For as long as tattoos have been a cultural sign of grit and rebellion, parents have been trying to keep their teenagers from getting them. Some Christians appeal to Leviticus 19:28. “‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.” Is this a straightforward condemnation of tattoos? Are tattoos sinful and something Christians must avoid?
Does Levitical Law Still Apply?
Any time we look at an Old Testament Levitical law, we need to be careful in our modern application. As Christians in the new covenant, not every law still applies to us. The New Testament reinforced many of the moral laws even for non-Jewish Christians. Many of the ceremonial laws, such as dietary or clothing restrictions, were not carried over. Jesus or Paul never mention tattoos as something we need to avoid. If Tattoos are sinful, we are never explicitly told that. There are many things not explicitly condemned, though. How can we be sure about this?
Limited Cultural Context
Why was this law written in the first place? Sometimes what appears to be a broad restriction has more of a cultural context for that time. In this case, the law is clearly talking about a religious practice. In those days, tattoos often had specific religious purposes. This law is less of a condemnation of tattoos and more an extension of the command not to worship other gods. Most tattoos today are completely divorced from religion.
Your Body is a Temple
Some appeal to 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.” First, this verse follows a discussion of sexual immorality, not body art. Second, how one treats a temple is going to vary significantly by culture. Do we not decorate temples with art? What is a tattoo but a stained-glass window for your body?
I neither have nor particularly want a tattoo. That’s a personal preference, though. I see no sound arguments from scripture that they are inherently sinful. Of course, tattoos can still be sinful, depending on the content and the motivation behind them. Obviously, it would be bad to get a tattoo of something demonic or crude, especially if intentionally done out of defiance. My advice on tattoos would be that you be careful and thoughtful. Don’t get one just for the sake of getting one. Your body is a temple of the living God. Decorating it is good and fine, as long as it is not done poorly or carelessly.
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