The Bible and Tattoos

The Bible and Tattoos

by Eric Pereira

Tattooing has been around for centuries and this practice has enjoyed a popularity uprising, especially among young people, in recent years. The reasons are many. Some get tattoos to show independence and rejection of parental values. Others get them because of peer pressure or because they believe they are fashionable—a type of body adornment and beautification, something to be admired. Well, we are going to go through several bible verses and try to bring as much clarification as possible to the subject. We’re gonna look at the roots of tattoos, the reasons behind getting one, health risks behind, who in the Bible had/has some ink and at the end there is a short quiz to help you decided.

The most common used verse for the argument is Leviticus 19: 28 “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.” But we don’t want to particularly analyze just this passage but take a step back and look at scripture and tattooing from a birds eye perspective. In the verse before we read this: 26 “Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it. Do not practice divination or seek omens. 27 Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard”.  There go half our diet and 99.9% of our hair styles!

This passage in Leviticus was written for the Hebrews to stay focused on God. He didn’t want them to have anything to do with the pagans, or the people of the land they were about to inhabit. His people were called for a special purpose (Deuteronomy 14:2).

Tattoos and its Origins in Paganism.

There really isn’t a straight line. No one can say with absolute certainty that a tattoo or lack thereof will either get you into heaven or keep you out of it. So let’s begin where tattoos began. There’s a lot of speculation that tattoos have a background in pagan worship and demonic practices and it’s direct association to satanism.

Matthew Henry in his Biblical Commentary mentions this under this verse – “Eating upon the blood, as the Gentiles did, who gathered the blood of their sacrifices into a vessel for their demons (as they fancied) to drink, and then sat about it, eating the flesh themselves, signifying their communion with devils by their feasting with them” . This is about the prior verse about eating meat with blood, and it was the beginning of this ritual which was followed by dancing, cutting, and tattoos. He goes on saying “let not this custom be used, for the blood of God’s sacrifices was to be sprinkled on the altar, and then poured at the foot of it, and conveyed away. Enchantment and divination, and a superstitious observation of the times, some days and hours lucky and others unlucky. Curious arts of this kin d, it is likely, had been of late invented by the Egyptian priests, to amuse the people, and support their own credit. The Israelites had seen them practiced, but must by no means imitate them.”

Many pro-tattoo artists and historians can attest to this by saying things like, “tattoos have a power and magic all their own”, “there is in addition to the opening of numerous inlets for evil to enter”, “allowing his clients’ demons to help guide the needle”.  Ronald Scutt, in his exhaustive book, Art, Sex and Symbol, covers a lot about the history and culture of tattoos.  He documents that most of the time tattoos are associated with spiritual, religious and mystical purposes; linking it to mystical significance, sun-worship, serpent worship, and the sun-god Baal (1 Kings 18: 25-28).  Author Steve Gilbert, of Tattoo History: A Source Book, p. 99, records, “The Spaniards, who had never heard of tattooing, recognized it at once as the work of Satan.”

Many will even go as far as to say that tattooing is a magical rite and the tattooist is respected as a priest or shaman; it is connected to a religious ceremony and performed by priests or priestesses; it is intended to put the human soul in harmony with supernatural forces;

Of course, many tattoos are flowers or angels or symbolism of peace and joy many are the complete opposite.  The most common theme for tattoos is death. References from tattoo books again reveal this as a fact: “Death and darkness have always been a classic tattoo theme – skulls, snakes, demons” (The Body Art Book, pg. 56); Henry Ferguson in The Art of the Tattoo, states “probably the most popular tattooed image of today, the all-pervasive grinning skull!”; “Skulls imprinted on skin abound, and depictions of the Grim Reaper are commonly seen”; “Possibly, at the same time, to wear a death’s figure on one’s body may be an invocation of whatever indefinable forces of nature….in an attempt to protect the wearer from such a fate”.

Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary’s article on tattoos says, “Any kind of self-laceration or marking of the body was prohibited among the Hebrew people. Such cuttings were associated with pagan cults that tattooed their followers while they mourned the dead” (1986). God was strictly forbidding His people to participate in these practices! These prohibitions seem to relate to pagan religious customs which should be avoided, including pagan mourning rites (vv. 27-28)

Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983–c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary: An exposition of the scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

The practice of making deep gashes on the face and arms and legs, in a time of bereavement, was universal among the heathen, and it was deemed a becoming mark of respect for the dead, as well as a sort of propitiatory offering to the deities who presided over death and the grave. The Jews learned this custom in Egypt, and though weaned from it, relapsed in a later and degenerate age into this old superstition (Is 15:2; Je 16:6; 41:5). “nor print any marks upon you” (v:28 )—by tattooing, imprinting figures of flowers, leaves, stars, and other fanciful devices on various parts of their person. The impression was made sometimes by means of a hot iron, sometimes by ink or paint, as is done by the Arab females of the present day and the different castes of the Hindus. It probable that a strong propensity to adopt such marks in honor of some idol gave occasion to the prohibition in this verse and they were wisely forbidden.

Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (Le 19:28). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Why do you Want a Tattoo?

It really matters the reason behind why you want a tattoo. Ravi Zacharias has a saying that goes like this “intent comes before content”. I don’t know if you are reading this article because you’re considering getting one or getting another one but why don’t you take the short quiz at the end of the article (after you’ve read it of course) and decide then. What is your motive? Do you want to be cool, popular, blend in, all your friends are getting one? The bible clearly tells us the Jesus called us from the darkness into the light (Isa 9:2, Luk 1:79, Mat 4:16, 2 Cor 4:6). He didn’t call us to be exactly the same. We are a city on a hill and we need to be an example.

A tattoo is not going to get you into heaven nor is it buying you a non-stop ticket to hell. We are not judging or condemning anyone who has tattoos or believes it a good idea to acquire one.  If you are a new Christian and you have tattoos you don’t have to get them removed. Just like the new Christians didn’t have to be circumcised (see Gal. 5:2), you don’t have to get it removed. I also believe that when a believer has a true and deep encounter with God getting a tattoo won’t be his priority. It won’t bother him if other people have it – he’ll demonstrate the love of God to everyone, but I don’t think he will have the desire to get one either (Eze. 36:25-32)

So let’s assume you have a motive that’s slightly different. You want to share the gospel by adding a scripture to your body or a simple cross to show other and even remind yourself you belong to Christ. I understand that even scripture itself tells us to do everything for the glory of God and we have freedom in Christ, but Paul wrote this  “be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak” – 1 Cor.8:9. If you take a minute to read the entire chapter he is explaining that some things aren’t considered sinful in its nature but if it will be a stumbling block to weaker brothers and sisters than it becomes a sin and not something we should pursue. He also says, “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial” 1 Cor. 6:12. Although a verse on your body may be beneficial to you we are called to love our brother and sister as ourselves and doing something without their well being in mind is selfish. Keep in mind that even if your motive is pure it’s outcome may not be. John Wesley exchanging letter with his mother one day asked her about how he should make his moral decisions. She replied with this beautiful quote:

“Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.”

   — Susanna Wesley (Letter, June 8, 1725)

He definition goes well with 1 Cor. 6:19 “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies”. Imagine that! You are not your own. 

The way of the fool is right in his own eyes:  but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise. Proverbs 12:15

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.  Proverbs 21:2

All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes: but the LORD weigheth the spirits. Proverbs 16:2

Health Risks – Stats

Not only do you need to have a completely clear conscious when thinking about getting a tattoo, there are health risks you have to be willing to take. It is a well-known fact that tattooing runs a risk of acquiring any number of deadly diseases, including Hepatitis C and AIDS.  The reason is because the needle that is used to tattoo punctures the skin 3,000 times a minute.  In an hour, that would be 180,000 times that puncture wounds provide a potential path to a deadly disease. 

Not only that, but it is also well documented that tattoo shops are not regulated by the government to uphold medical standards.  Also, many tattoo artists do not inform their clients of  possible infection from the needle or the ink.  The Mayo Clinic sounds a warning about commercial tattooing: “Few states have hygienic regulations to ensure safe tattooing practices in commercial tattoo parlors, and even fewer monitor and enforce standards”. (Body Piercing and Tattoos: More than Skin Deep, Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com).  Tattoos can cause many chronic skin disorders such as sarcoid, keloid scarring, allergic dermatitis, photosensitivity reactions, psoriasis, and tumors.

