What Christians Are Saying About My Tattoos, And How I am Responding

Tattoos have been around since the earliest days of civilization. Though not found among the Jews, body modification was common to numerous other people groups. Among Christians, however, there has not been much of a history of tattooing. When it became a part of western culture in the 18th century, it was largely considered by Christians to be unacceptable and taboo. Today it is an issue that is still debated. As both a Christian and one who has tattoos I hope to show that there is nothing irreconcilable about the two, and in fact tattoos can be an intriguing way to proclaim the gospel.

The common criticism against tattoo artwork for Christians is to quote two particular scriptural passages as proof that God does not want His children to get tattoos. The first verse I’ll point to is the Pauline passage stating that “your body is a temple” (1 Corinthians 6:19). The insinuation that some Christians make concerning this passage and its relationship to tattoos is as follows: If your body is a temple of the “Holy Spirit within you,” then you should not mark that temple, but keep it pure and healthy. This same passage is used for discouraging Christians from drinking and smoking.

The assumption, however, is that tattooing your body would somehow disgrace, mar, or stain the temple. I am not sure where this comes from or what compels people to make that assumption. If we consider carefully the appearance of the temples in ancient cultures we would quickly note that most, if not all, were marked with paintings, stylized architectural elements, and more. They were marked up to emphasize their grandness and beauty. In that case, it would seem that tattooing your body could be commended. But if that is too much of a stretch for some then I think I can at least say there is nothing inherent within 1 Corinthians 6:19 which prohibits tattoos for Christians.

The second passage most people quote is a bit more technical and difficult to deal with. It is found in Leviticus 19:28. The text reads, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead, or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.” Now how can I read this text and justify that tattoo running down my arm? The text seems clear: don’t tattoo yourselves, says the Lord.

It’s important, however, to pay careful attention to the nature of the text. This particular command has two important features that we must consider. The first has to do with context. In the context of this passage God is commanding Israel not to associate themselves with the practices of pagan nations who do such things as “mark their bodies for the dead” and tattoo themselves as part of their pagan religion. God is warning Israel not to associate themselves with pagan religious practices but to remain pure and true to the only living God. Now if tattooing was commonly done today as a symbol of devotion to pagan religions then this argument could stand. And while certainly there are still many who do associate tattooing with pagan religions, the connection is no longer pure.

The second feature of this passage that we must consider is that the command falls under what Old Testament theologians identify as Israelite civil law. There is a major difference between Israelite civil law and moral law. The civil law was given to Israel specifically as a theocracy to keep them pure and to govern their life. The moral law was given to Israel and to all Christians as a means of governing their lives and spiritual health. The moral laws are such things as the Ten Commandments, which Jesus reiterates in the New Testament. The civil law includes such things as food laws. It is among the latter that this command falls. We can see that if we look at the surrounding verses as well. Verse 27 states that men should not trim their sideburns or beards. Why is it that my critics are quick to cite verse 28, but do not themselves see a problem with breaking verse 27? We can both trim our facial hair and tattoo our bodies because these commands are part of Jewish civil law and therefore do not apply to Christians.

That there is nothing wrong with getting at tattoo is well and good, but one might also wonder what is the benefit of getting a tattoo. Just because something is allowable does not necessarily make it a great idea. You can sprint across the freeway during rush hour, but why would you want to (and don’t say, “To get to the other side)?

I do think, however, that there are some helpful things that tattoos can do for Christians. In my own life my tattoos have already opened up several opportunities to share the gospel, not the least of which was with my tattoo artist. Particular tattoos create curious questions and comments each of which can open the door to gospel conversations. There is no doubt that there are other ways to start and initiate these conversations, but there were some very natural conversations that developed from my tattoos.

There is a great deal that each individual needs to consider before he or she gets a tattoo. Important questions like: who will this affect? Will this dishonor or disobey my parents? Will this make my employment more difficult? And other such questions. But in the end there is nothing unbiblical about tattoos, and one might be able to argue for some gospel potential from them. So tattoo your body with caution, and for the sake of the gospel!

About Dave Dunham
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  • http://www.gospelcenteredmusings.com michael dewalt
  • http://www.newwaystheology.blogspot.com/ Mason

    David,
    Great points, and almost thought for thought the reasoning that led me to the place where I know have two tattoos. I think you need to be smart about it (your face might be a bad move for example) and safe about who does it, and have the right motives, but if all those things are in line then I’m all for it.
    For me personally tats have become markers for some of major events in my life.

    Masons last blog post..Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision

  • Alan Noble

    David,
    Thanks for this post. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to get a tattoo myself. I’m still struggling to find something worth putting on my body permanently. There’s a part of me that would love the Rebel symbol (from Star Wars) on my shoulder, but the wiser part of me retorts that I’ll regret it later. Can I ask what your tattoos are? And have you had any problems working as a pastor or teacher because of them? And where do you have them (if you can say)?

    -Alan

  • Brooke

    Good points! I go to bible school and MANY of the students have tattoos. I don’t see a problem with it…
    I Want to get a tattoo but my parents would KILL me. In this case I find it would be rebellion to get a tattoo even though I am an adult.

