The Overview

Tattoos are one of the hottest topics spoken about in Christian circles. Tattoos were once a very taboo subject amongst Christians but would the God who created the universe really be that upset with your “what would Jesus do” tattoo? Sounds like a bit of a stretch but it really isn’t about what I think, but what does the Bible say about tattoos and is it a sin? If we are going to live the life of a Christian, where do we draw the line? Are tattoos a sin? Let’s take a look.

Why do people say tattoos are a sin?

A Christian should always live a life for God and keep His standards but are tattoos really a part of those standards? Let’s take a look at the verse that has started all of the controversy in the book of Leviticus. Most translations say something like this:
 
Leviticus 19:28 (NASB)- “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead, nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord”
 
But, the word tattoo wasn’t invented until the mid 1700s by the 18th century explorer, Captain James Cook. So let’s look at the most literal and word for word translation out there and that is the YLT version.
 
Leviticus 19:28 (YLT)- “`And a cutting for the soul ye do not put in your flesh; and a writing, a cross-mark, ye do not put on you; I [am] Jehovah.”
 
The original translation adds a bit more clarity to the conversation, but we really have to look at context when it comes to the Bible.
Inventer of the word Tattoo James Cook
Captain James Cook

Why context matters when reading the Bible.

When you are reading the Bible, we can’t just pick out scriptures and say, “look, it says it right here in black and white.” The reason is because you are taking one sentence, or a part of a sentence out of a dialogue, conversation, historical record etc. We have an awesome article that will help you understand how to read the Bible a bit better. Go and check it out.
 
Let me give you an example for this claim using logic and scripture. Let’s say I wrote the following:
 
” Hi Chris, this is Johnny. I really appreciate all of the hard work you are doing. We are going to be implementing a new process this January, so until then just keep doing what you are doing. Keep going to work in room B. Do the best you can and notify me if you have any issues. Come January, you will be working in room Y. So until then, stay focused”
 
Now imagine if I highlighted this quote in July, “Keep doing what you are doing. Keep going to work in room B” as the reason to continue going to room B in July. You wouldn’t because that ended in January and it no longer applies.
 
We see this in the scripture all of the time. Take a look at these few verses that have literally nothing to do with us.
 
Exodus 23:19- Bring the best of the first fruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God. Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.
 
Galatians 5:12- As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
 
Leviticus 26:29- You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters.
 
Titus 3:13- Diligently help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way so that nothing is lacking for them
 
You see, not a single one of those scriptures above have anything to do with you and the reason is simple, it isn’t for you. it is either impossible or illegal to fulfill any of the above.
 
It’s being directed to a specific audience. Which takes me to a very important fact of understanding the Bible. Just because the Bible records something, doesn’t mean God wants you to do it. The Bible is recording things that actually took place and is expressing things that people literally believed.
 
Again, just because people believed it, doesn’t mean it is of God or God wants it that way. In fact, the entire Old Testament was never ever God’s perfect plan but it was a transition time of Adam to Jesus. God was restoring us back to perfection and He had a plan. JESUS!
 
So yes, it says it in black and white, but context gives the true meaning of these verses.

So what is the context of tattoos being forbidden by God?

If we recall the story of the Israelites when they were under the bondage of Egypt, I want to bring to mind an important fact that we need to consider. God used Moses to supernaturally help Israel escape from being slaves in Egypt and once they crossed over the red sea and had gotten to Mount Sinai, God gives them rules to follow, 10 of them to be exact 🙂
 
God gave Moses the 10 commandments to help them operate fully in their freedom. If He didn’t, the chance of the Israelites bringing over customs of bondage are very high. They needed a guide of what to do and not to do, which is why God gave them the commandments.
 
The same goes for this chapter in Leviticus where it mentions tattoos being sin. God is giving the children of God instructions, specifically the Sundarians (the Sundry laws), on what to do and what not to do. God was teaching them how to operate in a new sense of freedom under Him. It always interests me that the ONLY law Christians pull out of this entire chapter is to rebuke tattoo’s and nothing else. Let us take a look at all of the “laws” mentioned, in context to the Sundarians in chapter 19.
 
