One of the jobs of the priesthood in the Bible was to teach God’s “people the difference between the holy and the common, and to show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” (Eze 44:23) The LORD gives honor to “the consecrated priests, the sons of Zadok, who did not go astray when the people of Israel went astray, as the Levites did.” (Eze 48:11) Today we have many church leaders who are not preaching the whole Word of God, not teaching the difference between the holy and the common, perhaps in ignorance, or perhaps in order not to offend anyone.
But “am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man?” (Gal 1:10)
Some may be upset by this article. I am not trying to please man but to Scripturally answer a question. “Should a Christian get a tattoo?” This article is not confined to, but it does speak to that specific issue. Perhaps, though, the principles may be well applied to other areas of concern by helping one to rightly divide the Word of God. Maybe it will help you answer your own question: “Should a Christian…..?”
IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH
When I first was delivered out of the cult that I had been in for almost ten years, there were a lot of things that I did, not knowing that I shouldn’t. I actually went back to a cult meeting and was chanting with them. I knew I didn’t need to chant any longer but I hadn’t yet realized the inherent evil in it. It only took that one time, though. The LORD convicted me. I came to understand that this was NOT a practice I should continue if I wanted to please the LORD.
There are actually Christian denominations that practice a form of chanting. This is NOT God’s way. Yet, it is advocated by some churches. The rosary as an example. Now, there are many sincere, devout Christians practicing the rosary. I do NOT judge their sincerity, nor their motives, nor their heart, nor even their love for God. However, the rosary is a pagan practice at its root. For example, counting beads are used in some sects of Buddhism. But is there any mention of the rosary in the Scriptures? To the contrary, Jesus cautioned just before He gave the LORD’s prayer as a model, that we should not use “vain repetitions as the heathen do.” (Matthew 6:7) Is not the rosary a “vain repetition”?
There are plenty of models for prayer in the Scriptures. The psalms of David particularly show an honest, heartfelt communication with the Father. That is in stark contrast to repeating the same phrases over and over fifty times! Is God deaf? However, some think they are pleasing the Father by saying a rosary. While the Father does graciously look on the heart, should we not seek to worship Him in the manner He has prescribed? God equates loving Him with obeying Him. (1 John 5:3) He wants us to worship Him “in spirit and in truth.”
Jesus did NOT tell the women at the well (John 4:19-26) that their Samaritan way of worship was acceptable. They had set up their own version of Judaism in Samaria. They were doing it their way. They were probably quite sincere. But they were sincerely wrong. Jesus told her plainly, “You worship what you do not know”. (John 4:22) Does this statement mean that they were not even in fact worshipping the God of Israel by doing it their own way? “You worship what you do not know…. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) God wants us to worship sincerely but also in line with His Word, the Truth.
So if something is specifically forbidden in the Scripture, should we think that it is all right to use that as worship? That would not be in truth!
So let’s get back to tattoing. Some Christians have tattooed their bodies with Scripture. They have done this zealously, maybe meaning to glorify God. But is this what God asked them to do? Did the Holy Spirit lead them, was it a part of their culture, or did they think it was cool?
This is NOT written to judge anyone, but to point out to others who might consider tattooing that it is NOT something that Christians SHOULD do. I once said the rosary zealously and in sincerity. Now that I know better, I will not.
Some might quote Leviticus 21:5 as an argument against tattooing. It may not be a strong argument as its context is priests and death rituals. (Although we as Christians are a holy priesthood and should also be held to a higher standard, which is a principle in this passage.)
BUT Leviticus 19:26-28 is addressed to the congregation at large and the context is now refraining from superstitious pagan practices (witchcraft):
“You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor shall you practice divination or soothsaying. You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead , nor tattoo any marks on you: I AM the LORD.” (Lev 19:26-28) (Notice it says “any marks” NOT “unless it’s an Israelite symbol or Scripture”.)
I think Matthew Henry would agree:
He writes that the passage is “A law against the superstitious usages of the heathen…. They must not make cuts or prints in their flesh for the dead; for the heathen did so to pacify their infernal deities.” (Matthew Henry Commentary)
This passage does not disallow men from trimming their hair or beards at all (as some lamely argue to support their notion that we do not need to heed this Scripture today), but does disallow them from cutting their hair or beards in the fashion of pagan religious rites. We should not look like the heathen. We are to be salt and light.
The problem is that many do not recognize pagan practices for what they are. Many Christians unknowingly wear symbols that are occultic and/or pagan. God says his people perish for lack of knowledge. Before you put some cryptic symbol on you, please know what it means! Many symbols that are used have pagan origins! We inadvertently advertise pagan concepts by wearing them.