  • David Dunham

    Alan,

    The tattoo is of three stars, decreasing in size (l, m, sm), running down the inside of my right arm. I think you can see a picture on my facebook page. The church I work at now is really culturally diverse and they are open to just about anything (as long as the gospel continues to be preached). So we have other staff members who have tattoos and such. There are Christians from other churches who are appalled by it, and some of the older folks in the non-Christian community are against it. But in terms of non-Christians that make contact with they find it interesting that a pastor would have a tattoo and this has made them more willing to engage with me in conversations.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    My personal rule for tattoo getting has been that I have to want the same exact design for two years straight before I’ll get one. So, of course, I’m still tattoo free.

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • David Dunham

    Great rule Dane…I’ve wanted my particular design for 8 or 9 years.

  • http://lawngospel.wordpress.com Brother Hank

    Interesting thoughts my brother. I realize your focus of this post is mainly to debunk the force of the two passages you quoted, but it should be noted that there are more whollistic arguments against tattoos that are not quite as simple as “The Bible never says I can’t” (my quote, not yours). Of course, the issue here is that the Bible is not just a “rule book”, rather it is The “Life Book” revealing to us the Life-Giver in Jesus Christ, giving us all we need for life and godliness. That being understood, we need to realize that the Bible probably has much more to say about tattoos than we’d like to admit; or more aptly stated, it has much more to say about the heart of tattoos than mere “prohibitive silence.”

    If you are attempting to prove the morality of tattoos, it seems like you should be looking for more of a positive ethical force in Scripture to accept tattoos, rather than attempting to highlight the absense of their prohibition. Look at the themes of self-denial, radical discipleship, holiness, temporality, eternality, and others — and then try to “make” a case for tattoos, rather than being content to dismantle the more shallow of your opponents’ cases. It is vain, arrogant, and foolish to ever do something merely because “we can,” and if one is a Christian, it is often ungodly. Behind every action, there is a heart (which is what Christ highlighted often in his ministry). Because of that, our question here must be: What Scriptural force is impacting the heart of those seeking tattoos? What epistles of Paul, or what random Levitical law is encouraging tattoos? And if we find none, then what biblical themes lend support to their presence on our bodies?

    If these proofs are not present, then before you go under the needle, you should go back to the Book.

    Brother Hanks last blog post..The Christian and Sexual Gluttony

  • Pingback: Back to the Tatts: The Elephant in the Tattoo Debate Room « Lawn Gospel

  • http://www.bullseyetattoos.com Vern Masterson

    Ultimately, it’s the motive for adorning oneself that needs to be brought under scrutiny. The appropriateness of getting a tattoo in the first place isn’t a question for scripture, but for the individual. If a person has what you might call “godly” motives for getting some in put under their skin, there is truly nothing wrong with it. Conversely, if someone has self-serving or crass motives for getting their ink, then everything is wrong with it, regardless of the subject matter.

    Motives matter supremely.

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Hank,

    I think that’s a pretty poor argument that sets a dangerous precedent for Christian living.

    For instance, as my family grows, so does our need for a minivan. Now, a car like that is more expensive, less fuel efficient, and more luxurious than, say, a station wagon. Am I prevented from spending more money on it because I can’t find a positive reason for taking the more comfortable choice?

    My wife has pierced ears. It’s nice when I can give her a gift of earrings to express love, and when she wears them she looks nice. Should she stop, because Scripture allows it but doesn’t present a positive case FOR it?

    Southern Seminary has beautiful grounds, and they are kept beautiful (and even improved upon) by means of lots of money. Where in Scripture do you find a positive case for the aesthetic improvement of a training ground for pastors? And please don’t tell me the temple- that’s very different territory.

    I’m told that some people like to wear cowboy hats. Let me help you out… you really don’t need one. It’s merely an aesthetic choice that expresses something you like about the life and situation God has given you, even at risk of communicating certain things to other people. However, Scripture decidedly does not actively promote the wearing of cowboy hats.

    Each Christian is called to live out faithfulness as best they can. But within that structure, there are millions of little decisions that help us understand ourselves in relation to God, and to understand and express the individuality he has given us. Our clothing, interior decoration, and computer screen wallpaper all are attempts to explore and express that gift in the world.

    When a person takes a tatoo, sure, they should be careful. It’s the same as any other decision that affects things in the long term, and should be handled carefully and wisely, with close watch on motivations and purposes.

    But to argue that a tattoo gets its own category apart from thousands of other aesthetic decisions (especially in a culture where tattoos are not feared as they once were) and therefore demands special warrant from Scripture is simply incorrect.

    So before you criticize someone for going under the needle, go back to The Book.

    Ben Bartletts last blog post..A Song and a Blessing

  • David Dunham

    Thanks for responding to that comment Ben. I seemed to have missed that critique which was quick to accuse me of being “vain, arrogant, foolish…and…ungodly.” You are absolutely right in your response, however, that Brother Hank’s hermeneutic is poor here.

  • http://lawngospel.wordpress.com Brother Hank

    David-

    If you got a tattoo merely because you could, it was indeed a vain thing to do, etc. But that doesn’t seem to be your reasoning from your post, so the description doesn’t apply to you. :)

    Ben-

    Thanks for responding.

