Here’s a topic that’s extremely controversial. I stipulate that my comments are meant for people who believe in Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) and believe in the authority of all the Bible. If you don’t hold to the two stipulations, then my comments won’t carry weight with you.
There’s a cultural phenom of tattoos or “body art” that’s been growing, and I’ve seen little said regarding what G-d thinks about it. It’s my hope to offer some thoughts for consideration to fellow believers.
It seems to me that there’s been an explosion of tattoos in my generation. There was a day when the primary owners of tattoos were military men who had gotten one while they were out of country, or by prisoners who aligned with a gang.
Today, I see tattoos on numerous people of every race, religion, gender and age. As I look them, I can’t help but ask, “What does G-d think about this?”
The Bible does not address the topic of tattoos directly. There’s no verse that says, “thou shalt not get tattoos,” probably because tattoos were not as ubiquitous then as they are today.
We do have one verse that addresses tattoos in Leviticus 19:28, but then the context indicates that the prohibition is related to getting a tattoo “for the dead.”
In order for this verse to apply to our discussion, we’d need more information to see if this only prohibited tattoos for the purpose of commemorating the dead or some related idea.
It’s most likely that the verse addresses mourning customs during which one would gash their body or write the names of “gods” on their body at the death of a family member.
At least it moves the discussion of tattoos into the realm of something one should not do, but it doesn’t close the door completely.
I do believe putting a tattoo on your body that honors a “foreign god” violates the commandments related to idolatry, and I’ve seen numerous tattoos of “foreign gods.”
Since I can’t argue a specific verse that closes the gap against tattoos, let me address some Biblical principles that move us in that direction.
The first is that our bodies are created by G-d and thus belong to Him. According to Psalm 139, G-d is the One who forms each of us in the womb. The opening chapters of Genesis declare humanity is formed of dust, as G-d is imaged as a potter, with humanity the clay on His wheel.
We, as humanity, are created in the image of G-d, so does G-d desire His image-bearers to have tattoos?
This argument only works if you believe that G-d is the creator of life. If life is created by G-d, then all of life belongs to Him.
As believers, our lives, which includes our bodies, belong to G-d, and only He has the right to put something on our body or take something off our body. We definitely don’t have a verse on either side of the Bible where G-d commands us to put tattoos on our bodies.
I wonder if those who have covered their bodies in tattoos have given consideration to G-d’s will on this topic?
To put it another way, our bodies are a gift from G-d.
Imagine that you create a beautiful painting for your friend’s birthday. In order to make the painting, you spend hours of time to delicately design something you think your friend will enjoy. On the day you give the gift to your friend, they open the painting and proceed to take a Sharpie or spray can and improve the painting by covering it with their own markings.
How would you feel as you watched what you spent hours making covered over by the random “art” of your friend?
Tattoos on our bodies are defacement of the masterpiece from the creator of the universe.
The second principle regarding tattoos is that our bodies are called a temple. If one studies the Hebrew Scripture, one would find first the Tabernacle (Exodus) and later the Temple as the place where G-d would meet with man.
The Tabernacle/Temple was the physical address of G-d on earth and was designed for Holiness since the One dwelling there is Holy.
Can you imagine an Israelite going up to the Tabernacle/Temple with a Sharpie or spray can and writing graffiti on the outside? I don’t believe G-d desired any “improvements” to His Tabernacle/Temple, or He would have commanded it.
If our bodies are the Temple, then to write on them is the equivalent of graffiti that defaces His created image. The book of Exodus gives great detail on how the Tabernacle is to be constructed, and nowhere do we find G-d saying He wants the Israelites to write on it after it’s complete.
Finally, the Apostle Paul tells us that, as believers, we should present our bodies as a “living sacrifice” to G-d (Romans 12:1). A “living sacrifice” is oxymoronic, because a sacrifice is only a sacrifice if it dies.
What Paul asks us to do is “die” to self and “live” for G-d. But where does Paul get the idea of sacrifice in the first place?
If we go back to the only Bible Paul had (the Hebrew Scripture), we find animal sacrifices at numerous places, but primarily in the book of Leviticus.
One of the primary requirements of bringing a sacrifice to be offered at the Tabernacle was that it must be without blemish. No animals were allowed to be sacrificed that had any physical or observable defects on their bodies (See Exodus 29:1, Deuteronomy 17:1).
If you and I, as believers, are to be a “living sacrifice” does G-d desire that our bodies be free of defect, or that we have tattoos plastered on our bodies? I hope fellow believers in Messiah Yeshua will give serious consideration to the Biblical text and examine the principles related to tattoos.
We are the creation of G-d in His image, the Temple of G-d, where His presence resides, and the “living sacrifice” designed to be free of defect. Tattoos undermine what believers are called to represent to this world.On Faith columnist Brent Emery can be reached by email at email@example.com.