Thoughts on life, leadership and the movement called the church by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Monday, May 17, 2010

Are Tattoos Right or Wrong?

I've been asked a few times lately about tattoos - is it OK? Is it NOT ok?

This is not the blog post your Mom wanted me to write, but it IS my opinion of a Biblical perspective on the subject. Let me say it again: this is my interpretation. It is fallible. It is NOT the Word of God. But it's the best I've got, so here goes.

On the one hand, people will passionately refer to Leviticus 19:28 "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD." (NIV)

Sounds very black and white, right? But not so fast. For sure, some people will tell you that you are committing a sin by getting a tattoo, and they'll quote this verse. But they have no problem wearing a cotton/wool blended coat or t-shirt. What does that have to do with anything? Well, look a few verses before the tattoo one:

Leviticus 19:19 (NIV) "...Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material."

It also commands that we aren't to plant 2 different seeds in the same field, but nobody is picketing a farmer who does this.

And verse 13 is very clear that the wages of a hired man should be paid on the same day that he works, but most employers pay once per week, and hold back a week. Nobody is pointing the finger on that. Why not?

Because we understand that some things in the Bible are meant for a particular culture and time. That's what makes Biblical application difficult. Which things apply to the here and now and which ones applied only to the culture in which they were originally written?

What are we to conclude, then, about tatoos?

For me, there are several texts:

1) 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV) But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

Here, God is saying "YOU care what he looks like, but I care who he IS." God cares about the heart, not the skin.

2) Galatians 3:28-29 (MSG) "In Christ's family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ's family, then you are Abraham's famous "descendant," heirs according to the covenant promises."

Non-Jew was (and still is) a BIG category. It represented a plethora of cultures, a multitude of traditions. Paul is saying that Christ is the one who levels the field for us - that in Him, we're equal.

3) Acts 10. This story is the same one I used when we talked about food laws. But there is a double meaning in the story. God is making Gentiles (non-Jews) clean, not just previously prohibited foods. Again, Gentiles represented a span of cultures and traditions from A to Z.

Is there still a 'right' and 'wrong'? You bet there is. Some things are still crystal clear. Murder and adultery come to mind. Not choosing what God wants for you. Worshiping someone other than Jesus Christ.

But tattoos would belong in another category for me, one that is at least disputable. I would go farther, though. I would say that, under the right set of circumstances, a tattoo could be permissible...even beneficial.

I am not arguing that all tattoos are beneficial. Paul wrote, "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is constructive.
Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others." (1 Corinthians 10:23-24, NIV)

Again, I'm not saying that one SHOULD go get a tattoo. What I'm saying is that the Bible doesn't prohibit it. At least, that's how I read it.

Therefore, this is a question that the follower of Christ should pray about. If they feel led to do it, I think they should do it. I heard an awesome story a couple of weeks ago about a girl who had the Hebrew word for 'belong' tattooed on her ankle, so that every time she removed her shoes, she would be reminded that she belonged to God. I could see myself with a tattoo like that.

The bottom line for me is found in this text:

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God--even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved." (1 Corinthians 10:31-33, NIV)

Can't wait to hear your feedback!


Mary Beth Ayres said...

Wow! Great stuff and you referenced it all well. Gave me some good food for thought, on MANY subjects.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more

April said...

I sure wish I prayed about this ridiculous sun on my ankle when I was 18!
Great post!

Danny Buetow said...

This topic asks us to examine both interpretation and perception. The first, of course is related to the many biblical references to tattoos or permanent markings. There are many references ranging from Leviticus to Revelations which are used by people on both sides of the debate.

Now, for perception. Probably one of the strongest anti-tattoo references in the New Testament is 1 Corinthians 6:19, which talks about our bodies being a Temple etc etc., however, in these days and times, tattoos are considered an art form. So now ask yourself, is it a sin to hang a painting in a Synagogue or Cathedral? Of course not. If so Michelangelo is in deep trouble. With this train of thought, why is it not acceptable to display art forms on our own personal Temple? We already do it with jewelry, watches, makeup, etc. What it the difference between a crucifix hanging around your neck, or a crucifix tattoo? They both have the same message, a testimony to the love of Christ.