    Besides wearing a cowboy hat (which cost something as well), all of your examples focus primarily on excusing an action because of the monetary issues involved. That wasn’t the focus of my post, but merely part of my response to the comment above. Either way, money is not the point. If you were able to get a tattoo for free, the theological and philosophical problems would still hold true.

    Secondly, it is a mistake to defend tattoos as just another “aesthetic decision.” The color of my drapes does not imprint itself on my flesh — permanently. What kind of car I drive does not mutilate my body — be it a minivan or a PT Cruiser. My garden has nothing to do with my skin. But tattoos do. And the Bible cares about our bodies, whether our dualistic/Gnostic tendencies admit it or not. And because the Bible cares about our bodies, so should we. Job said he came into the world naked, and went out the same. Many of us will die old, but that is not our choice. The fact that many of us will die with self mutilated flesh is a choice that requires defending…much more than the kind of car we drove while we were alive.

    Which brings me back to the main idea which you brought up in your last paragraph: What motives are right and what are wrong? And how do we gauge them? Can I force my 2 year old to get a tattoo of a fish on his arm to start evangelistic conversations with the baby sitter? Why not? He’s my flesh and blood, I can do with him as I please, right? Or can I just get a random tattoo of Ron Paul on my back? I own myself anyways, right?

    Simply put, we are not free to do as we like, we are free to do as God wills. That means our actions must consist of more thought than merely, “This is permissible because it is not prohibited.” The Bible never prohibits cremation, so does that mean it can glorify God? Human cloning is never prohibited, so can the proper motive excuse it? Designer babies are never condemned in Scripture, so are we then free to express our God-given individuality in creating them?

    The fact is, you know certain things are not just “open to discernment.” The fact that so many claim that tattoos are, is not proof of their neutrality, it’s just proof of their cultural acceptance (which should tell us something right there)…

    Brother Hanks last blog post..Children: Striking Fear in the Hearts of Christians Everywhere

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Well. I can hear why you don’t want a tattoo, and that’s fine. But I don’t hear you giving any arguments that support the notion that you can’t.

    Obviously I’m not saying you have the right to put a tattoo on your 2 year old… he is not yours.

    Also, I’m not sure where you come up with the “self-mutilation” language, but it sounds to me like you’re using wording that sounds especially terrible (mutilation! To yourself!) to support your point, when really it isn’t that at all.

    And if you’re worried that Job’s poetic description of coming into and going out of the world without possessions constrains you not to have a tattoo, fine. But hermeneutically, that’s not a sustainable position. Saying the Bible, “cares about our bodies,” isn’t really an argument when getting a tattoo isn’t destructive or dangerous.

    My examples were not all monetary. One was earrings… is it ok for a woman to have pierced ears? What about at the top of her ear lobe? What about a pierced nose?

    I think you and I do agree that motives are important. But when your motives are right, none of the general concepts you cite (the bible cares about our bodies, naked we came and naked we shall go, etc.) are even remotely prohibitive.

    At its core, the hard-line response to tattoos is basically legalism, where new rules are being created that violate the original spirit and intent of Scripture.

    Ben Bartletts last blog post..A Song and a Blessing

  • Adidas

    Hi, Im struggling to make myself a tattoo on my arm. How if I tattoo a Jesus’ face on my arm. Does it mean unholy or misuse the name of the Lord? Or it means disrespect to the Lord? pls give me comment..thanks…

  • David Dunham

    Adidas,

    I think the first thing you should realize is that no one knows what Jesus looked like. There is no artistic representation that accurately depicts Jesus. Most Western representations reflect a white European man, which is ridiculous. In terms of whether or not it is okay to tattoo a representation of Jesus on your arm is really something you will need to prayerfully consider. There are lots of different views on images of God. Thanks for your question though.

  • Jen

    I loved this article and all the comments that followed. I too am a tatooed BA Christian. I just went to my local tatoo shop to have an old tattoed redone. When I was very young I walked into a tatoo shop and without any thought at all said “oh that is cute” pointing to a half moon and star! Thought “oh the back of the neck is cute” lol. Young and dumb I wound up putting what I found out later was a very close variation of the Islamic Symbol moon/star. Ugh!! I have disliked it every since. Now its going to be tastefully redone as the Chi-Rho and I am so excited! Underneath it will proclaim “I believe!”. My goodness what better way to spread the good news and what a commitment to have that inked forever. My daughter also has a beautiful cross with the word “Christ” in beautiful script underneath it on her back. You can’t believe the compliments that she gets on it. Even older, more conservative types remark on how beautiful and inspirational her ink is.

    Anyway, its true, not inking your body, not marring your temple is OT. OT is an important part of our history as Christians and paves the way for the coming of our Savior as seen in the NT however I believe in the sanctity of my “temple” as far as not abusing it in much deeper ways. I don’t smoke, drink, I don’t give myself to men, I exercise and eat right. That is the way I care for my temple. I certainly do not think I am disrespecting my vessel by proclaiming my love for our Savior by inking it onto my body.

