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Inked: What the Bible Says About Tattoos

Tattoos. Taboo or totally cool? This subject has been a hot topic of debate within Christian circles, especially between younger generations and the more traditional older crowd.

What does Scripture say and how do we apply sound Biblical teaching to our lives regarding tattoos?

Culturally, tattoos are a modern way of expressing feeling, creating memorials, or to tell a story. They can be a permanent reminder of an event or season. They may even be a way for a person to express themselves fashionably. Tattoos, in my opinion, are just another subject argument believers are having that focus on the wrong question, but since we are here, let’s spend some time studying what the Scripture says about getting inked. The Bible does NOT have any definitive answers specifically about tattoos as we know them, but does have a few things to say about the issue behind the argument.

The main Scripture that is used to label tattoos as unbiblical is Leviticus 19:28. The ESV translation reads “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.”

Ok, here we go. This is where understanding hermeneutics (the study of interpreting God’s Word correctly) is imperative. Basically, when you are reading Scripture, it is integral that you ask yourself a few questions about what you are reading. Who is the author? Who is the intended audience? What was happening in that time/era/culture that makes this topic important? Answering those questions, along with checking the wording in the original text, can assist you in interpreting what the Scripture is saying and how to apply the text in daily living.

So, let’s examine this text and apply context. Who is the author? The first five books of the Bible were written by Moses and they are called “The Pentateuch.” The intended audience is the people of Israel, who had just been delivered from Egypt. Now, Israel was situated between Egypt and Canaan. In Egypt, it was customary to tattoo women with images of fertility (breasts, thighs, and abdomens). This practice was believed by the Egyptians to be a “good luck charm” in delivering children. Simultaneously in Canaan, they worshiped a god called “Baal.” It was customary to slash their bodies, scar themselves, and cause themselves to bleed profusely to honor their god. They would also complete this ritual to mourn their dead. See how this doesn’t sound very much like tattoos as we know them today? The message was for God’s people to keep His command of worshiping Him only. “I am Lord.” Leviticus 19:28 He was reminding His people that He is sovereign.

Let’s look at another Scripture.

1 Corinthians 1:31 “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Let’s check our motives. Are we getting a tattoo out of rebellion or hate? Is there a reason behind your desire for a tattoo? Most importantly, does it bring God glory?

My tattoos are reminders of the seasons that God has brought me through and the promises He has honored in my life. God is faithful and my heart, mind, body, and soul are a testament to His goodness. If you are thinking about getting a tattoo or have gotten a little flak from more traditional believers, take heart. Study what God’s Word says. Know what you believe and why.

My prayer is that you would grow in grace and in spiritual maturity. In the meantime, get some sweet ink!

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