Christians and Tattoo
Have you ever thought of getting a tattoo? Before you do so, ask yourself a few questions. Start with asking if you really need one and why you are convinced you really need it. If the answer is yes, ask yourself on which part of your body you really wish to have it drawn and if your reason of obtaining one will still be worth it in years to come. Then, maybe take some time to reflect on it again for a few more weeks.
If eventually after all these brain racking you still believe you need one, then know that tattoos are forms of body modifications where a design is made by inserting ink, dyes, and pigments, either indelible or temporary, into the dermis layer of the skin to change the pigment(Tattoo,Wikipedia 2018).
A tattoo could simply be decorative, symbolic or pictorial. It could also be natural like scars, amateur tattoos which are hastily and locally done; professional tattoos like the one that artists and footballers have; cosmetic tattoos like plastic surgery and other body makeups.
Tattoos are known to have existed as long as human history can account for. In each society, there are traces of tattoos dating to thousands of years before Christ. In certain cultures, tattoos have symbolic and religious meaning like in rites of passage and as signs of bravery. In others, it served or serves as signs of identification like in the case of slaves and inmates of concentration camps.
Tattoo and the Bible
In ancient Israel just like certain other ancient societies, tattooing was at a particular moment prohibited. But let’s look at the circumstances of their prohibition first. In the book of Leviticus 19: 23, 27–28:23, “When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten. 27 Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.28Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”
For the ancient Israelites who were passing over to the promised land, it was necessary to distance themselves from the practice of the people whose land they were about to inhabit. They were to avoid participating in their life system and festivities; not to cut their hair according to certain styles or make tattoos, for the dead.
But to appreciate the circumstances of the interdictions, one ought to look at the culture of the people whose territory they were to occupy. Among certain inhabitants of the ancient Middle East, there existed certain practices and traditions like receiving tattoos at the death of certain important personalities. In Deuteronomy 14:1, it is clearly stated that “you are sons of the LORD your God; do not cut yourselves or shave your forehead on behalf of the dead.”So, it is certain that the author of the sacred scripture had nothing against tattooing in itself. All they were bringing the people to understand was that they are made in the image of God (Gen. 1: 26) and cannot be bound to cut it in the honor of the dead.
Apart from this particular Levitical injunction, there is no other area where the Bible explicitly speaks of tattoos. And neither the prophets nor the New Testament authors directly said anything about tattoos. So, biblically speaking, tattooing oneself is not a sin. It could even be, on the contrary, a sign of professing one’s faith in God. There are those who tattoo their body with Biblical quotations or Holy Images. Those could be a way of carrying out the words of Deuteronomy 6: 8 where God asked the Israelites to tie his words, as reminders on their hands and bind them on their foreheads.
The Church and Tattoo
As to the Church’s position vis-à-vis of tattoos, she has nothing against the Biblical explanations we just examined in this text. The Church’s reading of the passage in Leviticus is always based on the context of the passage. And if God had the intention of prohibiting tattooing, he would have done it in other circumstances and not as a law binding them in the particular city they were to possess.
Moreover, the letter to the Hebrews says a lot about the abrogation of certain mosaic laws. In Hebrews 7:11–13 the hagiographer wrote:
“11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. 13 He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar.”
Note that this passage does not nullify the Levitical injunction in its context. It only states that God revealed himself to his people through different stages. Levitical priesthood was valid at its moment and context, but Christ being the true high priest, he offered himself as a sacrificial lamb bringing to term the salvation history.
Receiving tattoos, is in itself, not a wrong thing. It dates back to the early development of human society. There are good reasons to believe that it exists in different cultures and is viewed differently both from one place to the other and one era to the other. There is a biblical passage that speaks against it but when taken from its context, it has nothing to do with tattooing as we know it today. Finally, there is no Church’s teaching that condemns tattooing. It’s only advised to have a decent one if one must have it at all. And also, to always consider the utility of such tattoo in years to come. So, Christians are free to tattoo themselves but just as Saint Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8: 9, “Be careful, however, that your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”
Christians and Tattoo