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Christians & Tattoos
by Dr. Brad Bailey

Should Believers Get a New Tattoo?

America’s population is now fully involved in a love affair with tattoos and body piercings.  A Harris poll in 2012 found that 1 out of every 5 adults (21 percent) has at least one tattoo.  An earlier Pew Research Center study found that the number was closer to 40 percent among those ages 18 to 29.  It is not uncommon to see people walking the corridors of America’s malls and shopping centers with tattoos of all sorts today.  Some of these tattoos are tasteful, but there are many that would even make a sailor blush.

The newest statistics on the website statisticbrain.com reports that U.S. spending on tattoos is now $1,650,500,000.00 annually and that 36 percent of adults 18 to 29 have some form of tattoo art.  Among those 26 to 40, a full 40 percent have tattoos.  Those numbers are staggering to me.  I would have never thought that over a billion-and-a-half dollars have been spent on tattoos.

I remember the days when tattoos and Christianity were like oil and water.  In my day, believers who had tattoos were normally old sailors who had gotten them in their youth.  Those people normally tried to cover them up or hide them after they were saved, but now, church-goers everywhere are flaunting their tattoos proudly.  This seems to be in lock-step with the cultural shift that is taking place in the modern church on many levels.  The sanctified, separated churches of yesteryear are now a thing of the past, and displays like tattoos are commonplace among church-going youth especially.

There is no question that, if you have not already been confronted, sooner or later, you will have to decide whether to let a tattoo enthusiast join in your choir, or be on your church platform in some form of ministry.  The days of remaining neutral are few and we will all be forced into a decision on this matter, whether we like it or not.

The New Testament does not specifically command against tattoos or body piercings, but it also does not give us any reason to believe God would have us get tattoos or body piercings.  However, the principle of 1 Corinthians 10:31, which says, Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” seems to apply.  The question is “can a tattoo bring God glory?”  Another passage that comes to mind would be 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 which says, 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.”

In Leviticus 19:28 the Bible says, Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.”  This has been the time-tested go-to passage for those who condemn the practice of tattooing.  The “for the dead” section of Leviticus 19:28 is the easy part to explain.  The Biblical Illustrator offers this insight, “The wild and frantic demonstrations of grief so common among eastern dud [sic] southern nations, included cuts and incisions in the body, among the Hebrews, the Philistines, and the Moabites, the Arabs and Ethiopians, the Babylonians and Armenians; among the early Greeks and Romaus, people in bereavement, especially women, indulged in the hideous practice of ‘lacerating their cheeks’; and when the king of the Seythians died, those of his subjects who received his body for burial, ‘cut off a part of their ears, shaved off their hair, wounded themselves on the arms, and drove arrows through their left hands.’”  What makes this practice so very antichristian is the reality that those employing such memorials are giving the appearance of grieving without hope.  They are conducting themselves as if they will never see their loved ones again, and that may very well be the case if they are unsaved.  Christians, however, are forbidden to engage in such practices because it reflects poorly on our view of the afterlife.  Believers need not grieve so feverishly because we know where our loved ones are and we know that a great reunion day is coming.

So the practice of tattooing a dead relative’s, or loved one’s name on your body is clearly forbidden in Leviticus 19:28.  But what about printing “marks” for other purposes of enjoyment or identification?  Why do people do it?  I must admit, I don’t understand.

Most people get tattooed to mark a significant aspect of themselves or their life.  This can be done with a simple yet symbolic zodiac tattoo symbol, or a more detailed design based on a favorite movie or character or any other significant piece.  Also, from military to family portrait tattoos, many people honor their family and loved ones in a tattoo design.  Did you know you can have the ashes of a loved one’s remains poured into your tattoo ink, and then inserted into your skin?  Ancient cultures have long carried the remains of their loved ones through body ink.

Some people are persuaded that tattooing your body is a way to define your own individual style.  The quality of tattoos has improved dramatically over the last decade, so many see this as a method of setting themselves apart from the norm in a more sophisticated and committed way.  Body art and tattooing is the new fashion statement of millennials.

On the darker side of the tattoo world, there are prison tattoos and designs used amongst gang members to affiliate themselves with one another on the street.  Although not nearly a common reason for getting a tattoo, some people sell their bodies for prime advertising space.  An online casino paid a woman $15,000 to tattoo their casino logo on her forehead.  These types of tattoos, while profitable, are also most likely to end with regret.

On the more noble side of the tattoo trend, people may get tattooed is to cover up scar tissue.  This is also true of a deformity or permanent handicap.  For example, someone may lose their arm in a shark attack, and decide to tattoo the shape of a shark's head on their remaining limb.  These types of tattoos are designed to improve the appearance of the body and boost confidence.  I know of women who were born without eyebrows, so they had some tattooed on and they look great.

While the reasons people get tattooed are many, the end result is always the same: it’s permanent!  There are unfortunate circumstances that make tattooing regrettable.  Among such circumstances are people who tattoo a lover’s name on their body, only to regret it when they break up because of infidelity.  I would imagine that every time that person looks in the mirror and sees that name, they regret that decision to permanently mark their body.  Even worse, when they move on to another relationship and their new partner has to constantly see that old lover’s name on their lover.

I once knew a lady who wore long sleeves to cover the tattoos that she acquired in her youth.  She was so ashamed for people to see the signs of her rebellion after she had been born again.  A local dermatologist helped her remove the tattoos without cost to her, but the scars were now visible and she still struggled to wear short sleeves.  It was a painful reminder that some decisions cannot be erased, no matter how hard you try.

Another friend of mine contracted an infection from a tattoo that was two decades old, and had to have it removed.  The removal of it cost him fifty times as much as the original tattoo cost.

I can definitively say that it is immodest to get a tattoo to publicly display on a part of your body that should be clothed.  Go to any local theme park and you will quickly see that people are proud of their tattoos, and some of them are in places that are indecent.

I have a simple admonition when it comes to tattoos: don’t do it!  There are few reasons that I can think of that would justify the acquisition of a tattoo.  Will it damn your soul to Hell if you have one?  No!  But it can scarcely be described as a practice that brings glory to God.

I think more serious questions to ask yourself are: What are my motives for wanting a tattoo?  Am I seeking to glorify God or draw attention to myself?  Will my tattoo be a source of contention for my loved ones?  Will getting a tattoo cause me to disobey my parents?  Will my tattoo cause someone who is weak in the faith to stumble?  Will I still want this tattoo years from now?

Give the money you were going to spend on a tattoo to your church’s missions program, or some worthy cause that will last forever.  I can only imagine what 1,500 churches could do with $1,650,500,000.00 this year.  That would be a little over a million dollars per church to use for God’s kingdom.  You and I can live without tattoos, but sinners can’t live without Christ!