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"For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church." - Ephesians 5:29
The Bible & Tattoos Back to The Bible and Tattoos
Reprinted from Eternal Ink, Volume 1, Issue 2
Many, if not all of us, in the world of tattoo have had Leviticus 19:28 thrown in our faces - "You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord." Usually it is meant to condemn either our profession or our obviously decorated skin. So what is a Christian tattooist or tattoo enthusiast to say? Is tattooing indeed defiling the temple of the Holy Spirit? Are we callously ignoring God’s commandment?
Let’s shed some light on the subject by looking at it through Scriptural doctrines - the law with its conviction, and grace with its freedom.
First, by researching references to Leviticus 19:28, we find it refers to a heathen practice meant to invoke the attention of pagan gods - and usually by means of cutting oneself to "prove" one’s sincerity (see also Leviticus 21:5, Jeremiah 16:6, and Deuteronomy 14:1). It was an attempt to make oneself worthy to approach some graven image of a god through self-abasement. God rightly admonished His chosen people not to follow the pagan rituals of such false "religions".
However, some critics will still hold fast to the literal letter of the law and conclude that regard- less of its textual meaning, the act of tattooing is still forbidden. Granted, the entire Bible is indeed the inspired literal Word of the living God, but it also represents a progressive revelation of its Author - His nature, His grace and His plan for redemption. Taken in the context of God’s plan to restore mankind into fellowship with Him, the law was given to show us that we could not redeem ourselves by our own efforts.
Paul writes in Romans that no man will be justified by the law - that it was given to reveal sin. Only through faith in the free gift of God’s grace, found in the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ, can man be justified (Romans 3:20-26). In fact, Jesus actually redeemed us from the law and its curse (Galatians 3:13, see also Galatians 3:22).
But if one wants to live by the law - the Old Covenant - then one must keep all of it (James 2:10). Transgressing any part of the law means we are guilty of transgressing all of it. According to Levitical law, we may not eat the meat of rabbits or pigs (Leviticus 11:6-7), nor lobsters, crabs, prawns, oysters or clams (Leviticus 11:10-12). Hybrid breeding of livestock and mixing linen and wool in fabrics is prohibited (Leviticus 19:19). Shaving the sides of your head (being clean shaven) or disfiguring the edges of your beard (trimming) are also forbidden (Leviticus 19:27). So - if you’ve ever eaten a pork sandwich, dined on Maine lobster, trimmed your beard or worn a wool blend suit - or have gotten a tattoo - you’re guilty under the law!
Thank God that He has provided a better way for us to be reconciled to Him! A New Covenant! Romans 5:1-2 says we are justified by faith, given right standing with God through the Lord Jesus Christ (see also Romans 5:8-11). The entire 5th chapter of Galatians deals with this issue - contrasting the law and liberty, the lusts of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit.
Under the New Covenant, all the law is fulfilled in loving God with all your heart, soul and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). Jesus fulfilled the law and now our right standing with God is based upon His right standing. Our righteousness is based upon His righteousness - not on the law. Galatians 2:21 puts it this way, "I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain."
In Paul’s day there was controversy over whether a believer would be defiled by eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul addressed this at length. In his understanding, the eating of that meat was neither good nor bad of itself. It was the attitude of the heart that was important. Heart motive either cleansed the meat or condemned the eater. Yet while all things were legal to Paul, not all things were without consequences. (Read the 14th chapter of Romans and 1 Corinthians, chapter 8.) Paul affirmed the freedom we have in Christ, but he also warned us to beware that our liberty does not become a stumbling block for others. With liberty comes responsibility. A word of caution: do not flaunt your Christian freedom. One man’s freedom can be another’s downfall.
Yeah, so what about our body being the "temple" of God? Isn’t it defiled by tattooing? Well, let’s look at the context of those scriptures (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16). In the first instance, Paul is addressing envy, strife and division in the church at Corinth and warning them to be careful of what is built upon the foundation laid down by Jesus lest the temple be defiled. In chapter 6, he refers to sexual immorality as defiling the temple of the body. In 2 Corinthians Paul warns against tainting the bodily temple with idol worship.
Jesus Himself said in Matthew 15:11 that it is what comes out of the mouth of man that defiles him - that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34-35). It is the love, purity and faith that comes out of your heart that keeps your temple holy - or it is the strife, immorality and unbelief within your heart that defiles it.
Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. As Christians we should take dead aim at the devil and his unholy minions - not at brothers and sisters in the Lord who happen to be decorated (or those who are not). Paul himself advises us not to engage in foolish disputes and arguments over the law. He calls it useless and unprofitable (Titus 3:9). Besides, once that machine starts buzzing, I’ve got a great opportunity to have the undivided attention of my customer to share the good news - should he or she have "ears to hear"...
And if all else fails, just tell those critics of tattooing that Leviticus 19:28 states: "You shall not... tattoo any marks on you." - this obviously means don’t tattoo yourself, go to a professional!
Verses as quoted above from the NIV:
Leviticus 11:6-7 - The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is unclean for you. And the pig, though it has a split hoof completely divided, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you.
Leviticus 11:10-12 - But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales - whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water - you are to detest. And since you are to detest them, you must not eat their meat and you must detest their carcasses. Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be detestable to you.
Leviticus 19:19 - Keep my decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.
Leviticus 19:27 - Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.
Leviticus 19:28 - Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.
Leviticus 21:5 - Priests must not shave their heads or shave off the edges of their beards or cut their bodies.
Deuteronomy 14:1 - You are the children of the LORD your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead.
Jeremiah 16:6 - Both high and low will die in this land. They will not be buried or mourned, and no one will cut himself or shave his head for them.
Matthew 12:34-35 - You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
Matthew 15:11 - What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean', but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean'.
Matthew 22:36-40 - "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Romans 3:20-26 - Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Romans 5:1-2 - Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Romans 5:8-11 - But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
1 Corinthians 3:16 - Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?
1 Corinthians 6:19 - Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.
2 Corinthians 6:16 - What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."
Galatians 2:21 - I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
Galatians 3:13 - Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."
Galatians 3:22 - But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
Titus 3:9 - But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.
James 2:10 - For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
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