What is crazy is that people are STILL asking this question! In balance, it’s also healthy that people are asking this question. I believe at the heart of most Christians is a desire to please God – and on the other side of the coin, there are others who use that desire to please God as a means to control other men and women. The line between Legalism and Christian Freedom is always hanging in the balance.
Few things expose that balancing act like smoking, drinking, tattoos, playing cards, gambling, etc., etc. Of course, the entire argument, the one about tattoos, always revolves around a single Mosaic/Levitical scripture on Judaic law, Leviticus 19:28 which shouldn’t be applied to New Testament Gentile believers – but alas, here we are. So let’s talk about it.
You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord. ~ Leviticus 19:28, ESV
Well, Brother Ralph – there it is. Black and white – no questions asked. Christians can’t have tattoos! Right? Right?!
It isn’t quite so cut and dry – and if it were, there are a lot of non-tattooed Christians out there breaking half a dozen commandments in that same chapter every day, who probably feel pretty pleasing to God because they’ve never had a tattoo…
Let’s be real for a moment – getting a tattoo is a big decision. They are pretty (when done well), but pretty permanent! And the reason for getting a tattoo can also impact its value. The featured image is a cool tattoo and I bet it will make people ask, “So what does Galatians 2:20 say?” Which can draw attention to God and have a good purpose! So use your freedom carefully!
Leviticus 19 also declares that you must keep the Sabbath (Saturday, no work, period!) and continue making peace offerings (animal sacrifice) and every farmer is to leave the edges of their field unharvested for the poor to gather…(Who took all the corn??)
Not to mention we are not to wear clothing of mixed fabric (poly/cotton anyone?) or tell fortunes or interpret omens, and guys aren’t supposed to round the edges of their beards or trim the sides of their hair! (Keep those curlies men!)
Look – Leviticus is a long book and if you have ever tried to read through it in one sitting – I guarantee you fell asleep. The point being is there are hundreds upon hundreds of statutes in those books that are declared abominations (eating shrimp for instance) and eternal covenants that 99% (well, more like 100%) of Christians don’t obey … on the daily! So why all the fuss about tattoos?
That’s just it guys. Fuss. The entire context of the verse in question was about pagan practices. Many in the ancient mystical world believed they would be endued with special powers based on the markings they placed on their bodies, and that they could capture the essence (power) of a deceased loved one, or communicate with the dead. Enter the Puritans and Holiness movements that took every opportunity they could to say, Thou Shall Not…
Wiccans have beliefs that their long hair gives them special power (which ironically is why Lee Stonekings error-riddled sermon on Long uncut hair as God’s commandment is known as Holy Magic Hair <– Read this!) and so do Sihk’s. These men never cut their hair which is why it is always in large turbans. This was ordered in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh as the preferred way to demonstrate the perfection of God’s creation.
We could say the same thing about tattoos, that they mar the perfect creation of God. But that is simply man’s commandments. If we are to take Leviticus in context and apply it to Gentile New Testament Christians, then we must ultimately take the whole chapter…and the whole book! Who’s in?
We don’t however (Take all the commandments and apply them to us…), for the Apostle Paul makes it clear that if we attempt to be righteous by keeping any one of the Old Testament Laws, then we are cursed to obey EVERY law. But thanks be to Jesus, that he took that curse from us and justified us in himself! We nullify the Grace of Jesus Christ if we attempt to revert to the law for our righteousness and we worship him in vain (Mark 7:7) if we attempt to create the commandments of man and turn them into God’s Doctrines.
If one simply feels better not getting a tattoo, then certainly, do not! They are pretty permanent and regret is not a good roommate. On the other hand, if it’s something you have desired to do, but were afraid to based on Fundamental teaching that there was something ‘sinful’ about it, then be loosed from such nonsense and exist in the Freedom of Christ.
Getting a tattoo is no more ‘defiling the temple’ than having Domino’s pizza or a donut, and soda pop, sun rays, a White Chocolate Mocha. (sugar gives the body cancer they say…) Be wise, and think about your motivations. If getting a tattoo is your way of flipping a bird to your past – probably not the best motivation! On the other hand, it can have deep meaning to you, and in many ways, be honoring.
Remember, God looks on the heart – while men look on the outward parts of who you are. That doesn’t mean the outward doesn’t matter – but to God, the inward means a whole lot more!
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. ~ Galatians 2:20-22
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:10-14