  • Verse 3- Revere your Mother and Father.
  • Verse 4- Do not make Idols or cast metal gods.
  • Verse 5 & 6- eat the offering you give only on the same day you give it and the day after. No leftovers on day three!
  • Verse 9- When you reap your harvest, do not take anything from the edges of your field.
  • Verse 10- Do not take any grapes that have fallen to the ground. Leave them for the homeless and hungry.
  • Verse 11- Do not steal or lie.
  • Verse 12- Do not swear falsely on the name of God.
  • Verse 13- Do not oppress or rob your neighbor and pay hired workers after each day of work.
  • Verse 14- Do not curse out a deaf person. Do not trip a blind person.
  • Verse 15- Do not show favor to the wealthy or be partial to the poor.
  • Verse 17- Do not hate your fellow countrymen in your heart. Do not sin because of them.
  • Verse 18- Do not take any vengeance.
  • Verse 19- Do not breed two different kinds of cattle. Do not sow your field with two different types of seeds NOR wear any clothes with two different types of materials.
  • Verse 20- Men can not have sex with women who are owned by another man.
  • Verse 23- You can not eat fruit from a tree you have planted for a minimum of three years.
  • Verse 26- Do not eat anything with blood in it.
  • Verse 27- Do not cut the hair on the side of your head OR trim your beard.
  • Verse 28- Do not make any cuts in your body for the dead or make any prints on your body for the dead.
  • Verse 29- Do not make your daughter a whore.
  • Verse 30- Keep the Sabbath
  • Verse 31- Do not turn to Mediums
  • Verse 32- When someone with gray hair enters a room, you must stand up.
  • Verse 33- Do not harm any strangers in your town.
  • Verse 35- Do not be crooked or unfair in judging.
 
So here are my questions. Why do we ONLY try to pull out verse 28 as “anti tattoo” and make it sin? How come nobody enforces the “don’t eat grapes from the ground”, or “don’t trim your beard”, or the “stand up whenever someone with gray hair enters the room?”, or “Do not where clothes with two different kinds of fabric?”
 
The answer is because it doesn’t make sense, it’s silly, and clearly not directed towards us today.
 
It seems to me that we only want to pick out what we want to pick out. Are some of them good? Sure! But, when reading through this chapter, 60% of them do not make any sense for you.
 
Do you own a field? Do you make gods out of cast metals? Do you breed cattle? No! God was talking to the children of God back then, and they did ALL of these things.
 
Now we may ask why would God make some of these laws and we can answer that in another blog. It really makes so much sense when understanding the audience that was hearing this.

What the word Tattoo in the Bible really means

servants of baal cutting themselves
The prophets of Baal cutting themselves during worship.
Now that we attacked this logically, let us tap into what is actually being expressed. The Bible does not make any mention to tattoos as know them today. The word that the Bible translates as “tattoo” in some English versions has a completely different meaning in the original Hebrew texts.
 
The Hebrew word for tattoo is ” Qa’aqa’ ” and it means, ” to mark inscribe or engraved words/symbols.” What is actually being expressed here relies on context. When Israel was first rescued from slavery, they were between Canaan and Egypt. Let’s start with Egypt.
 
Recent archaeological findings indicate that “tattooing” was very popular amongst the Egyptian women. Evidence has led us to believe that the Egyptians used to tattoo women on their breasts, bellies, thigh’s etc as a “good luck charm” for fertility. They believed that if you marked your body as worship to the dead, it would help with luck and protection during the birthing process.
 
In Canaan, evidence indicates that more extreme measures were used. They were into branding, carving, and cutting the skin as an act of sacrificial worship. Archeology (and the Bible), indicate that the Canaanites would customarily cut themselves and slash their body as an act of worship to false gods and deities (1 Kings 18:28).
 
We also see a similar act during the famous battle between Elijah and the prophets of Baal (which were really backslidden Jews of the time). Elijah challenges them to a game of Mortal Kombat! Well, not really, but he does challenge their gods to try and match The one true God. The prophets of Baal start going crazy, cutting themselves over their altar. They were out of control as they not only knocked over their altar, but Elijah’s as well.
 
Cutting, slashing, and marking in honor for worship purposes was exactly what God was forbidding in Leviticus 19. He did not want His children taking pagan practices into their new found faith in Yahweh. There are other good points about this on an article from crosswalk.com.
 
To expand upon this point a little bit further, experts seem to believe that “tattoo’s” and markings were not just a form of worship, but also a form of ownership. In ancient Mesopotamia, body markings, printing, engravings were also used to identify enslaved people. It was a sign of submission to an earthly master, but therein lies the issue with today. Most tattoo’s are not used for worship or slave ownership (and if it is, there is an issue), but rather love, honor, respect and expression.
 
This is not forbidden in any part of the scripture, in fact, the Bible says pretty clearly that if you are going to be marked, be marked for God.
 
Isaiah 44:5- This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s’;
And that one will call on the name of Jacob;
And another will write on his hand, ‘Belonging to the Lord,’
And will give himself Israel’s name with honor.
 
The word “write” in this verse is the Hebrew word Kathab, which also means to write, engrave, inscribe, and mark. This verse almost seems to encourage it!

If getting a tattoo is a sin, then why Did Jesus have one?

Ahh yes, the infamous Jesus tattoo scripture in the book of Revelation. Let’s take a look at the verse.
 
