I've wondered about the idea of a tattoo, namely what if it's a tattoo that specifically marks the flesh with an message that shares a Christian testimony? Awhile ago, I had a nifty idea for a tattoo involving stripes, and each stripe being a stylized Biblical Messianic passage. But I'm too much of a wuss to ever get a tattoo, plus that whole idea of "it's there on your skin forever" just doesn't go over well with me... :)
When I was at the rescue mission, there was this guy on the program who had a tattoo of a radiating cross on his forehead, in yellow dye on his Caucasian pink skin. It was very effective.
Ya, tattoos are excellent markers for the authorities to identify you by if you are ever wanted by the law. That idea of tattoos as government markers was used to efficient effect by the Third Reich to identify persons interred in concentration camps. It is used in SF for the humans held by Skynet in the Terminator mythology. And subscribers to chiliasm have speculated its use in their fantasy doctrine.
A tattoo on the forehead, or any part of the face, and you have to wonder if this person is willingly telling the world: yes, I never want to hold an office job again.
Anyhow, I knew of a person at a past church who grafted their skin with ink prior to their conversion, and they kept the tattoos following conversion deliberately as a conversation starter, so when people ask about the meaning they can segue the discussion into their testimony.
I've got a couple dents and pockmarks on my forehead, but sadly these don't serve as much of a conversation starter... :)
I found some interesting discussions regarding what the Scripture says about tattoos.
They contain a couple of interesting points. I will try to vignette the ones I found most interesting.
I'll include the links at the end for fuller examination, however I'd caution that some of the authors slip into less useful arguments in places.
First I'd like to say that I've personally been asked to design a fair number of tattoos and while I have designed one or two and I can't say I have aspirations to make tattoos for a living, in concept this has been a point of personal consideration for me for some time.
----- BEGIN OTHER PEOPLES ARGUMENTS ---
--- THE SCRIPTURE: ---
Leviticus 19:28 is the Christian... tattooist and tattoo-bearer's worst nightmare. The Lord plainly, clearly, strongly, and without a doubt – condemns the tattoo.
"Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD."
--- ITS OLD TESTAMENT SO IT DOESN'T APPLY ---
A lot of Christians when confronted with Leviticus 19:28, [exclaim]
"Hey dude, that’s not for today. Man, that’s the Old Testament. I’m under the New Testament".
Did you know that "bestiality" (sicko, perverted, sex with an animal) was ONLY forbidden in the Old Testament Levitical Law? Only in Leviticus 18:23 and Leviticus 20:15-16. Dude, only in the Old Testament Law. Does that mean a Holy God NOW – under the New Testament, approves of bestiality?
"By the way, have you ever read Leviticus 19:29? The verse immediately AFTER the "it’s not for me." Leviticus 19:28?
"Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness."
This is the only place in the Bible that God directly forbids someone to prostitute their daughter. And since, it’s ONLY in the Old Testament Levitical Law (and "hey, dude, we’re NOT under the law") – it MUST be ok by the Lord for a parent to cause their daughter to prostitute.
Same... line of reasoning as the "it’s ONLY in the Old Testament-tattoo-bearer-wearer". Same reasoning. . . Same disobedience. . . Same perversion of the Word of God.
There are many other "moral laws’ that are ONLY forbidden in the Old Testament, such as the human sacrifice of children. No where in the New Testament is this forbidden. Does that mean that NOW under the New Testament, God Almighty endorses throwing babies into the fire as a human sacrifice?
"And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD."
Matthew Henry’s Commentary at the beginning of Leviticus 19 explains that most of Leviticus 19 (such as verse 19:28) are moral commandments that applies not only for Israel but for the New Testament Christian today.
"Some ceremonial precepts there are in this chapter, but most of them are moral. . . Most of these precepts are binding on us, for they are expositions of most of the ten commandments."
(Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Leviticus 19:28)
--- IT’S ONLY "FOR THE DEAD" ---
...the Christian tattooers ...[response to] Leviticus 19:28 is the "that means nor print any marks upon you – for the DEAD". It’s ok, as long it’s not for the dead". See the "for the dead!!! . .for the dead!!!!".
Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.
....the phrase "for the dead" is ONLY referencing the "cuttings in your flesh". The condemnation of "nor print ANY marks upon you" is not qualified by the phrase "for the dead". Also, if you’ll notice the verse clearly says "ANY marks" period.