  • Jen

    PS: Jesus would not and does not like those of us who love Him who happen to be tatooed being scrutinized and JUDGED by other so called Christians. What is more against NT law, inking the body or judging those who chose to do so?? Tisk tisk to all you judgy wudgy “Christians”.

  • Graham

    I’m also a born again Christian, struggling with guilt, doubt and struggling to find my place in His house once again. I have a monster half sleeve tribal that I got a few years ago, and now coming back into Christ, I feel so ashamed for having it,I didn’t have the struggle of “What would God think” or any other rational thought behind getting it, I just got it cause it looked cool, and I guess a part of me wanted to fit in. Now I’m stuck between getting it removed (I can’t imagine how much this would cost), and redoing it to glorify Christ, and mark myself to remind myself of why I am who I am now. While thinking about it by myself, I decided to have a look at what others believe (others being people who have been Christians and followed for longer than I have, I still consider myself very uneducated in the ways of Christianity even though I’ve lived with knowledge (not understanding) of it for quite some time). I don’t want to be “Worldly” or use “gimmicks” to draw people to faith in Christ (NOT saying that is what some of you are doing, just some reasons I’ve read against having tattoos), But I do, very much so wish to honor Jesus in everything I do, including transforming my worldly creation to something that glorifies him, I just don’t want to do it in a way He see’s as sinful, unfit or despicable. Any input is appreciated.

  • David Ebin

    Christians can find so many reasons to please the will of their own interest, no matter what the truth is, bending the truth is what makes people happier and feel good. This happened in cases such as adapting secular music into Christianity, all Babylonian method of worship into Christianity, believing that the High Priest our Lord Jesus Christ drank alcohol, etc. The answer for tattoo should be NO! Other than that is an abomination. Christians are busy looking for Bible verses saying ‘do not get tattoo’. On the other side, they will not get any verses saying ‘go get tattoo’. Besides, tattoo origin is paganism. Israel was forbidden to practice any of them. Tattoo is a contemporary fashion. Gospel need to be shared and preached and Christians method has to be clear. Daniel stands for what is godly! Jesus did not acted like a playboy when He approached the Samaritan woman. Did Peter and Paul keep changing their fashion in evangelism? The prophet and disciples preached the truth and gave examples to be followed. What makes the Gospel clear is that we stand to be an example to the society! Why do have to be confirmed to the world? How can we make a difference if we busy confirming ourself to the trend of this world? If tattoo’s origin is paganism then it should be NO tattoo for Christians. Imagery is forbidden by the ten commandments. They are so many examples in the Bible that forbid us or giving us the reason not to have tattoo. Syncrinism is an abomination. Truth is always painful for people who loves the things of this world. On the other side, truth brings joy to believers.

  • David Dunham

    David,

    Thanks for your comment. You wrote:

    “They are so many examples in the Bible that forbid us or giving us the reason not to have tattoo.”

    I’ll ignore your poor grammar and simply ask for some specifics.

    Thanks,
    Dave

  • PJ

    I can’t remember where I read it so I have no source to quote, but I read once that the tattooing described in Leviticus was actually more of a branding and the pagans would then rub the ashes of their deceased loved ones into the freshly burned skin. It’s a different process certainly though I’m not trying to justify tattooing. I am inked. If I had the chance to do it again I’m not sure I would though. It’s more of a personal thing than anything else.

  • http://www.pofgblog.com Joseph

    It seems like this whole debate centers on which OT laws are still valid for Christians and which are not. I agree with the original post that there is a difference between Civil Law and Moral Law. All of the moral laws apply, because those are absolute.

    The Apostles addressed the issue of which OT laws the Gentile converts had to obey in Acts 15:28-29. Their answer – “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.”

    So, it sounds to me like under the New Covenant, there’s nothing wrong with tattoos at all. Full disclosure: I have 3. My personal decision was to only get tattoos of things that are permanent, i.e. my faith and my marriage/family.

  • David Dunham

    Good thoughts, Joseph. Thanks for the imput.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com The Dane

    The question of whether tattoos are forbidden by Scripture or not is really the same question as whether it’s really a sin to mix seeds in the same field, have sex during your wife’s period, or weaving two different kinds of fabric together (as Letivtical law stipulates). All of these rules are found within the scope of the Mosaic covenant.

    Properly understanding the covenants and their importance seems to be one of the most eluding pieces of theology for the contemporary believer. The Mosaic covenant was directed specifically toward the nation of Israel and was concerned in its chiefest aspect with Israel’s inheritance of and blessing in the land of Canaan—the Promised Land. The laws that attended this covenant, while revealing God’s desire for this nation to be set apart from all others as an example, do not give us any necessary basis for understanding morality.

    The real question then presents itself: What responsibility does the believer owe to the Mosaic Covenant?

    The fact is: none. The standards iterated from God through Moses upon Sinai were directed at the nation of Israel simply as the terms of a contract for possession of a certain portion of land. Deuteronomy 28 makes clear the stipulations of this covenant; essentially, God would bless Israel for obedience by granting great prosperity in the land but curse Israel for its disobedience with all manner of catastrophe culminating in the loss of Canaan. Despite God’s longsuffering, Israel fails to uphold her portion of the covenant and reaps the curses God promised climaxing in the Babylonian capture of the sixth century B.C. It was here that the contractual aspect of the Mosaic Law ended that the true meaning of law could be seen clearly.

