Tue March 27th, 2018
It seems a much more popular thing these days, but "getting some ink" - having a tattoo – seems to be in fashion. Body modification - having piercings, is also a subject of popular interest. What has the church got to say about these things? What used to be the property of sailors, outlaws, and biker gangs is now a popular body decoration for many people. And it's not just anchors, skulls, and battleships anymore — from school emblems to Celtic designs to personalized symbols, people have found many ways to express themselves with their tattoos. Maybe you've thought about getting one? In the UK you have to be 18 or over to have a tattoo (parental consent doesn't change anything) but there are always younger kids in school with some ink. You have to ask yourself though if a tattooist will flout the law on age what about on hygiene? On 22nd April 2013 the Daily Mail reported that an 'energetic and sporty' 23-year-old died hours after getting a tattoo. Federica Lammatteo, a student from Milan, was said to be 'in perfect health', before getting a new design inked onto her body. But the next morning she went into septic shock, haemorrhaging. That night her heart stopped and she died.
The Jewish Position
Practicing Jews do not in general allow tattoos because of the prohibition of Leviticus and later writings in the Mishnah.
Lev 19:26"'Do not practice divination or seek omens. 27 "'Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. 28 "'Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord. 29 "'Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will turn to prostitution and be filled with wickedness. NIV
This prohibition appears on a list of things that degrade the human body and a religious Jew will still argue against it or at least frown upon it. Of course, people around the Jews often disfigured their bodies or tattooed themselves as acts of worship to other 'gods' and some have dismissed Leviticus because it is fairly rare now for a tattoo to be the result of inappropriate worship. However, the writer of Leviticus is appealing not to comparisons with other nations and their rites for the dead or worship but actually to the image of God in which man is made. The Jewish view of the scriptures and indeed the standard view of Christian commentators is that God made man in His own image and we should not defile or disfigure that image.
The Christian Position
What about the New Testament and the Christian perspective? When In writing to the Corinthians Paul talks about our bodies being temples to God, He is basically using the same argument. Remember that Paul is also writing about degrading ourselves with sexual immorality.
1 Cor 6:19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.
I have known a number of people who have had tattoos, both Christians and non-Christians. I have known Christians who have had a "tattoo for Jesus"(!) They had very different markings but all shared one thing in common – the vast majority become very unhappy with their markings at a later date. The industry statistics show that people go for laser treatment to burn off their tattoos as little as two years after having them, but that which is appealing when you are 20 is rarely tolerable when you are 40!
Life calls for wisdom, and there is genuinely no points system for making your own mess of things – rather if you look into this matter and see that very few people are happy with their tattoos in later life, why not use wisdom and save your body the trauma. How many people have had a girlfriend or boyfriend's name tattooed on their arm only to find that the following year they are with someone else? What about miss spellings? I went into a supermarket the other day and was served at the checkout by a lad whose tattoo read "I am to busy" (should be "too"). Oops, wouldn't you think that if your spelling was that bad you would at least go to a tattooist that could spell? Remember it even happened to Beckham! Can't we do what we want with our own bodies though?
I met a young man with a boy’s name tattooed on his arm – I asked him if that was his son’s name and he told me ‘Yes, but I don’t have anything to do with him or his mum anymore’. A sad mark that describes a real pain on at least 3 hearts.
1 Cor 6:12 "I have the right to do anything," you say—but not everything is beneficial.
What is permissible may not be beneficial. At the end of the day you can do anything you want with your body, but is it beneficial in the long run. This tendency to have ever increasing holes in your ears – it may look rebellious and hip when you are 17 but what about when you want a job in a bank when you are 25? Many piercings are because the owner sees them as attractive or perhaps their friends do. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that eye changes with time. Many piercings heal up reasonably well, but you have also to remember that they may leave a lasting scar. Only the other day a woman probably in her 20's walked towards me, and all I noticed was the scar on the side of her nose, breaking an otherwise unblemished face, showing, presumably, where she had previously had a nose piercing.
Piercing in the genitals the nipples and tongue may be chosen with "legitimate" reasons, but ultimately, they are there for sexual purposes which the Bible covers with its boundaries about sexual behaviour. The Bible offers us many boundaries which we can accept as wisdom or refuse as interference. We cannot legislate our faith on unbelievers but in the church, we have good reason to raise this from time to time, as we are reminded that our bodies should be temples to God's Spirit and we should look after them accordingly. For the same reasons, we should not sleep around, or be overweight in such a way to stress our bodies. What we must remember is that people who come to Christ might already have a tattoo or a piercing and it is highly inappropriate to get on their case about it. The Holy Spirit will speak to them in due course and if they come to you asking for an opinion, always speak from a scriptural perspective, don't just condemn them. Remember God looks on the heart not on the ink!
1 Sam 16:7 The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
We want them in the body of Christ whatever they have stuffed in their body!
I once met someone who had a discrete tattoo that covered a nasty scar. It was her choice to cover something that was unpleasant to her. I have to be honest and say that I am not sure that it offended me and I wonder what God thought? I certainly understood where she was coming from.
The bottom line is that you don't need God to tell you about things like this if you have any wisdom at all. Get wisdom – it will save you from such adventures. If you want scripture for it then remember your body is the Lord's – don't mess it up. The least convincing argument I ever heard for having a tat or a BM (body modification) was "it makes me more relevant and helps me connect with the unchurched" – come on now – we all know that being friendly is all you need! If you want to argue the point, then get on with it, but really you have lost before you start. The fact is that it doesn't make any difference to me whether you have scars or tattoos, faded or new. The issue is have you decided to make Jesus Lord of your life – which includes your body – or are you still playing at it?
When we come to Christ we all bear the scars of this life, but God is gracious and forgiving, accepting us as we are. We can change our behaviours, God can even work on our character, but external things are just external. We must never judge anyone for any visible mark or protrusion from their body because we know that God has declined to judge us for our most secret sins, let alone a bit of ink.
If you have tattoos from the past then thank God for his goodness that you are no longer living there. If you have piercings then talk to God about them and sort it out with Him, but if you now know Christ, my advice is don't mess about with that anymore, and let your skin and the rest of your body remain holy unto the Lord.