The madness continues, more questions and more (hopefully helpful) answers.
Our next question…
What does the Bible say about Tattoos?
Okay, now before I get in trouble for this one, I’m going to talk about what the Bible does say (and it’s not much) then hopefully give some helpful advice. You may agree or disagree, and your parents may agree or disagree, so none of this “But Conor said….” and getting people mad at me.
So as far as the Bible goes there is only one verse, in the over 31, 000 that make up the whole Bible, that says anything specifically about tattoos. It’s this one.
“Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”
Well there you have it! But wait, there are lots of things in Leviticus that we don’t count as binding for Christians, plus what is this verse actually talking about?
This particular verse comes in a section that lists various laws for the people of Israel. Many of these laws would be seen as cultural and not binding on us, but some of them are still wise advice. Prime example: verse 27 says don’t cut the sides of your hair or trim the edges of your beard. Pretty sure we’re all okay with some personal hygiene.
On the other hand verse 29 says don’t degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute. I’d say that’s a good law to have.
So what about all this tattoo business. Well the verse is talking about rituals done for the dead, which would have been a common practice in the land of Canaan and the ancient near east. (by the way most of the laws in Leviticus that make little sense to us have to do with customs that would have been familiar in the religious practices of Canaan. e.g. making clothes of mixed fibers, planting different seeds in the same soil, cooking a goat in it’s mother’s milk – all things forbidden in the Israel law, also all things in the fertility rituals of the surrounding religions. )
This verse is about the mourning practices of the other religions. They would go and make sacrifices, mutilate themselves and be tattooed in the hopes of being connected with their dead ancestors. This wasn’t just like getting a little verse on your arm to remember your grandparents these were extensive rituals to commune with and mourn dead spirits.
So bottom line, if someone quotes Leviticus 19:28 at you for a reason you shouldn’t get a tattoo, they may have missed the point of the verse.
But here’s some more practical advice as well.
1) Tattoos are, unless you want to go through painful and expensive laser treatments, permanent. They will be with you until you “shuffle off this mortal coil.” So before you go getting a tattoo of that amazing new Carly Rae Jepson lyric, take a few moments to think it over. (side note, how is Tom Hanks in her new video? Is he just killing time until Toy Story 4?)
There are many people who have gotten tattoos they regret (ever seen the show America’s worst tattoos?). Getting unwanted tattoos covered up is also expensive and means you’ll have a lot more heavy dark coloured ink on you.
2) Tattoos can be powerful story tellers. (that’s right this isn’t all cautionary). I know people who have tattoos with deep meaning for their life and faith. The Chi, Rho tattoo (see above) is a great conversation starter when someone asks “What’s that tattoo all about?” Hello, open door to tell someone how God’s made a difference in your life. That symbol was used by some early Christians to identify each other. It’s the Greek letter Chi which looks like an English X and the Letter Rho which looks like an English P. This forms the first two letters of Christ in Greek – Χριστός
3) Tattoos are expensive. In all honestly I had planned out a tattoo that I was going to get, but because I was a starving student I opted to be able to eat that month instead of getting a tattoo (I’ve never gotten around to getting it and now I’d probably want something else anyway). I’m not saying don’t do things that are expensive, just be conscious of the fact it isn’t always that cheap.
4) If you get a tattoo from a shady establishment or someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing: a) it may not be very good, (again watch an episode of worst tattoos) or b) you could end up with an infection or something worse. So be careful, the reason #3(the expense) is a factor is because it takes lots of training, time and care to do these things right.
So bottom line – the way people get tattoos now, as a form of expression and art, wasn’t on the radar when the Bible was written. Plus there are some really practical things to consider when thinking about getting a tattoo.
At the end of the day we all bear witness to what we believe in with our lives and our bodies. I know people who bear witness to Christ and who they are in him through the artwork they have on their skin. It opens doors to talk to people and share the love of Christ. I also know people who do the same thing without tattoos. I also know people scared of needles who would get dizzy at just the thought of a tattoo.
So in conclusion, don’t take something that will be with you forever lightly, understand the risks and consequences of any such choice you make, and with all your being and life invest in and proclaim the love of Jesus.