    The law now serves to lead mankind to understand his corruption. Just as Israel, a nation born of the fruit of God’s own grace, could not stand under the righteous requirements of the Mosaic Law, neither can any man stand under the condemnation of God’s universal requirements&8312;absolute obedience of mind and action. Paul speaks of the law as leading us step by step to grace, for it points out our dire need of such (cf. Galatians 3:23ff). And having taken hold of grace by faith, the believer no longer heeds the condemning beckon of the law (cf. Romans). So then, is there any reason to look to the Levitical laws for ethical guidance unto righteousness? No—for their only service now is to guide men to Christ.

    Where then do we find our Christian ethic? Quite simply, in Christ’s words: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31). And we find extrapolation of these ultimate commands in all the writings of the New Testament authors.

  • http://reformedandreforming.org Jesse Wisnewski

    @ Graham: I see that you’re struggling with a decision that you made a couple of years back. Now that you find yourself “in Christ” (Gal. 2.20), I don’t think you should experience guilt. I think you have freedom in the Gospel to have them removed, but you also have the freedom in the Gospel for them to remain. Consider these words from Paul:

    17Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.. 24So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God (1 Cor. 7.17-20, 24)

    Cheers, Jesse

  • http://reformedandreforming.org Jesse Wisnewski

    @ Graham: Another thought, God saw fit to bring you back to Himself with your tattoos. Removing them is a matter of freedom in the Gospel, for your standing with God the Father is solely based on Jesus Christ.

  • Graham

    @ Jesse: Great advice man, thanks for your input. @ All: Thanks for responses, all very helpful. Over the past couple months I’ve been able to overcome most of the guilt and really pinpoint that it’s just the deceiver throwing all my past into my face. I guess when I decided to come back to Christ I wasn’t really ready for the spiritual warfare side of things as he (the deceiver) has really had no reason to come against me until that point. Now I really do find comfort in the fact he did because it shows Christ really is in me, or else the devil would have no reason to come at me, and I find strength in that. I’ve somewhat given up “fighting” (these forums we’re a way of me “fighting” his attacks, in hoping Christian brothers and sisters would appease this guilt by telling me what I already know) and have decided to instead do as Watchman Nee suggests, and “Sit” in the completed works of Christ, “Walk” as well as I can in this world and to “Stand” against the attacks of the enemy instead of “fighting” a battle that ended long ago. I find there is MUCH less struggling here. Again, thank you all. God bless.

  • ST

    If the Bible say’s don’t do it, simply do not do it period.

    Would u rather get a tat than being with God?

    If you already have it before u became a-born-again christian, Holy spirit will lead you on HOW to deal with it.

    But please do not tell people that it is ok to pierce their body except ears.

    My daughter asked me yesterday, “Mom is my tatoo pretty?” and I said yes sweetheart as long as it’s not real.

    I used the opportunity to lecture her that we do not mark our body. Now I have to confess that I probably did not remember to memtion God while I was telling her, but I made it clear that TATOO is not for us.

    My daughter always says but mom everybody in school are doing it; and I’ll reply “sweetheart you are not everybody”
    You are from God, they are from God too but you are special. Therfore, you must not wear very short clothes simply because others are wearing it.

    Now you, are u wearing offensive clothing cos others are? Don’t you know that it may lead others who have little selfcontrol to sin agaist God even long after you passed them?

    Now having a tat might have the same negative influences against others.

    The person up on this post is happy that he can go now and finnally get tat just for reading ur post and it might even be the same guy whos thinking about getting the star wars simble. Now I’m not sure it’s the same guy but it sure sounds funny.

    But really is this what u really want to encourage people to do as a real child of God? To put meaningless mark on their body?

  • http://www.pofgblog.com Joseph

    @ST – I don’t think you’ve thought this one through very well…

    For starters, do you own any cotton/poly blend shirts or pants? There’s an OT law against wearing a garment made of two different types of material.

    Ever been to church during menstruation? OT law says you’re ceremonially unclean during that time, and things/people who were ceremonially unclean were not allowed in worship.

    What about foods that are declared unclean in the OT, like pork and shellfish? In the NT Peter receives a vision from God instructing him that those things are okay to eat. Which passage do you abide by, the prohibition or the permission?

    If we followed every prohibition in scripture, then we would be bound by the Law. If we are bound by the :aw, then we will be judged by the Law, and scripture also declares emphatically that no human is capable of keeping the whole Law.

    Therefore, as Christians, we live not by the Law, but by the grace of God expressed through Jesus Christ. If we choose the Law over grace, then we aren’t washed by His blood, and we have no part of His salvation.

    I choose grace, and I hope you will, too.

  • Mr. M

    @ David Dunham and @ Joseph……..

    I have just run across this blog and wanted to respond because it is full of facts but the facts don’t support the theological conclusions. I just feel it imperative to respond because many young Christians are following this line of thinking, and collectively speaking, it is leading our communities of faith away from the Truth.

