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Question: What does the Bible have to say about body piercing and tattoos? Is it ok for a Christian teenager to have a tattoo even if it has a Christian message?
The current popularity of the tattoo makes it a valid issue demanding a Christian, Biblical response. When dealing with controversial issues, many demand chapter and verse in the Bible that deals namely and specifically with that issue. Those who do so fail to realize the nature of the Bible. The Bible is a book of principles that apply to any age, any culture, any person, any matter of life and living.
Suppose the Bible specifically addressed every item, issue, and idea of every age, culture, and person. One would need a semi-truck to bring his Bible to church. But, the reason the Bible is applicable to every age and every person and every culture, is that, even if it doesn't address an issue specifically, it deals with it by its principles. There is also what is called the tenor of Scripture. The tenor of Scripture is its very nature--all that it conveys, stands for, means.
With this in mind, and before dealing with tattoos, let me give an example involving another issue, gambling (bingo, playing the lottery, poker, etc.) Nowhere in Scripture is there a chapter and verse that says that gambling is sin. However, there are many Scriptures that present principles that if were followed would forbid gambling. Let me give a few for a sampling:
"Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom" (Proverbs 23:4 KJV).
"Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven" (Proverbs 23:5 KJV).
"A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent" (Proverbs 28:20 KJV).
"But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness" (1 Timothy 6:9-11 KJV).
Then there are other verses that deal with receiving money only as a fair return for labor or product not to mention Scriptures about being content with what God has given us, etc. Certainly, the point is made. We must not look just for chapter and verse, but for principles and not just for principles but for that which is becoming, fitting, and appropriate for those confessing the name of Christ.
First, let's look at what has been used as chapter and verse in reference to tattoos:
"Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:28 KJV).
While, perhaps not referring to tattooing as we know it today, we will see later that tattooing developed from and is classified as scarification of which this verse is in reference to. Besides that, the point is that this type of marking of the body is a pagan, ungodly practice coming from heathen peoples.
Some will argue that this is Old Testament law and quote the previous verse which forbids the cutting of beards to say if tattooing is wrong, so is the trimming of beards. First, it wasn't the trimming of beards, but the trimming of beards in mimic of the manner of the pagans. (Or at least a prohibition in order that God's people would look different from the pagans in the midst of whom they would dwell.)
Second, the verse following this says not to sell your daughter as a harlot. If the verse about beards invalidates what is said in the verse about markings on the body, then it also invalidates the verse about prostituting one's daughter. Although this doesn't pointedly address tattoos as we know it, it does in principle address them. It came from pagan heathen practice (as we shall later see) and it is an invading and altering of the body.
Now let's turn to principles regarding tattoos.
1. Tattoos are wrong for the Christian by reason of association.
First, tattoos originated in unchristian, pagan societies around social and pagan religious practices. There is evidence of them first in Egypt in 2,000 BC. Historical Egypt is forever a symbol of the anti-God world. Later, tattooing is found in what is now New Zealand and China. In America, tattooing was first popular among sailors who had visited these foreign ports and received tattoos and imported them on their bodies back to America.
Tattooing, until recently, has been most popular with the counter-culture youth (those rebelling against structure and authority), gangs, prison inmates, and some fashion models. Tattoos thus have been a symbol of the rebellious, criminal, tough guy types. Coming from pagan origins, adopted by anti-culture, anti-authority types, tattooing is simply not something that Christians should want any association with. Also, most tattoos themselves involve subjects that Christians should find abhorrent, such as demons, nude bodies, etc.
"Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good" (Romans 12:9 KJV).
"Abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22 KJV).
2. Tattoos are wrong for the Christian by reason of the principle of our bodies being temples of God (creations of God).
Our bodies are a wonderful creation of God. To try to cosmetically alter our bodies is to do two things:
1) It is to not accept God's workmanship.
True, our bodies are fallen, but each of us was specifically designed of God. "I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well" (Psalm 139:14 KJV). To alter our bodies by means of tattooing, is not accepting our bodies as God has made them. Also, involved in this is the unnaturalness of tattooing. Beauty that is condoned in Scripture is natural beauty. Tattooing is highly unnatural.
2) It is to harm the creation, the body, that God has made.
One might as well throw globs of paint on a Michelangelo painting (or even just paint a smaller picture on top one of his). Tattooing began as a scarification process. Cuts were made in the body, and irritants rubbed in, so that when the cuts healed, scars would be noticeable. Tattooing is classified with scarification. It is harmful to the body. In fact, it has in the past been outlawed because it became the means of spreading hepatitis and other diseases. However, refined and "safe" it has become, it is still an invasion and alteration of the body as God has made it.
"Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 KJV).
Although, these verses apply first to the church, the body of believers as the temple of God, later in chapter six the individual believer is also called the temple of God, and the same principles apply to God's temple whether His workmanship of the church or of the human body.
"Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body" (1 Corinthians 6:13 KJV).
"Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid" (1 Corinthians 6:15 KJV).
"What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 KJV).
3. Tattoos are wrong by reason of the principle of adornment.
Any article or research on tattooing will categorize it as decoration and/or adornment of the body. Now the whole purpose of the tattoo is that it be noticeable. It is bodily adornment. Scripture principle makes clear that the adornment of the body should be governed by modesty. To be modest is not to adorn one's body in a way that it is accentuated, in a way that one calls attention to his/her body. One should not notice a Christian because of a tattoo, but because of the spirit and demeanor of the Christian.
"In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works" (1 Timothy 2:9-10 KJV).
"While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" (1 Peter 3:2-4 KJV).
One with a heart for God, with a desire to live separated from the ways of wordily practices of our society, will be quick to see how unbecoming a Christian tattoos are. Those who have gotten tattoos while in a life of sin, should not feel marred for life or second rate. Although we can still see their tattoos, they are covered in Christ's blood and unseen by God.
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Last updated February 5, 2014.
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