Merrill F. Unger's, very popular and authoritative, Unger's Bible Dictionary under the definition for "Mark" includes the following reference for Leviticus 19:28:
"In Lev. 19:28 we find two prohibitions of an unnatural disfigurement of the body: 'Ye shall not make any cutting in your flesh for the dead, nor any print any marks upon you.' The latter (Heb. qa aqa, incision) refers to tattooing, and has no reference to idolatrous usages, but was intended to inculcate upon the Israelietes a proper reverence for God's creation."
(Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Bible Dictionary, 1974 ed., p. 696)
Notice that Unger teaches that tattoos were forbidden without any reference to pagan, heathen, or idolatrous usages. In other words, the tattoo itself, regardless the reason, was forbidden
--- BUT WHAT ABOUT ISAIAH 44:5 & EZEKIEL 9:4? ---
I've seen several references by Christian tattooers who claim Isaiah 44 and Ezekiel 9 are examples of God-ordained tattoos in the Bible.
And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.
One shall say, I am the Lord's; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel.
The following excellent explanation of Isaiah 44:5 and Ezekiel 9:4 came from a Jewish web site:
1) In Leviticus 19:28 the term used is "k'thoveth qa'aqa." "K'thoveth" means "writing or inscription." "Qa'aqa" comes from a root whose meaning is "to insert or to stick in." Together, "writing that is stuck in"(see Rashi's commentary on the verse). Jewish oral tradition explains that the verse is talking about what we refer to today as tattoos, i.e. scratching or piercing the skin and filling it in with pigment.(see the tractate "Makoth" 21a).
2) Isaiah 44:5 uses the word "yichtov" which means "will write" without the word "qa'a'qa" "to insert or to stick in." Isaiah is not talking about tattoos. What he is saying is "...and he will write with his hand to the L-rd..." like someone who signs a contract to express his utmost commitment and obligation(see Metzudath David's commentary on the verse).
3) Ezekiel 9:4 uses the word "tav" which means "a mark or a sign." The man clothed with linen is going to mark the foreheads of the righteous with ink, not tattoo them!
This is a question many Christians struggle with. I believe tattooing falls into the category of "disputable matters" where the Bible is not clear. But wait a minute, you might be thinking. The Bible says in Leviticus 19:28, "Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord." (NLT) How much clearer can that be?
It's important, however, to look at the verse in context. This passage in Leviticus, including the surrounding text, is specifically dealing with the pagan religious rituals of the people living around the Israelites. The focus here is prohibiting worldly, heathen worship and witchcraft. God forbids his holy people to engage in idolatrous, pagan worship and sorcery which imitates the heathens. He does this out of protection, because he knows this will lead them away from the one true God.
It's interesting to observe verse 26, "Do not eat meat that has not been drained of its blood," and verse 27, "Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards." Well, certainly many Christians today eat non-kosher meats and get haircuts without participating in the forbidden worship of pagans. Back then these customs were associated with pagan rites and rituals. Today they are not.
So, the important question remains, is getting a tattoo a form of pagan, worldly worship still forbidden by God today? My answer is, this matter is disputable, and should be treated as a Romans 14 issue.
I've heard it said from my Dad, that tattoos are a way for society to 'get used' to the idea of someday recieving the 'mark of the beast'. Or that it will help people to be more accepting of when that time comes, or something like that. Hence, why the popularity of tattoos are on the rise each year, because we may be nearing the End Times. That could be why the bible is strict about it.
I have no qualms about tattoos or christians doing them/having them. I still think it would be cool to get a large dragon down my back, like a japanese Yakuza ( gangster ) tho, haha. But I never will cuz when I'm sixty and my skin gets wrinklely and starts to sag, well ...that just doesn't look cool anymore, does it? haha.
Doesn't it depend what the tattoo is of more than anything else?
Personally, I don't have a problem with tattoos - it's just not my scene, but I wouldn't judge anyone who is into them. I have one friend who has a thistle on his back to celebrate his Scottish heritage and another who wants to get a huge Celtic cross to celebrate both his Irish heritage and his Christian upbringing.
I am blessed with a lot of friends who spend a lot of forethought on what they want their tattoos to say, but it seems like some of these tattoos aren't really messages at all - they're just very random images, making a hypothetical debate about them pretty hard to categorize.