    A few introductory things. First, I am Christian. Second, I am a 20 somethings Christian. Third, I concur with most of the exegetical points this poster makes, however, the conclusions do not exactly flow from the facts. Herein lies the problem. Most of the poster’s conversation rests on OT (Levitical civil and priestly laws) and Pauline interpretations. However, when dealing with Christianity, within any context, you must begin with Jesus’ take on the situation or situations which flow from a larger question. I fail to appreciate a Christian’s justification for a personal choice that doesn’t begin with a Christ-centered hermeneutic.

    The issue here is not the role of the OT within the NT. In fact, I think Jesus put that to rest in Matthew 5:17 where He says, “think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” Any reputable translation you choose will give you the idea that Jesus did not come to do away with the OT, but He came to demonstrate the meaning of God’s relationship with the children of Israel. In a discussion of marriage in Matthew 19, Jesus explains that Mosaic law was not illegitimate in its formation, it was illegitimate in its administration. Jesus’ attitude towards the law is not that the law is useless, but it is that the law failed to accomplish what it was intended to accomplish because those who had charge over the law had hardened their hearts. Just a few verses earlier in Matthew 5 Jesus talks about salt and light. Out of this ethic, how can we justify actions or images which are so akin to the world? The poster brings up images on buildings…..keep in mind that even these images were problematic for Jesus because He began to see how the people created idols out of the their expression. Herein lies the problem with tattooing.This is not to say that tattooing, within itself, is sinful, but it’s to say that it blurs the line between those called of God and those who are not. Yes, there is a line. What it says is that this form of expression is worship, and should be acceptable within the community of faith. This is problematic on a few fronts. First, just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should do it. Just because it may not be a sin to drink doesn’t mean that it should be ok to bring a fifth into the sanctuary during Sunday morning worship. Just because I’m male and love women doesn’t mean it’s ok for me to walk around with my arm around other women, regardless to my marital status. These actions may seem harmless and may not even amount to sinful activities, but the wisdom of the law remains the same – it does not advance the Gospel. It merges popular culture and religious expression. When the two meet they form idolatry. How? Popular-culture is idolatry. Using a tattoo to reach someone would never have entered your mind unless you thought it was an effective tool to communicate. Tattoos in American culture have not become effective tools of expression and communication because of their use in the Church; quite the contrary they have been used as permanent markers – permanent in the sense that they are marked upon you forever. Perhaps if you’re that enthralled with tattooing you should get the laws written upon your forehead so that you and your children and their children will not forget them. That is what that verse means right?

    Second, the message gets lost in the art. What message does a tattoo convey that your lifestyle as a Christian can’t? Does it say that you can be “cool” and still be a Christian? Does it say that there’s nothing wrong with a little body art? What’s the harm? If we have to communicate how Christianity can fit into our lives then we aren’t really out to sell Jesus, but we’re out to sell religion. More importantly, I would argue that in the 20 something and younger generation today what is popular or attractive one minute isn’t popular the next. The desire to reach young people is one thing but the length at which we go to do it is another. 1 Corinthians 9 illustrates Paul’s desire to reach people by becoming whatever it took to reach them. However, we know from Paul’s letters that Paul couldn’t become all things to all people, and that his words demonstrated his own zeal to spread the word. Paul knew that he couldn’t do whatever he wanted to do because God is not the author of confusion. Even if nothing were wrong with the practice of tattooing, the fact that it is still a major worldly expression in which Christians compromise their identity, not strengthen it.

    Once you come to Jesus, life changes. Here, is where the Pauline letters are useful. Once you understand that you have a “new nature” you are a “new creature” then you no longer function the way the world does. Does that mean you cease to exist in the world? No. You gotta work….you gotta eat….you gotta get around. Even though you live in the world, your the way you live changes – not because you are better than or holier than, but because you are separate. If getting a tattoo makes you separate then there are a lot of people walking around who are isolated. That’s the real reason tattooing should be an issue among Christians is because it goes to the heart of Christian identity. Tattooing in our society does not set you a part, it brings you in. 2 Corinthians 6 is crucial here…….Paul says, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers.” Paul is rebuking Christians that have so closely associated themselves with idolatry that they have adopted their ways as their own. These people had begun to mix their lives with those who weren’t Christians. Is this impossible to live today? No.

    The real question is how do we identify ourselves in the world. If there is one thing that the world doesn’t need is someone who looks like them telling them that they need to change. How can you speak to the world when you do the same things? Is your Jesus the one who eats with sinners and joins them in their sin? Or is your Jesus the one who eats with sinners and after which tells them to “go and sin no more?” Is your Jesus the one who shows up at the wedding banquet and gets hammered after turning water into wine? How can the Gospel become transformational if it so closely resembles the world? If you say that Jesus related to the world, then you’re sadly mistaken. “Nothing good came from Nazareth.” This means that people didn’t take Jesus’ seriously. It was the minority, not the majority who followed Him. Besides that, we never see other boys during this time period standing in a Temple proclaiming that “the spirit of the Lord is upon me….He has anointed me..” No, Jesus was counter-cultural. He didn’t have to brand himself for others to know his uniqueness. Jesus became “other-than” not by the way he looked, but by the power He had within.