Art is, and always will be subjective, so perhaps the debate should be over the tattoo itself, the image, the artistry. Perhaps having scripture tattooed is more acceptable then a skull with a snake. For this argument, where do you draw the line. What is art to you, may not be appealing to me.

So what is right? Like so many other things, I think the answer is for the individual to make.

Anonymous said...

One of the enemies greatest tools is justification of our actions. The privious comment mentions the scripture reference in 1Cor6:19, however he follows up with "However in these days and times , tattoos are considered and art form" does that then negate what the Bible says?

All of us have made mistakes and Praise the Lord for mercy and grace but I don't want to try and make decisions outside of the loving boundries that Christ has established.

As you said Brian, God looks on the inside. He knows our motives and our hearts and He has called us aside to serve Him. I recall when you preached about Homosexuality. The words in the Bible say that this is an abomination to God, However society say's it's fine. You provided a great teaching that show's us that Christ offers a better way. I think that applies to anything we do.
If I'm doing ministry to people who are pierced and tattooed I don't have to be tattooed to show the love of Christ. And if I have tattoos and I come to Christ I don't have to remove the ones I have.
I don't think that getting tattooed will keep us from God, He wants our very best in all we do. If getting/having tattoos makes you a better servant to Him...then go for it!

I do appricate that you take on such subjects because it is part of your calling to help us inturpret the Word of God and help us make right choices.

jf said...

I don't think we can look to the Bible for a definitive answer on this particular (and permanent) life choice. Though I'm sure there are many parents who wish there was a biblical taboo. It's my humble opinion, that the only real cut and dried rules laid out in the Bible are the Ten Commandments, and I don't find a rule pertaining to tattoos there. The rest of life's choices are for us to make as we continually seek the Lord's guidance through prayer, songs of praise to him, and the reading of his holy scripture. Long story short, I agree with you PB….Well said, as usual !

Jackie said...

I had a person that I respect very much, give this perspective. Thought it was worth passing along.

"My personal statement on tattoos is they are neither good nor are they bad."

If the tattoo (1) will not violate your conscience or the conscience of others, (2) will not cause permanent harm or disease to your physical body, (3) will not harm your interpersonal relationships, and (4) is symbolic of a spiritual truth that will benefit your relationship with Christ and your witness to the world, then I believe that it will not desecrate the image of God and you as a Christian are free in Christ to go under the needle.

Patricia said...

I read your words. I honestly had never considered all the content from the scriptures. I however do have tattoo's. I also want to say that I thought about it, researched, and considered if I got a tattoo what, what I would want and would it be something I could live with my entire life. They are very permanent (unless you have the money to have them removed which is more painful than the tattoo). I am a Christian today because I choose to be, not because anything was ever "crambed down my throat." I was raised with the same Bible "most" Christians are taught with (maybe a different translation). I love what you wrote. My point in my comment is that getting a tattoo is something people need to think about, pray about and consider if it is something they want to permanently put on their body for the rest of their lives. I consider it 5 years and then got my first tattoo. It's not something to take lightly. Whether someone believes it's right or wrong; it's the heart of people we should see. Not the marks, or lack their of, on their body.
I totally agree with your post and know that your comments are based from the same God and bible I read. Thank you for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

Hey Doc,

Here is the great thing about subjects like this. God can take what ever we bring to the table and make us new in His eyes. He looks at our hearts and loves us if we are tattooed, pierced, bald, long hair, rich, poor and the list goes on.

His promise is beauty for ashes, blessing for obidence and love for one another to show we are his.

I have seen folks with some awesome Christ Based tattooes and they always opened a door for conversation about our Lord and when others around us heard the conversation God was planting seeds.

Remember Christ invented the Kiss principle, and He does not want us to get bogged down over things that the enemy would use to devide us.

Thank God that he loved me beyond my long hair, rock& roll, and my drug addiction. He has blessed me beyond measure and I can tell you if I were in His shoes I would not have picked me but He saw my heart and He knew I was in desprite need of a savior!