But we have God’s Word on tattoos. God forbid tattoos specifically. Yes, it’s that simple.
IT’S STILL THE WORD OF GOD!
People say, “That was then, this is now” or “That was in the Old Testament…” I ask you, should we profane the name of the LORD because it’s nowadays common and it’s an Old Testament prohibition? (Lev 19:12)
God says, “For I the LORD, I do not change…”
God has graciously provided Christ’s atonement for our sins in the New Covenant, so we’re no longer under the Old Covenant penalty of death for infractions of the Law. But the LORD hasn’t suddenly changed that He would now condone sin and pagan practices! Do you really think our freedom in Christ means we should emulate traditions of heathen men?
“Shall we continue in sin that grace should abound?….. do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin…. Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:1-15)
Which brings up a good question: Where exactly is sin defined? The Old Testament gives us the knowledge of what is sin. Murder is still sin. Stealing is still sin. Fornication, including homosexuality, despite some even so-called Christians trying to justify it, (Leviticus 18:22; Lev. 20:13) is still a sin. Abortion is still sin. Paganism is still sin.
We are under a new agreement/covenant with the LORD regarding coming into His Presence. We are under the blood of Christ and can come boldly before the throne through grace. HalleluYAH!
We are under a new agreement/covenant with the LORD regarding the judgment of our sins – they are all under the blood of Christ. Therefore, we are no longer stoned for sin. Christ took that punishment on the cross.
But the New Covenant does NOT change the nature of evil. The nature of sin still IS sin.
The point is that tattooing IS a pagan practice, and that we saints should “abstain from even the appearance of evil”. (1 Thes 5:22) “For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14)
We’ve many military and others who have gotten tattoos, unaware of God’s instruction on the matter. They should not be scorned nor their have their heart judged because of past indiscretions. What’s done is done, and under the blood, but that is not justification for continuing to condone a pagan practice by the Church at large. I think perhaps this is the root reason why some Christians think this topic is a gray area: Because they know good Christian people who have tattoos. But this is the same reasoning that has brought the spirit of perversion into churches. We might know some “nice” people who are practicing homosexuality and we should love them. Certainly God loves them. Yes, God loves them, but He calls them to repentance! They need to be set free in Christ from this bondage!
The pulpits are not blameless because many fail, for whatever reasons including not wanting to offend anyone, to preach against the insidious nature of evil. And so pagan customs (rosaries, labyrinths, idols, secret societies, etc.) creep into the Church under the guise of popular culture. We need to welcome sinners with open arms, but say, “sin no more.” The fact that tattooing is becoming more accepted here only underlines the sad downward spiral of a once Scripturally-based western civilization plummeting back into paganism. It’s an example of “lawlessness leading to more lawlessness”. (Romans 6:19)
Tattooing has only relatively recently come back into mainstream America, along with much else as is eveidence of a moral decline. Sadly things have changed in America as we turn away from the Scriptures. In the fifties, perhaps there would not have even been much disagreement on the subject amongst believers. I have an old American Peoples Encyclopedia from the 1950’s. It states: “The custom [of tattooing] was formerly widespread, especially among primitive peoples….. Under the influence of civilization the custom tends to disappear…. figures represented are often of religious significance…” Now, there are tattoo parlors in suburbia!
One distinction of God’s people, the Israelites, was that they did NOT have tattoos because God had forbidden it! God wanted them and wants us to stand out from the heathen to His glory. We are a royal priesthood and our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost! He should shine through us! We are a holy, “set apart” people. Our distinction is precisely what will draw people to the Christ in us! When they ask, “Why don’t you….?” and we have a Godly reply! Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God! (Romans 10:17)
Therefore, Christians should NOT accept this or any other pagan religious customs (astrology, consulting mediums, etc.) that are expressly forbidden in the Word of God: “You shall not….tattoo any marks on you: I AM the LORD.” (Lev 19:28)
[See list of “abominable practices” in Deut 18:9-14] Should one really justify these practices for Christians today? God forbid! Then why would you justify tattoos?]
God is not a fuddy-duddy. He forbids pagan practices because they are harmful to us. They open doors to the demonic. We need to repent of any and all heathen practices and rid our homes of pagan religious objects. The Israelites lost the battle at Ai because of an “accursed thing” hidden in the camp! Joshua was not even aware of this infringement, yet they lost the battle. (Joshua 7:10-12)
Throughout my ministry, I have seen where the enemy has used “accursed things” to keep Christians from victorious living. Religious pagan objects can give the demons legal access into the lives and homes of Christians. Indeed, one of the things the Lord told me to do when I first became a Christian was to throw out the Buddhist paraphernalia! After obeying and filling my home with the praise of God, a demon which my young son had seen, left the premises!