    So, your body IS the temple of the Holy Spirit. You reach people through relationships and not by mere words or tattoos. Even though the poster talks about the relationship opening with his tattoo artist, what’s to say that you couldn’t have achieved the same relationship without getting a tattoo? I have several friends who drink, but I’ve gotten them to attend church; not by joining them in alcoholic consumption, but by the way I love with them right where they are.

    You don’t have to become sin to reach sinners. Christ already did that.

    On another point of your post:

    It doesn’t follow for you to argue that failure for Christians to follow all of the OT law delegitimizes the purpose of law or the law itself. Of course Christians do not follow every letter of the law, but Christ did not come so that we would not have to follow the law, but He came so that in our inability to follow the law we might still be able to access the throne of grace. This does not nullify the law. Otherwise, should we just eliminate those sections from our Bibles? What purpose do they serve?Just because people pick and choose which laws they will follow doesn’t mean that the basis law is invalid. That’s a very poor premise to base your argument.

    Assuming arguendo that the laws were antiquated, Jesus’ declaration in Matthew settles the role of the OT in contemporary life. But if your Gospel preaching isn’t Christo-centric and based upon Pauline interpretations then I’m afraid it’s rather incomplete.

    I say all of this to say that tattoos are not representative of the Kingdom, in our society at least. Logically speaking, you can’t say that because the cultural context shifts, the morals shift as well. Even if that’s true it implies that our Christian ethic shifts, and that’s antithetical to Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forevermore.” The world’s ethics change because they are grounded in moral relativism. Christ’s ethics never change because they are rooted in Truth. Treating the Christ-centric ethic any other way makes it out to be less than what it is: Truth.

  • Alan Noble

    Mr. M,

    Your well-worded argument is summarized by you here: “This is not to say that tattooing, within itself, is sinful, but it’s to say that it blurs the line between those called of God and those who are not.”

    Here’s where we disagree. I do not believe that Christ calls us to be different from the world for the sake of appearing different. In fact, I believe that can lead to legalism. Instead, our difference comes out of a heart changed by Christ’s sacrificial love. Unless refraining from tattoos comes out of a heart that is grateful for Christ’s finished work on the cross, then it is an arbitrary sign of our difference from the world.

    So I would ask, in what way does refraining from getting a tattoo testify to God’s love for us? If you agree that it is not following a command (you said that tattoos are not in themselves sin), then for what purpose other than to physically appear different does it serve?

    Put another way: Anyone can be countercultural. No heart change is needed to appear different from the world. And there are millions of ways that Christians can physically appear different from the world. If the problem is a blurring of the lines, why choose tattoos? Why not pants? Hats? Glasses? Cars? But Christ came to transform us so that we are–in our being–different. That kind of change you cannot achieve merely by your outward appearance, although it will always become manifest in our actions and appearance.

  • http://www.pofgblog.com Joseph

    @ Mr. M

    I had a long post written out where I detailed the logical fallacies in your treatise above, but after rereading it, I realized that it was true, but pretty mean-spirited.

    Instead I’ll just say, with as much love for a fellow believer as I can muster, that your whole argument above hinges on external things, i.e. how we look when compared to other believers and non-believers.

    There was a group in Jesus’ day who was also constantly comparing themselves to others by outward appearances of holiness. They were called Pharisees, and Jesus didn’t seem to like them very much.

  • ricardo

    I believe God gave us free will to make our own decisions. even not every one will agree with me having tattos to represent the Lord is not Biblical is just a justification to glorify your body not to glorify the Lord. God has us here to be reprenters of his amazing love for the world not to be part of the world. in the old days when the Bible wasn’t written yet people did things different to praise the Lord. God send Angels to people through dreams and talk to them about wat to do. All this prophets he talk to were the ones wrote the Bible but inspired by God. A new tool tool for us to have faith and believe that the only entrance to heaven is written there if you follow the commandments and accept Jesus as your savior and leave a live serving the lord you will go to heaven. So we have the Bible that tells us wat to do how to act all the requirements of a christian leaving are in the Bible not in ourselves in our bodys, is simple when you go inside a tattoo shop all there you see is tattoos that represent demons, rebellion, sex, wizards, which craft. and to do a cross that is justifying your act for a tattoo. Let your actions represent you as a God server not your skin. Specially pastors who are the leaders and the example of the church.

  • http://adamjcopeland.com Adam Copeland

    Thanks for this interesting post and comments regarding tattoos. I actually started a meme with 7 questions for Christians about their tattoos called, “My Faith, My Tattoo.” For instructions and the questions, go to: http://www.adamjcopeland.com/2010/09/12/meme-my-faith-my-tattoo/

  • http://www.prayerkingdom.wordpress.com K Zhang

    I was told that since I am a girl and that when I get married, my husband will have authority over my body. So I should wait until I am married and ask his permission whether or not I should get a tattoo. What do you think about that?

  • Alan Noble

    On the flip side, you will have authority over your husband’s body.

    1 Corinthians 7:4-6 (English Standard Version)

    4For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.

