Should Christians Get Tattoos?
Christianity And Tattoos
I have heard a couple of Christian pastors comment on tattoos, and the latest one was Mike Winger. I like Mike’s teaching, so I am writing this article. Mike said many good things, but there is one thing I think he missed, as many evangelicals do, and that is the concept of separation.
Old Testament law.
Many Old Testament commands are the object of ridicule by those who reject the authority of scripture. Those who believe they are God’s commands misunderstand their purpose. Even the fact that many will make statements insinuate that the Torah’s six hundred and thirteen laws are absurd. These laws governed religious, social, economic, environmental, and agricultural objectives. I would dare say that Americans face far more laws than that. Think of the laws like local ordinances, state and federal environmental laws, criminal laws, traffic rules, tax laws, and even not bringing food into the sanctuary falls under this. We have innumerable laws today.
One of the main reasons for God giving Israel these laws was to teach the Israelites how to be different and separate from the other nations. I have read many tweets by atheists who say God was more concerned about wearing garments of a different material than God was about slavery, which is a massive lack of understanding of God’s intentions.
Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.Leviticus 19:19
Basic rules for learning.
These verses list some things that can easily be understood as a way of teaching the Israelites to live separate lives. Not mingling seeds in a field seems like common sense since they ripen at different times, and separating at harvest would not be easy. Also, plant-based and animal-derived materials have different properties that could cause a garment to fail. However, these laws are some of many that are rudimentary ways of teaching the people that they are to be different than the nations around them.
One way I can illustrate this is when I joined the United States Air Force, we had to learn basic principles. In basic training, we had to fold our undergarments to exact measurements. Our shoes, bed, and hanging clothes had to be just so. It seemed foolish to have such rules. Towards the end of the training, one of the commanding officers addressed the group and stated that he did not fold his clothes as we were made to do. He stated that this was training, and if we could not be trusted to do such simple tasks, how could we be trusted to maintain a multi-million dollar aircraft with a man’s life at stake?
God gave Israel the laws not as a definitive rule book but as instructions to learn how to live separate lives from the heathen. The Israelites failed so many times because they did not take the lessons from the schoolmaster and apply them logically.
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.Galatians 3:24–27
Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. 12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.Hebrews 5:11–12
What does that have to do with tattoos?
So coming to my point concerning tattoos, the question is usually addressed as does the Bible forbid it. If that is our approach to understanding whether something is a sin or not, we are in deep trouble. We are in the same place as the Jew, who believed that simply following the rules was the end of the matter. Jesus rebuked such behavior because the law was only a rudimentary guide to living a separate life.
So to answer the question of whether tattoos are wrong or not is not necessarily an individual’s choice. Christianity is not solely an individual life; it is a life that is contained in Christ, His body.
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: 22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.Ephesians 2:19–22 (KJV 1900)
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.Ephesians 4:14–16 (KJV 1900)
Mike mentioned that when the apostles asked if the Gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved, they had a council in Jerusalem to discuss this, and there were a couple of things listed as things to follow.
Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.Acts 15:19–20 (KJV 1900)
The “pollution of idols” is ambigous.
I want you to take note that “pollution of idols” is a very ambiguous phrase. I also want you to realize it is out of necessity because there is an innumerable amount of idolatrous practices in the world. It would be impossible for them even to know what Christians would encounter as they left the guide of the law and went to the lawless nations. However, the principles the law taught were still to be understood and followed. We were to take what the schoolmaster taught and apply it to living in a world where the schoolmaster wasn’t present. We are supposed to learn not to be caught up in the idolatrous practices of the heathen.
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.2 Corinthians 6:14–18 (KJV 1900)
Christianity has a problem because, on the one hand, we have Christian leaders who will not take responsibility for their roles by refusing to decide what is an unacceptable practice for Christians. Jesus gave us leaders to guide Christians, especially young, vulnerable Christians.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:Ephesians 4:11–15 (KJV 1900)
On the other hand, we have fundamentalist leaders using their authority to enforce rudimentary rules instead using them as a guide to teach liberty in Christ. They fail to teach how to live in the world using the rules for a guide. Many young people that grew up in fundamental churches can’t figure out how to live when there are no black and white rules for each situation.
Lastly, since Jesus knew that the gospel would go to the Gentiles with all their idolatrous practices, He provided His followers with a constant guide.
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. 8 And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 Of sin, because they believe not on me; 10 Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; 11 Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.John 16:7–11 (KJV 1900)
Let’s answer the question about tattoos.
Now with this knowledge, let me get back to the question: “is it okay for a Christian to get a tattoo?” I would tell those young in the faith not to get a tattoo, and I will ask the mature Christian to walk through this with me. The laws were teaching the Israelites not to adopt the practices of the pagan.
Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.Leviticus 19:28 (KJV 1900)
We have to consider the origan of tattooing.
Let us ask ourselves where the practice of tattooing originated. I can say it was not a Christian practice. There is no historical practice of tattooing in church history; it is solely a pagan practice. Second, we can clearly see the traditional artwork that accompanies tattooing and does not glorify God. I would ask a Christian considering being tattooed to see what artwork the tattoo artist has on them. That should be a great indicator of the practice you are participating in.
Mike mentions that in Jeremiah 16:6, Israel had started to practice the things forbidden in Leviticus. How could this happen? It happens because people justify why they can adapt pagan practices. You hear with the justification of tattooing, “I am not doing for the dead.“ What this is doing is following the letter of the law instead of the straightforward principle of the law. It is saying I am not breaking my schoolmaster’s rule. Yet is failing to understand what the schoolmaster was trying to teach.
There are not always black and white areas in our lives, especially concerning pollution with idols. That is why we have leaders for the church. The council in Jerusalem laid down the ground rules, but it did not address, nor could it address, all the things believers would face over the centuries to come. Therefore the leaders in each generation would have to make decisions on certain practices. That needs to happen at the local church level and with appointed councils on a national level.
The American concept of freedom has taken us to a place of anarchy, both outside and within the church. Yes, we have freedom in America and Christ. However, freedom is still grounded on fundamental principles that congress and the judicial system must decide, and the leadership must do inside the church.
Paul gives us an excellent lesson on how this all works. In Romans chapter seven, Paul tells us the law is a suitable place for us to start, and he also shows that it is not enough to live a truly separated life.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.Romans 7:7 (KJV 1900)
So then Paul asks himself how he can obtain such a life. Who can deliver him from doing what is wrong? How can he know and act on that which is correct?
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?Romans 7:24 (KJV 1900)
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.Romans 8:3–6 (KJV 1900)
The conclusion about Christians and tattoos
You can reject my opinion, but I say, believing I am led by the Holy Spirit and a desire to fulfill the law, that getting a tattoo is a violation of the law’s intention, the whole law that teaches us to live a holy life. If you disagree with me, fine, I am not the judge. I would ask you to examine yourself and consider why you want a tattoo and where the practice came from, then see if the Holy Spirit is okay with that.
These messages take thought and study, then time to write and publish them. I would really appreciate it if you would take a few moments and share with me what you thought. Even if you disagree, just an acknowledgment of you taking the time to read it would be appreciated. You can contact me on this website or Facebook, or Twitter.