UNDER GRACE NOT LAW
One will argue, “We’re not under the Old Testament Law. We’re under grace.” Thank God, we are under grace! Grace changes the ramifications of sin for us but it does not make sin acceptable. It makes us sinful creatures acceptable!
We are under grace in that we are free FROM keeping outwardly the Old Testament rituals and feasts which were all prophetic of Christ. The OT rites have been fulfilled! We actually DO keep the OT feasts because Christ is the fulfillment of those feasts and we are in Him! The feasts were shadows. We keep the substance. (Heb 8:5-6; Heb 10:1) Everyday we celebrate Passover, because everyday Christ is our Passover feast! Everyday we celebrate the Sabbath rest – that the work was finished by Christ on the cross! In this, we are free and under grace! This freedom or release from the ceremonial law is specifically addressed in Acts 15, Galatians, and also Romans 14:5.
We are also under grace in that we are free FROM keeping outwardly the Old Testament dietary laws. The dietary laws were given to the Israelites for their benefit and protection. Those foods kept them healthy. Even today, a Kosher diet is recognized as healthful. But the necessity of adhering to the Mosaic dietary laws was expressly over-ridden in the New Testament in regards to one’s sanctification. (Acts 10:10-16) All food was made lawful to believers (with a few exceptions in Acts 15:29.)
Notice that basically, these freedoms in which the New Covenant changes our lifestyle are in removing OT requirements: observe the dietary laws, observe the holy days. We are free to walk in the Spirit, and when we walk in the Spirit, we are NOT sinning.
But we cannot say that we are free TO sin! Being under grace does NOT mean that we now have the freedom to practice pagan practices or witchcraft, no matter how commonplace they have become. Oh, yes, we have our free will still. But “free will” is different issue from “freedom in Christ”! We always have the free will to sin. That does NOT mean we have freedom in Christ to sin. When we sin, we are not acting in the Spirit of Christ, we are not walking in the Spirit. Therefore, “freedom in Christ to sin” is an oxymoronic statement. Sin is bondage and “sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:15)
No where in the New Testament is there given a new twist, a new version on moral issues. Morality does not change in the New Testament. Stealing is still stealing. Witchcraft and pagan practices are still unacceptable. Can you find somewhere where God now condones a heathen practice? Grace does NOT give us the freedom to practice immorality or witchcraft for in those practices there is an inherent bondage. Freedom in Christ cannot logically bring us into the bondage of sin! Unfortunately, leaders are not discerning evil and the nature of evil is to insert itself insidiously.
Oh, there’s no inherent bondage in a tattoo, you say. Just why did God forbid it? No bondage? Well, then try washing it off! You’re stuck with it! The only thing I want to be bound to is Christ!
“ALL THINGS ARE LAWFUL”
“Christians should not barely consider what is in itself lawful to be done, but what is fit for them to do.” Matthew Henry Commentary on 1 Cor 6. It seems that the maxim “All things are lawful for me” was referring to all food was now lawful to eat (see context), NOT giving a license for sins of the flesh, as some were evidently misapplying it.
This maxim of “All things are lawful for me” was used by Paul, it seems, originally regarding food and was then misapplied by others to defend fornication and other ungodly acts. “All things are lawful” did NOT mean that fornication had become lawful. Nor does it mean that witchcraft is now lawful OR that pagan practices are now lawful!
Paul reiterates this abused maxim again in 1 Corinthians 10:23 in conclusion to a discussion on partaking at the table of demons. Yet he goes on to say, “I do not want you to have fellowship with demons….” (1 Cor 10:20)
How many tattoo artists/parlors are eating at the table of demons? Are they also etching satanic symbols? I saw a nice looking tattoo parlor in suburbia. It’s banner outside had a depiction of a skull and bones. Why are we letting our children run around with symbols of death? Have you noticed this trend, too: that our culture has been infused with these death symbols? God says to “Choose life!” Yet, I see nice Christian children running around with skulls on their t-shirts! Are we so undiscerning?
I re-read all of Galatians before beginning to write this article. It had been used as an argument against my position that, according to Scripture, God’s covenant people should NOT get tattooed. I was called a legalist, accused of being Pharisaical. “We have freedom in Christ according to Paul in Galatians”, they said in defense of tattoos. Again, we DO have freedom in Christ but that freedom IS NOT a license to sin.
Galatians is one of my very favorite books in the Bible. I love that Christ came to set us free and that we have freedom in Christ! But again, is not sin bondage? The freedom in Galatians IS not a freedom to practice pagan rites but the freedom FROM trying to earn our salvation.