  • http://www.prayerkingdom.wordpress.com K Zhang

    So doesn’t that mean I should wait to ask him then? And he should wait to ask me?

  • Jorge

    David you are a Pastor and you are justifying tatoos? This is exactly why the church is in the mess it is today! Ichabod-the glory has departed! I recently left my church of 13 years because of his so claled “liberty in Christ” nonsense! This is the church today: Pastors defending tatoos, drinking, immodesty all in the name of Christ!
    I don’t hear anything about the Fear of God, being holy, being a man of prayer…all we hear is “grace, liberty and how much God loves me!!! Utter Folly! Wake up Church before it’s too late!!!

  • Jorge

    “I’ll ignore your poor grammar and simply ask for some specifics.

    Thanks,
    Dave”

    You are even sarcastic…sad.

  • Jorge

    “Ever been to church during menstruation? OT law says you’re ceremonially unclean during that time, and things/people who were ceremonially unclean were not allowed in worship.

    What about foods that are declared unclean in the OT, like pork and shellfish?”

    Does the New Testament prohibit bestiality? Does it say anything about smoking?

    Then I guess it’s ok. Shaking my head…sad.

  • George S

    I think that anyone who feels that tatoos are ok for the Christian is fooling themselves.

    Doesn’t the Bible say, “If you are a friend of the world, you are an enemy of God.”

    So, what does the world do?

    Well, the people in the world tatoo themselves, the women dress provocatively with low cut pants and thongs, high miniskirts, etc.

    And the Christians imitate them. We see Christians (especially the cool musicians) have the same haircuts, tatoos, and look as their secular counterparts. We see the same type of heavy metal music in Christian circles, where you cannot understand the words in any way, just a bunch of noise, where you mosh just like a secular concert. We see the Christian women wear the low cut pants with thongs, that you can’t help but see if their sitting in front of you.

    Certainly showing off your butt crack in church is not a good thing for a woman.

    And the negative connonation of tatoos cannot be avoided. They have ALWAYS been linked to paganism and occultic practices.

    Just because a cool Christian says that his tatoos are not related to paganism does not make it true. Just like if you a Christian has tarrot cards or a ouija board, and says they’re not linked to paganism, is not correct either.

    A Christian that gets a tatoo is just setting a bad example. Its’ not even a matter of salvation. But a matter of obedience.

  • http://www.faithvillage.com Amber Dobecka

    I absolutely love this article. Thanks for being honest about your real reflections on points that some Christians make against tattoos, and being so diligent in your Biblical research. I totally agree with you, Dave. :)

  • Phil Vassar Sr.

    Brother Dave, very interesting reading..As you may know I am a skydiver and I have a few tats…Don’t know to many skydivers who don’t…Does that make it right, not really, however I really didn’t give it much thought..We all know what’s in our own hearts, good or bad…The fact is I have lived long enough to know no matter how we feel about any subject, someone will take offence to it….I carry no stones, our Lord said not too…I always give people the benifet of the doubt… God Bless you and yours, as always I look forward in seeing you soon…I really couldn’t say what Jesus looks like, however every time I see you I see someone who is full of the Joy of The Lord…IHS Phil

  • Pingback: Tattoos and faith | Faith & Works

  • Alli

    @David Dunham–So glad I stumbled upon this article. Your honesty is appreciated, and the Biblical background should be encouraging for those who question the sanctity of their body with/without tattoos.
    Unfortunately…it is frustrating to read so many people coming at this article from such a biased angle. If you, personally, are convicted–then don’t get a tattoo. For those of us Christians with tattoos, we use them to glorify God, to tell our story in the ways God has helped us. If you are too judgmental to sit and listen to a person’s story, and pray with them, then I think that a reality check of your own heart needs to happen.

  • Louis

    I’m inclined to agree with David on this based on personal experience. Before I got met Christ, I owned a bar. When I started going to church and talking to church people, they were like ” you need to give up the things of the world.” They thought I should sell the bar. This was my only income, and I had spent years of my life building it up and tons of money. I couldn’t just walk away from this. So I started reading the Bible. It didn’t say anything against owning a bar, or drinking like so many people tried to tell me. I decided I’d use it as a witnessing tool. People were totally surprised when I’d tell them I owned a bar and then invite them to church. It was pretty cool. I even started brewing my own beer and named it after the things in the Bible. (My best seller is called Isle of Patmos.) It really generates a lot of discussion. Anyways, I’ve kind of turned my old self into a witness. That’s what David is doing with his tattoos, I do it with beer and my bar. The Bible says we have liberty. Liberty isn’t worth having if you don’t exercise it, right! Let’s clank our glasses together and toss one back for David. I love sticking to these old farts who are so self righteous. Rock on dude, Rock on!

  • telson

    The Bible teaches us that serving God is not external, but internal issue. Believers’ testimony and faith must be an internal issue by the Holy Spirit in accordance with the word of God. God said through the prophet Jeremiah that in the New Covenant, God puts His law in the inside of His people and writes His law in their hearts. Biblical faith must be written in a person’s heart, not externally on his skin.

    The whole article: http://koti.phnet.fi/petripaavola/Bibleandtattoos.html


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