Revelation 19:16- “And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written: “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
 
When I think about this verse, I think of Jesus, dressed as the Macho Man Randy Savage, with the flowing, sequin-filled robe walking out. KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS written on the back, a sweet thigh tattoo that echoes the same thing. Ooooohhhh yeaaaaahhhhhhh brother LOL!
 
It’s pretty funny to watch all of the arguments against this verse and most of them are set up by a straw-man argument.
 
According to Webster’s Dictionary A straw-man argument is– a weak or imaginary opposition (such as an argument or adversary) set up only to be easily confuted.
 
So they start with something that is not true, then use that as the proof to make their point.
 
So in this case, the argument is that Jesus couldn’t of had a tattoo because tattoo’s are a sin. That is a good argument, if tattoo’s are a sin, but if they are not (which they aren’t), the argument falls to pieces.
 
The verse clearly states that on his robe AND on his ACTUAL leg, his thigh, He was marked (Tattoo’d baby!) with the words KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
tattoos are not a sin

Defeating other straw man arguments against tattoos in Christianity

Here are a couple other scriptures that are commonly used against tattoos, saying that they are sin, and some of my easy rebuttals against them.
 
1 Corinthians 6:19-20– Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body
 
Answer– This is assuming that tattoos are sinful. It is a straw man. This verse mentions nothing against tattoos but people who use this are implying that tattoos are sin. Today’s Churches and Temples have stained class windows and decorative features inside and out…my tattoos are just my “stained glass windows.”
 
1 Corinthians 10:31– So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
 
Answer– Doesn’t mention anything about tattoos, but they want to pinpoint the fact that do everything for God, so no tattoos. You would have to biblically prove that tattoos (as they are today) are sinful and evil (which you can’t), and then try to stretch this verse to come against it.
 
1 Corinthians 10:23– “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
 
Answer– This is the biggie! They say just because you are “allowed” to do things, doesn’t mean they are beneficial. I agree! But this verse has nothing to do with tattoos…at all.
 
Listen, my main position is not saying that everyone needs to get them. It’s your call! If you don’t want them…great! If you want to get a few… great!
 
Honestly, it shouldn’t even be a talking point. Too many times Christians major on minors. We are too busy worrying about other Christians having tattoos while people are starving, dying and suffering injustices all over the world.

The Apostles most likely had tattoos

All throughout antiquity, tattoos were used for a variety of different reasons. They were used to convey different messages about culture, religious beliefs, ones mission etc. It was not uncommon for men and women to have “tattoos” on their body.
 
When studying the first century Romand and Jewish culture historically, there is a lot of belief that tattoos were also used to bring messages from one tribe to another without anyone knowing what it meant. There is some belief historically that the Apostles may of had tattoos of the written Word to bring with them as they expanded the Gospel.
 
Seeing what we know about history and culture, it doesn’t seem that this would be unusual.
 
Check out this article on the Biblical body as a canvas for a pretty cool overview of the topic culturally.

Conclusion

We started off this blog taking a look at the topic of tattoos being sin from a logical perspective, then to a scriptural and historical perspective. I want to wrap it up going back to logic.
 
Whatever your perspective is on the subject of tattoos is, we should all agree that there is no clear evidence in scripture on the topic. The Bible doesn’t encourage it per se, but it certainly doesn’t call it “sin” or “evil” or “demonic” etc.
 
So with that being said, why are we so focused on it? When I think of sin and the scriptures, sin destroys lives and there are clear evidences of that. An addiction to drugs is sin. The main reason it’s sin is because you have lost complete control over your life and self control is a fruit of the Spirit.
 
Sins like addiction feel good in the moment but will eventually destroy and possibly end your life if you do not get that under control. Your sin does not take away God’s love for you, but God wants you to correct it so your life is fruitful and prosperous. God has even given you power to break and end it!
 
If tattoos are sin, what happens if I get one? Am I not going to heaven? Will I never be used by God? Am I cursed? The answer is…nothing happens! Sin doesn’t do “nothing.” Sin has a negative effect.
 
I’ve even heard people say, “well what if you get an allergic reaction to the ink?”
 
Well, I’ve seen people have an allergic reaction to anointing oil! Just because you have an allergic reaction, doesn’t mean it is evil. It means you have an allergy.
 
I have several tattoos. I have gotten every single one of my tattoos after I became a Christian. I love Jesus with all of my heart. My life and ministry has never, not once, been hindered by my tattoos. I have been used by God to heal people, set people free, and teach God’s word with the very hand that has a tattoo on it!
 
I’ll end with this verse:
 
1 Samuel 16:7- “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God does not see as man sees, since man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
 
We need to stop looking at how people look on the outside and start looking at what they look like on the inside. We need to stop being so concerned on the outward appearance, and start being more focused on the condition of the heart.
 
Christianity doesn’t have a “look”, it has a love!
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