Galatians is contextually refuting the argument that the ritual law, in particular circumcision, was needed for justification. Of course, we should NOT add anything to the gospel of grace! Thanks be to our merciful God that a tattoo will NOT keep you from the love of God, nor out of the Kingdom of God! (Note: However, the mark of the beast in Revelations, WILL! (Rev 14:11) Is our culture now being primed for the accepting of that mark?)
Speaking of Revelation, if we one interprets the freedom in Christ as freedom to do anything we want, then why does the LORD rebuke the churches in the book of Revelation? There is a consequence to following pagan practices. The church of Pergamum is told to repent from “eating food sacrificed to idols” and “sexual immorality”. (Rev 2:14) The church of Thyatira was warned against tolerating false teachers. (Rev 2:20) Sin is still sin. The moral laws have not changed.
So Galatians does NOT justify sin, but shows that our justification is in Christ alone!
Another argument was offered concerning God writing on us. God can write anything He wants on me! He’s God. But I don’t think these Scriptures refer at all to tattooing, but are metaphorical . God “writes” on our hearts. (Jer 31:33)
Christ will “write on him [overcomers] the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God”. Whatever this means, Christ is doing the writing and at that point we have glorified bodies. It cannot therefore justify a human being tattooing our human bodies which were made to be temples of the Holy Ghost!
The argument that Christ has a tattoo on his thigh (Rev 19:16) is a real stretch. Do you really think Christ returns on a white horse wearing a royal robe but His naked thigh is exposed so that you can see a tattoo? Would it not be more natural to understand this inscription is on His apparel which is on His thigh!? Christ is crowned and regally garbed in this vignette, not flaunting His naked thighs!
What would Jesus do? He ate with sinners. He was a friend of sinners. But Jesus did NOT behave like sinners! He only did what He saw the Father doing. So the question: “Should a Christian get a tattoo?”, I would have to conclude upon the Scriptures is “No!” If you have a different conviction after reading all this, please do not judge me a legalist. My heart is to keep the Church of God on the “straight and narrow” for Jesus did say that “broad was the way that leads to destruction.” (Matt 7:13-14) The Church must be Godly, not worldly. That was what I felt the Spirit told me specifically about tattoos. Tattoos are “worldly”. They will burn up.
“Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Cor 3:13-15)
Please do not come under condemnation reading this if you already have a tattoo. What’s done is done, and this is in no way to written to judge people’s hearts. Although if your tattoo is inherently demonic/satanic/vulgar, you may ask the LORD if He wants you to remove it.
However, please do not hold to your position merely because you want to justify yourself. We are justified in Christ! What you did in the past, you did in ignorance of the Scriptures concerning this, but now that you know, should you not now refrain from encouraging others in that pagan practice? Are you 100% certain that there is nothing wrong with getting a tattoo even though God expressly forbid it? “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23) I would point out that the faith that is referred to here is faith in the Word of God, not your own opinions. This Scripture does NOT say or imply, therefore, that whatever proceeds from what you believe to be true is NOT sin! Selah. Think on that for a bit! We often sin inadvertently, unintentionally, and in ignorance.
Finally, who you are in Christ is NOT determined by your past mistakes. I myself did far worse than getting a tattoo! You are a new creation in Christ! Thank God, all our sins are under the blood! Therefore, we are not under condemnation! There are probably many fine Christians out there with tattoos! But it does NOT justify the practice. Christians fall short, too. Far too often.
Please do come under the conviction that Christ wants to purify His Church from compromising pagan practices (Rev 2:20-21) and that He is changing us from glory to glory as we behold His face. (2 Cor 3:18) As we grow in Christ, things that once were acceptable in our lives, seem to fall by the wayside because we have found a more noble Way and as we learn more and more of what is pleasing to God. May we all become more Christ-like. May we seek to please Him and not man.
One more thought. I recently watched the 1981 movie “Chariots of Fire” about the 1924 Olympic winner Eric Liddell who would not run on Sundays because of his strong conviction that he set that day aside for the Lord. His refusal was publicized worldwide. That’s some Christian witness! Even the world took note. Would a movie had been made of him had he been like everyone else and not stood by his Christian convictions? By standing for his convictions he stood for Christ and stood out from among the crowd. Today we have an athlete Tim Tebow who stands out by bending his knee in prayer despite the ridicule hurled at him for it.
It is not looking like the world that gets the attention of the unbeliever. It is by standing out from the crowd in NOT looking and acting like the world. We are to be salt and light. We are to speak the “truth in love”. (Eph 4:15)
Civil discussion is welcome but please use Scripture in context to back up your opinion!