I thought G. Strouta made some interesting points. I was converted when I was about 19. before that I was right into fantasy art and used to design tatoos a little bit. Lots of my friends were/are into them (some are now Christians) I think the main reason I never got one is that when I would design the best picture I thought I could ever create- It didn't seem to be long after that I'd find something 'not quite right' with - that needed fixing! (no one's perfect-right?) I'd notice that the arm was a little short or the head's a bit big- but Imagine if I had that on me for the rest of my life!! I'd go nuts! :D Funny thing is, I used to have really long hair and an ear-ring. now I don't have anything like that anymore- I'm very glad I never went with a tatoo. Getting a tatoo has kind of been coming back into fashion (with 'non-fringe' groups) over here in Australia the past two years? I wonder if some of those folks will really regret a huge satanic skull and gore on their arm? Anything that is associated with that kind of regret can't be good? On the other side, we're all just learning and making mistakes in life- so if getting a tatoo is a mistake in life- then it's not the worst mistake you can make as opposed to dishonoring your parents or emotionally scarring somebody etc. One of my close mates had some tatts b4 he was converted by Jesus- then after he felt the need to get a big Fish sticker on his Calf muscle- that was obviously where he was at, so just bless Him and God, love him!
Tony, I think I might have left a comment on your blog, but I'll leave one here too!
I see no biblical issues or issues with my faith and tattoos. However, I can never come up with any ideas that I really want to see on my body the rest of my life, along with having a military background where identifying marks on the body might have been a bad thing (yet most folks in the military don't care and do it anyway; despite knowing they might end becoming someones lamp shade...).
I remember a man of faith with many piercings and tattoos visiting our school. He told a young man, "Cool tattoo" and the young man thanked him, then he asked "So, what does your tattoo mean?" the young man couldn't respond, and just mentioned he thought it looked cool, the visitor advised "You should never get a tattoo that doesn't have a meaning.".
Another story I'd heard about tattoos providing a unique ministry opportunity was from an old supervisor of mine who'd been through Desert Storm. He worked with 1st Infantry Division, and one of the Chaplains was a prior enlisted soldier, who while he was 'young and drunk' had a red devil tattooed on his forearm. The Chaplain said he'd probably brought more people to Jesus as a result of conversations started over that tattoo than any other single factor.
Just some considerations. You never know what tools God will give you to work with, especially the visual ones like tattoos.
I guess going back to the original question posed was should Christian artists create tattoos? First, does it glorify God - this is the deeper issue of the question. Next, what is it for? Next, where is it placed? Do the answers bring one back to glorifying God? If not, I would not.
Cultural question - are we submitting to the world in our actions or to God? Does getting a tattoo increase my testimony or witness? Truth be known, the Word of God and the gospel is the most relevant thing in the world. It does not need any help in being "relevant"-it already is. We do not bring people to God, God does. We are mere vessels either walking in step with God's spirit and His ways or not. When we are in step with Him, we are blessed by Him and given responsibilities and opportunities to respond and do the work of the Kingdom.
Personal question - Is it our desire or God's? Romans 1 talks about the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth (v.18). Does one suppress the truth by tattooing? Does one refuse to glorify God in their tattooing? Verse 21 says "for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened." Do we honor God in tattoo and give thanks to him. This is God's desire to be known and made known in everything we do. In verses 24, 26, 28 the phrase "God gave them up" appears. Significance, God gave man over to his desires (man's sinful desires). This is why there is wickedness, evil, covetousness, etc... in the world. The result of man wanting his desires and not God's. Does tattooing fulfill your own desire or God's - giving Him glory and thankfulness? Our own desires and choices are what cause our failings.
The Word of God - ultimately everything we say and do should be brought back to what God has to say. G. Stroud has done a very good job of breaking down what God's Word has to say including context. I recently studied the access that God gives us to His people - both lost and found. God will only give us access to people if we are following His commands, precepts - His Word. Zechariah 3:7 God said to Joshua that He was restored to his high priestly office and functions. He was restored to his God given authority and retained that God given authority as long as he "walk(ed) in my (God's) ways and keep my requirements". As long as Joshua did this he was given rule of God's house, charge of God's courts and access to these standing here (angels).
What else does God give us access to if we keep His commands and word and walk in these ways? His people, the most precious things in His hands. Acts 2:42-47 talks about the first church and its amazing health. What was that health, or God's blessing attributed to? The people were devoted to the Apostle's teaching (the Word), fellowship (the Body to each other), breaking bread (intimate fellowship in one's home) and prayer (conversing with God). These four things are pillars that we are to be devoted to personally and as a body. If we are God will bless His church.
If one is considering tatooing just to make cash or reach more people for God, one needs to reconsider their reasons. Does it glorify God and is it His desire? How do we know? By going to God's Word and listening to both His Spirit and law (Lev. 11:28).
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