats, tattoos were found to be an acceptable practice for Christians. Those people who want to pluck a single sentence from the bible and use it to condemn all tattoos, need to do a little more research on the subject before jumping to conclusions. Before condemning others for going against the word of god, take a close look at your own life and think about how many violations you are guilty of yourself. Stop being hypocrites and making excuses for ignoring certain laws while trying to uphold others.
If you think that tattoos go against your beliefs, then do not get any tattoos, but for the love of god, stop trying to force those beliefs onto those who do not feel the same way.