Recently, I posted a picture on Instagram that got as many comments as my previous 19 pictures combined. What caused the stir? My tattoo.
While some loved the design and meaning behind my ink (which you can read about in the post itself), others were confused, especially given the fact that the Bible seems to forbid getting a tattoo so clearly. The reaction was expressed so often that I felt it important to reply.
Here’s a portion of what I said . . .
For many Christians, Leviticus 19:28 makes getting ink a definite no-no. “Do not . . . put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.” That’s pretty clear, right? 🙂 So, what reasons might a tattooed Christian give to defend his or her choice? I can think of two:
- The first reason involves the discussion among Bible lovers about why someone back in that day (circa 1500 B.C.) would get a tattoo. We have all sorts of reasons in our day for getting ink (self-expression, sharing our faith, remembering a loved one, etc.), but what about in ancient Israel? One clue might be in that very same passage, Leviticus 19:28, which begins, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves.” It appears, in context, that there’s something more than putting ink under your skin. This has to do with some sort of connection to “the dead,” perhaps the pagan customs of other cultures that didn’t follow the God of Israel. The fact that we aren’t getting tattoos in order to promote false/sinful/pagan worship could be one valid reason modern Christians could get a tattoo.
- A second, and far stronger, reason (imo) is that Leviticus 19 is filled with clear commands that you and I don’t follow today. If you pick up a work shift on a Saturday (19:3), take your farm equipment over your entire cornfield to harvest it all (19:9), crossbreed animals (19:19), have a garden with more than one kind of seed (19:19), are wearing cotton/spandex-blend workout pants (19:19), enjoy a medium steak or hamburger (19:26), or have a stylishly trimmed beard (19:27), you clearly are breaking the rules of Leviticus 19.
What makes this issue even more challenging, however, is that Leviticus 19 is also filled with lots of commands that we still care about today. Don’t lie or steal or deceive (19:11). Don’t put up with injustice (19:15). Love your neighbor as yourself (19:18).
So, what should a person who loves and trusts the Bible think of this mash-up of commands? I believe we need to read the New Testament in order to figure out which commands apply to all of God’s people of all time and which commands were just for the people of Israel in Old Testament times. If a command is repeated, like “love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:39), then you should still see it as God’s will for your life. If it is not repeated—like the stuff about clothing fibers, seeds in the garden, and tattoos—then it no longer applies, and Christians have freedom to enjoy stretchy pants and get ink.
The New Testament itself talks about some commands being just for Old Testament people. Colossians 2 is one of the best examples.
Here’s a quick analogy—When you were back in grade school, there were some classroom rules that applied to your entire life (don’t lie to your teacher or punch anyone in the face) and some rules that applied just for that school year (be in your assigned seat by 8:00 A.M.). The rules were all valid and true, but some were meant to be temporary. That’s how many rules from God worked back in those days too.
One last thing—I loved the comment after my Instagram post about not just getting some trendy ink but, rather, needing also to live out our faith in true love for our neighbors. Me getting a tattoo is biblically allowable, but God cares much, much, much more about the way I treat people and reflect Jesus’ love to everyone I might. That was a huge deal to Moses in Leviticus 19 . . . and to Jesus in Matthew 22.
I hope that helps clarify why a Christian can proudly display his or her ink to the world. God bless you all, and have an awesome day living “for the LORD.”