Tattoos and the Believer

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For by grace I (you) have been saved through faith. Eph 2:8
For by grace I (you) have been saved through faith. Eph 2:8
For by grace I (you) have been saved through faith. Eph 2:8

You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am theLord. Leviticus 19:28

In recent years, as we move away from biblical teaching in our society, tattooing has become popular. While tattoos have been understood for centuries to be anti-Christian, even pagan, many believers (even pastors) have justified the marking of one’s skin by redefining Leviticus 19:28 and bringing in other scriptures that seem to support their position.

This is understandable as we have the desire to tattoo, we in turn find ways to justify what we desire. The problem is that a plain reading of the scripture leads to the inevitable conclusion that a person should not “tattoo any marks” on themselves. This is further reinforced by the statement “I am the Lord”.

Of course, the next objection to obeying this scripture is that we are “under grace” and not the law. This is the fall back position of any believer in Jesus Christ, who does not wish to obey Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul’s writings are used with great latitude to work around difficult passages in the Scripture. I have even had church members use the “under grace” argument to avoid New Testament teachings, so there you go.  Rather than beat a dead horse (so to speak) in this regard, I would ask this; Using Scripture, how do you determine when a command of God is to be obeyed or ignored because we are under grace and not the law? Think about this. Is it ok for me to commit adultery because I am now under grace. You might say, “That’s one of the ten commandments, it’s different.” Well, so is the Sabbath, but many ignore that one because we are “under grace”.

I believe that scripture is clear on tattoos. But you may not. I simply wonder at what point do we obey the Lord or do we throw most of the bible in the shredder? Let me know what you think.

11 COMMENTS

  1. I myself am an Ex-motorcycle gang member and have many tattoos most gotten before coming Back to Christ. And while I would not tell or even recommend someone get a tattoo do I believe this to be a salvation issue absolutely not. The verse used for your stand Pastor is levitical law and you also speak of one’s claiming to be excused by grace, but yet are there not more levitcal laws which as believers we do not adhere too yet in this you speak of picking and choosing. for instance Leviticus 20:10
    reads as follows
    New King James Version (NKJV)
    10 ‘The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death. 11 The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death. should we also obey this law?

    • Excellent point Steven. Keep in mind that the reason we do not adhere to this law is the same reason Jesus did not put to death the woman caught in adultery. This is a law for Israel under the Israeli supreme court known as the Sanhedrin. There was no legal Sanhedrin at the time of Jesus. There were not two witnesses or the court to put the woman to death.
      I again ask the question, how do we determine what laws are still in effect and what laws are not?

  2. Pastor Paul you go to the old Testament for your scripture refrence… And by no means do I think the Old testament irrelvent in our knowledge to know Our Lord..But I purpose this to you in Revelations this scripture reads as follows.

    Revelation 19:16
    And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
    Could this possibly be some sort of tatto or at least a mark and if Jesus upon his return would have a mark or tattoo what Then I ask?

    • There is no division in the Word of God. It is in full agreement. Steven, you do make a great but frequent argument regarding the resurrected Jesus. Remember, that Jesus kept the entire Torah in order to be a perfect and acceptable sacrifice for sin. He is without spot or blemish. Why would He violate the very law He kept perfectly?
      Jesus taught us in Matthew 5:17-19:

      “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

      Jesus makes His return in Revelation 19:18 before heaven and earth pass away. I do not believe Jesus would violate His Word. This name that is written is on His garment and the garment rests on His thigh.

      Keep in mind that there are many commands found in the Old Testament that are not found in the New that we still observe. Jesus nor any of the other NT writers ever mentioned bestiality, but we do not say that it is now allowed because Jesus died on the cross. This same argument is currently being made regarding homosexuality. Consider this command:

      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.
      Leviticus 18:21

      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?
      Consider the verse that follows the one forbidding tattoos:

      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.
      Leviticus 19:29

      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 is it now ok by the Lord for a parent to cause their daughter to prostitute?

      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)

      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)

      The fact is. . . Up until a few years ago, virtually everyone, including the most liberal Christian, KNEW the tattoo was clearly forbidden by the Word of God. And throughout history, the tattoo has ALWAYS been condemned by Bible Believing Christians. Always. Every historical resource ever written on tattoos clearly confirms this fact.

      “Just as occurred in other cultures with tattoo traditions, when these pagan tribes were ‘converted’ to the Christian religion, their spiritual and cultural rites (which included tattooing, piercing and scarification) were outlawed. . .”
      (Jean-Chris Miller, The Body Art Book : A Complete, Illustrated Guide to Tattoos, Piercings, and Other Body Modifications, p.9)
      “Whenever missionaries encountered tattooing they eradicated it.”
      (Gilbert, Steve, Tattoo History: A Source Book, p. 101)
      “While these and other body modifications continued to be practiced underground as a way for non-Christian people to identify each other, God forbid you got caught and your mark was revealed.”
      (Jean-Chris Miller, The Body Art Book : A Complete, Illustrated Guide to Tattoos, Piercings, and Other Body Modifications, p.11)

      Up until a few years, virtually every commentary written understood Leviticus 19:28 as an open condemnation of the tattoo. The Christian acceptance of a tattoo was not even considered for serious discussion.

      Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary and Explanatory on the Whole Bible writes under Leviticus 19:28

      “nor print any marks upon you–by tattooing, imprinting figures of flowers, leaves, stars, and other fanciful devices on various parts of their person. The impression was made sometimes by means of a hot iron, sometimes by ink or paint, as is done by the Arab females of the present day and the different castes of the Hindus. It it probable that a strong propensity to adopt such marks in honor of some idol gave occasion to the prohibition in this verse; and they were wisely forbidden, for they were signs of apostasy; and, when once made, they were insuperable obstacles to a return.”
      (Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Leviticus 19:28)

      James M. Freeman in his excellent book, The New Manners & Customs of the Bible, says of Leviticus 19:28:

      “Tattooing Forbidden
      Both cutting and tattooing were done by the heathens, and so God forbade His people from doing so in imitation of them.”
      (James M. Freeman, The New Manners & Customs of the Bible, 1998 edition, p. 157)

      Coffman’s Commentary on the Old and New Testament under Leviticus 19:18 says:

      “The cutting of one’s flesh also characterized pagan worship as attested by the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel in the contest with Elijah. Tattooing was also a device of paganism. . . Christians generally disapprove of tattooing, despite the fact of the widespread use of it by many even today. In the light of what God says here, and in view of the history of it, it seems strange that anyone would pay someone else to tattoo him.”
      (Coffman’s Commentaries on the Old and New Testament, Leviticus 19:28)

      Charles R. Erdman in his commentary on Leviticus 19:28 writes:

      “The custom of tattooing was forbidden, while among all the nations of antiquity it was common.” (Charles R. Erdman, The Book of Leviticus, 1951 ed., p.93)

      But Naves famous Topical Bible puts it best. Under the topic “Tattooing”, Nave’s simply and bluntly writes: “TATTOOING, forbidden, Lev. 19;28” (Nave’s Topical Bible, p. 1312)
      This is probably more than you wanted from me, but I believe this is important. We need to understand what the Lord expects from us. The New Testament quotes the Old Testament 90% of the time. Starting with the first five books of the bible, the rest of scripture is built upon it and cannot be separated.

  3. Paul above you say and I quote “Jesus makes His return in Revelation 19:18 before heaven and earth pass away. I do not believe Jesus would violate His Word. This name that is written is on His garment and the garment rests on His thigh.”

    But my friend clearly this is not what Revelation 19:18 says I copy and paste from biblegateway.com

    Revelation 19:16
    And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

    The above scripture clearly says on his robe AND ON HIS THIGH so again could this be some kind of mark?

    And in closing my friend this is not a salvation issue and does not forgiveness supercede ALL!!!!

    • Absolutely. Our discussion has nothing to do with salvation, but rather obedience. Having a tattoo does not prohibit salvation. Nor does a tattoo cause one to loose one’s salvation.
      That being said, there is very strong evidence that Revelation was written in Hebrew. We know that the risen Jesus spoke Hebrew to the Apostle Paul when He revealed Himself on the road to Damascus. There is a school of thought that holds that the word translated “thigh” from the Hebrew word ragel. Copiers of Revelation could have overlooked the small extension of the dalet that looks like a backwards r and the resh which also looks like a backward r. If the word was “dagel” it would mean banner which makes more sense than thigh.
      One other thing. A person whose thigh was exposed was considered naked in the first century.
      To be honest, I don’t believe a tattoo is a deal breaker. I am more interested in understanding how to obey the Lord. If Christians really want a tattoo they should ask the Lord what He wants and be honest in the answer He gives.
      Personally, I hold to the understanding that our Lord is the same today, yesterday and forever. If He commanded us to refrain from having tattoos in the past, why is it ok now? That is a question we must answer for ourselves, and no argument will convince most people. That is why a proper understanding of grace is important.

  4. Hey pastor paul,
    I wondered why you make no mention of the previous verse (Lev 19:27), about not shaving your beard… is it because you yourself have clearly cut the hair on your face? I in no way want to pick a fight but comments like these are in fact out dated and really quite simply a contradiction in terms… you’re picking on tattooed people cause you have a personal preference and I could very well pick on you for trimming your beard.

    Let’s get back to the gospel, love God, love people and change the world. There’s no fruit to be found in this debate, God bless you for calling people to a higher standard but make sure your research is thorough.

  5. One thing my daddy (also a Pastor) has said is that our body’s are the temple of God, how would we consider anything we do, shy of health, be an improvement on what God has created for His glory.

    Another to consider is that once we begin to accept things, because it’s the “law” and not NT, where do we draw the line? Consider the human nature to keep making things “better”…. Satan will always be subtle with his attractions. If we “out of tolerance” accept things to keep from “judging others” how will we ever teach Godliness? We keep making excuses, and Satan keeps using them against us. If we teach our children that it’s ok to mark up our bodies, how will we teach them to recognize the mark of the beast if they are thinking it’s ok? Then it will be no big deal when the government demands the mark. It is a matter of salvation at that point…. a matter of eternal damnation.
    God forgive us.

  6. This has been an argument in The Church for years. If we’re going to follow this “law” in Leviticus we better follow the rest. Such as, verse 27: “‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” There were over 600 laws in this day, if we’re going to be accountable to one, we better be accountable to all. I feel there are bigger fish to fry rather than whether or not someone has a tattoo, and we sure aren’t going to reach the lost by preaching these types of things

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