Christians and Tattoos

A comment on my last article sparked my interest to write this one. Given how much I love Jesus and tattoos I’m surprised I haven’t already written it. Apparently, my words can be googled which I discovered when I couldn’t figure out how to search titles on my own blog via phone. I googled ‘Mindlesspeace tattoos’ and six different articles popped up. Some are about me and my tattoos. Others are about my friend and her tattoos. There’s also one about a tattoo ministry. The last pair of tattoos I got have a lot of Jesus in the meaning but I’ve never directly discussed what the bible says about tattoos. Probably because researching that topic means getting hit with a verse like Leviticus 19:28 or something from 1 Corinthians.

Gone are the days of bikers, thugs, and criminals being the only ones with tattoos. Within the past ten years body art has gone mainstream and it seems that everyone from schoolteachers to surgeons has at least one. Even though the smarmy stigma has all but entirely washed away, does that mean tattoos are okay? Just because they’ve gained popularity and no longer repulse the masses, does that make it a good idea to get tattooed? What about those who are in the world but not of it?

Letters from the Greek alphabet meaning Jesus Christ, Alpha and Omega.

When I joined team tattoo on my eighteenth birthday I was a follower of Christ, five years later I still am and I have a few more tattoos. Before I made that initial decision though, I needed answers to important questions. Questions like, what does the bible say about tattoos? Can I still be a Christian and have tattoos? Am I going to go to Hell if I have tattoos? I am not a theologian so before I went under the needle for the first time, I asked a pastor at my church. In short, he said it’s not about the what it’s about the why. What were my reasons for getting tattooed? Why did I want to do it? Motive is the best line to trace in order to reach the truth. Three things to consider with the debate on the bible and tattoos are; the context, the culture, and of course the heart.

My besti and his redeemed tattoo. Done by Chris Baker at Ink 180.

Apply context

Why pull a page out of a book and accept it as the whole story? That would be a lie. Scripture was once used to justify slavery. It’s easy to take a segment of anything and make it support something else. Even the devil uses scripture to justify his purposes. It’s important to know a little background on the verses for example; who wrote them and whom they were written to. The quickest way to get a better idea of what you’re reading would be the 10/10 rule, read ten verses before and ten after.

There’s a couple sections of scripture in 1 Corinthians that discuss the body being a temple (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19-20) these verses are amazing guidelines and reminders on how to live like a saint. Having salvation and knowing God personally makes a person aware that Christ is not just with us, He is in us and it’s important to be a good hostess. This means watching our influences, what we allow, what we entertain, our thoughts and our words. Since God is always with us, the goal is to not do anything that dishonors Him. Not just because He loves, but because we love Him too. Grace and mercy that’s new every morning cost everything, Jesus died so that we could truly live. The verses in 1 Corinthians are about honoring God in all that you do, sex in particular. It’s doubtful these verses are specifically against getting tattoos; they are about what is honorable and what is not.

Since this is a topic about the body, what about going deeper than the skin? What about diet and exercise? It’s interesting that people still take such a strong stance against what the outside looks like when the inside matters just as much if not more. The food we eat and how active we are is what 1 Corinthians 10:31 brings to mind, not so much the art that decorates the skin. We only get one body, can’t return it, can’t exchange it, better take care of it.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. – Psalm 139:14 (NIV)

The Old Testament has verses that at first sight seem to place tattoos in the abhorrent category but again, context is key. Deuteronomy 14:1 is in a chapter about clean and unclean food, what can be eaten and what cannot. In the New Testament (Matthew 15) Jesus abolished the law. In summary, He said that what goes into the mouth is not as important as what comes out of the mouth. He said it all starts with the heart. Leviticus 19:28 is about pagan worship, acts of the occult, worshipping a false god. It was written as a warning to the people who were tattooing themselves as a form of worship.

“The same chapter (Leviticus 19) that tells us not to mark our bodies also tells us not to cut our bodies. It tells us not to cut our sideburns, it tells us not to eat meat with the blood still in it, and not to wear clothing with two types of fabric mixed together. So unless you also don’t have an earring, unless you also have lamb chop sideburns, unless you’ve never eaten a steak-anything less than well done-and you don’t have polyester cotton blend socks on; you shouldn’t look down your nose at somebody who has a tattoo. You’re taking it completely out of context.”-Tim Harlow

Consider the culture

It’s nearly impossible to draw a straight line from the Bible’s teachings on tattoos to today, as the meaning of tattoos has drastically shifted. The Bible knows nothing of tattoos for purely aesthetic purposes or as artistic self-expression. Instead, tattoos in the ancient Near East were punitive, expressions of fidelity to the local deity, or marks of ownership over slaves.-RELEVANT Magazine

Beautifully stated and most likely an overlooked component with this topic. Today’s tattoos are mainly about self-expression and the meaning varies for the individual.

Even though people don’t get tattooed for the exact same reasons as they did in biblical times, it’s still rather easy to end up with ink that honors a false god. Think about all the band/sports related designs people wear. Not saying either of those is a definite no (although, getting someone’s name is an absolute kiss of death.) The point is, any person, place, or thing we put on a pedestal is an idol, ergo: a false god. For something to be turned into a tattoo it has to mean a lot, just make sure it doesn’t mean too much.

Handwritten tattoos are so imperfectly perfect.

Ask yourself the motive questions beforehand because erasing ink is expensive and subtraction hurts more than addition. Why that design? Why put it on that part of your body? How often will it be covered? Consider job interviews and other professional situations. Consider clothing, everything from a tank top to formal attire, how will the tattoo look? If you’re unsure about any of it, just wait. You have your whole life to get it. Do yourself a favor and don’t get the first thing you find on Pinterest. For those on the pro side, the real challenge is getting something that is truly unique, rare, and not already on the Internet. The majority is tattooed these days so if getting tattooed is an attempt at rebellion, that ship has sailed. The new rebellion will be remaining a blank canvas. As exciting as it can be, don’t rush it, the more thought out the better.

Turn it to the heart

No it is not a sin to get a tattoo, your sleeve will not send you to Hell, that flower on your ankle is not an equivalent to the mark of the beast. As with anything in life-not just tattoos-it is not solely about the what, it’s about the why. What’s your reasoning? Do you want to wear that image for life? Does it need to be a tattoo or will a picture do just fine?

Every tattoo has a story.

Being a follower of Christ who has tattoos doesn’t mean all my ink references the bible, some of it does but honestly I stray away from permanently donning God’s word because I want to make sure I live it before I wear it. A few of mine are just moments worth remembering. I do intend on adding to my collection but not before following the advice of fellow tattooed Christian Jeff Bethke, who stated in his video about Christians with tattoos that he “prayerfully studied and pursued truth on that matter.” With this topic I cannot help but think of the very real possibility that Christ may have a tattoo when we see Him again “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”-Revelation 19:16 That verse makes me smile, thinking about My Savior coming back to get me sporting the best thigh script out there! Who knows maybe the disciples will have full sleeves. Maybe tattoos will look better altogether on our glorified bodies.
Beautiful charcoal drawing by Sophie Morse.
When it comes to the bible and tattoos there is not a definite yes or no answer. However, just like many other seemingly gray area issues in life there may not be a direct answer but that’s just because scripture always goes deeper than the surface. “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”-Hebrews 4:12 There’s plenty of advice worth seeking. Find some wisdom in Proverbs. Get some encouragement from Ephesians. Cover yourself with conviction from Romans. Unlike a tattoo, the answer won’t always be right on the surface.

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