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Storkersen: Tattoos and the Bible

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Even though all Christians will agree that the Bible is true, we will sometimes interpret specific passages of scripture differently and therefore, end up having different opinions on some issues.

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We will all be on the same side when it comes to major doctrines: Jesus being the one way to Heaven, that He died on the cross and rose on the third day; but that doesn’t change the fact that we may disagree on minor things such as what I’m going to talk about today. The issue at hand in this article is going to be tattoos. The question that people always ask, and the one I’ve heard many friends debate on, is this: “Is it okay for Christians to get tattoos?” Or rather, “Does the Bible say tattoos are sinful?”

Now the central verse in this debate amongst Christians is in the Old Testament in the book of

Leviticus. I’ve written a separate article online that deals more thoroughly with Old Testament laws and how they apply to us today. For now, let’s focus in on the verse that leads to the controversy over tattoos.

Leviticus 19:28“You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord”

Many Christians have read this verse before, and will get very confused. It seems quite clear that the scripture is telling us here that we shouldn’t tattoo ourselves. God even declares “I am the Lord” once He is done giving the command to show verification that it is authoritative from God Himself. I will be straightforward that I was very confused by verses like this for quite some time until I figured out a method of sorting through confusing areas of the Bible.

This method is pretty simple and I assure you it will be helpful in the future when trying to discern what certain Bible verses are trying to say. This method is to look in to and understand the context; to understand scripture you need to understand what the background is of what the author is writing. So when you arrive at a verse that seems strange, look at three different areas of context that will produce clarity: paragraph structure, time period, and culture.

In the case of the verse about tattoos, understanding all three contextual devices is necessary; beginning with paragraph structure. So let’s look at the entire paragraph that we take this verse from.

“You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it, nor shall you interpret omens or tell fortunes. You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.”

Leviticus 19:26-28

When you look at the paragraph structure first and understand that specific time period and culture, it becomes clear that the paragraph is speaking against ancient pagan practices. Although eating flesh, interpreting omens, and telling fortunes seem obvious to us as pagan practices, the others in the paragraph are not. The section comments on a man rounding off his hair or marring the edges of his beard and puts them in the same category as other forms of ancient pagan worship. Here’s where understanding the time and culture comes in to practice; those that worshiped the dead/pagan gods often had a distinctive physical appearance. This included how the men wore their hair and beards. In addition, which brings us to the subject of this article, it included tattoos. Tattoos in that time were exclusively something that those who worshiped the dead and pagan gods had. Therefore, if someone who believed in the God of the Bible had a tattoo, they would be associated with someone who worshiped the dead or someone who belonged to a pagan religion. Many commands in the Old Testament are like this, they were simply wisdom-based commands for the men and women of that time and culture.

Keep that idea in mind; and now fast-forward to today’s time period and culture. Twenty-first century in the United States of America. If you see someone with a tattoo, is your immediate assumption that they worship dead people? Or that they belong to some specific religion? The answer is “of course not!”

The biblical command to not tattoo ourselves was merely for the Hebrew people to not be associated with pagans because of the time period and culture in which they lived. So it is in fact okay for Christians to get tattoos and it is not sinful for them to do so.

If you are a Christian and you are considering getting a tattoo, know that it is not sinful for you to do so and you shouldn’t be judged because of it. Although, I stated that God forbidding tattoos was a wisdom-based command. Subsequently, tattoos are not sinful; but a Christian, just like a non-christian, should still honestly ask themselves if the tattoo they are getting and where they are getting it is a wise decision. It is possible for something to not be sinful while still being unwise. So my encouragement is to carefully consider your tattoos before you get them so you can be happy with your ink and live your life for the glory of God.

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