Dangerous diseases have been transmitted by improper sanitation of the needles used in tattooing. An article in the USA Weekend magazine of Aug. 5, 2001, quotes a study by the University of Texas showing that those who have been tattooed are nine times more likely to be infected with hep C. The study urged those who have been tattooed in the last 10 years to be checked for the disease because it is often dormant for years before being detected. The dyes used in the tattooing process may also be detrimental to one’s health (Andrew Osborn, “Health Risks Warning on Body Art Dyes,” The Guardian, July 18, 2003).

Of course, a tattoo is something you have to live with for a long time! Stop for a second think about what is the longest thing you’ve ever really liked, I'm not even saying loved just liked. Excluding all life essentials like food, water, breathing, diveinscrpture.org and a few other things. A tattoo will last a lifetime, will you really enjoy it as much for that long? For people who get tattoos when they are young, many later regret their decision. It is “estimated that almost 50%eventually regret having their body tattoo” (www.tattooremovalinstitute.org ). Many of these people eventually undergo operations to have their tattoos removed, but these procedures are not always successful. Scarring and skin variations commonly remain. Not to mention the price is not something on the dollar menu and many of the procedures can be painful.

Why Does Jesus have a Tattoo?

He doesn’t. Scripture says in Rev. 19:16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name was written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Matthew Henry says that the verse explains a symbol “of his authority, his coat of arms a name written on his vesture and thigh, King of kings, and Lord of lords, asserting his authority and power, and the cause of the quarrel”. He is saying that Jesus doesn’t have a tattoo on his actual thigh but on the robe which is covering his thigh. Keyword robe. Which covers one from neck to ankles, if Jesus was wearing a robe John never even saw his thigh. The placement of the wording was on the area that was over Jesus’ thigh. For example, when I wear a Polo t-shirt, I have a horse on my chest. The horse is not literally on my chest but sitting over it on the shirt.

Jesus was a Jew and by the verse in Leviticus (19:28) He would not break the law. He perfect in every way and completely sinless and the entire Trinity is. One of His objectives during His ministry on earth was to fulfill the mosaic law and not break it (Mat. 5:17). He offered Himself fully and entirely just as we should. Romans 12: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Ask Yourself This

If you are living with your parents or a guardian or anyone who pretty much takes care of you, it is imperative that you speak to them about it. They need to be completely behind your decision. You don’t want to be rebellious or dishonoring to that person. If that were that case then the tattoo wouldn’t a gray area anymore but a direct sin.

Also, speak with your leader or pastor. Trust me, even if you don’t have intimacy or a deep friendship, seek someone in your church who is older than you and explain your situation, why you want a tattoo and hear them out. To be really safe, I would recommend speaking to more than one. But please find a person who is grounded spiritually, don’t waste your time talking to just anyone about it!

If you are a member of the body of Christ you have to be going to a church and be a member at that church. Take a look at the membership agreement. You may have signed it or if you are attending that church it getting a tattoo is prohibited honor your pastor/organization’s wish. No, don’t leave and find a church where it is allowed and encouraged. God can teach you a great deal of servanthood when you are obedient and it is always better to obey than sacrifice.

Lastly, after you’ve spoken with your parents, significant other, guardian, leader, or pastor, did you speak with Jesus? Have you truly prayed about this? Do you feel God is the one leading you to do this or is it your deceitful heart? Here is something easy to accomplish and could save you a world of trouble. A tattoo will last decades, why don’t you take at least 40 days to pray and fast about it and see how you feel at the end of the 40 days, Romans 14:23 says this “…everything that does not come from faith is a sin. Maybe even invite someone to pray and fast with you! If you need us to help you in prayer we are always available. Send us an email at diveinscripture@gmail.com

QUIZ

  1. How do my heart and my conscience convict me?
  2. Do I have freedom in Christ and a clear conscience before the Lord regarding the decision to get a tattoo?
  3. Am I passing judgment on a brother or sister because I don’t have freedom in Christ to receive a tattoo?
  4. Will I still want this tattoo years from now?
  5. Will my parents and family approve, and/or will my future spouse want me to have this tattoo?
  6. Will I cause a weaker brother to stumble if I receive a tattoo?
  7. Is my decision based on faith and will the result be glorifying to God?
  8. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. 1 John 5:3-5



Eric Pereira
Eric Pereira

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