Common Myth: Tattoo
Tattoos have been around for millennia and there is no way around that. The concept that a tattoo is prohibited for Christian believers is a myth. The Scripture often used is Leviticus 19:28 which says: You must not slash your body for a dead person or •incise a tattoo on yourself. I am the Lord (NET).
Before we get into why no Christian can guilt another Christian over this Scripture contextually, we must address the obvious issue in the room. You’re most likely a non-priest, non-jew, believing Christian. That’s to say…we as gentile Christians are not required to fulfill the very law that Christ fulfilled. This should be obvious, we don’t go around telling people not to cut their hair, warning them not to bathe in goat’s milk and blood.
The only reason that people say tattoos aren’t of God would be the relevance of the topic. Tattoos are still relevant, therefore people scramble to their bibles because there is a devil behind every bush and to some tattoos are “of the demons”. I think if they actually saw a demon, they’d be quite surprised by what they were laying their eyes on.
There were multiple sects of Hebrew priests, there were pagan rituals, and there were many facets to the priesthood that we still don’t even understand today. One of these things was the mourning practice of other priesthoods. This practice was marking their bodies with tattoos for the dead. God prohibited the specific sect of priesthood from doing such things. This tells us a few things right away. It tells us that other priests potentially had tattoos, that common people most likely did, and that it’s limited to marking your bodies for the dead. Lastly, it’s limited to PRIESTHOODS not common people.
Next, we see something extremely interesting in the Ancient Near East. We see that Egyptian captives were branded by a name of their god. They were marked by the priests of the pharaoh. This once again leads us to understand that God is setting up a polemic against the pharaoh. In the Ancient Near East, very often they would mark their slaves with marks in order to claim them. We see God’s reflection of this in Isaiah 44:5 when He apparently commands Jacob to commit the people to God by: “Another shall mark his arm of the Lord”.
This statement by God shows that people were tattooing themselves in dedication to YHWH which He didn’t prohibit, but noticed and commanded Jacob. This goes onto the Talmudic Law around 200 CE which states the only prohibition of a tattoo was idolatry. This lines up perfectly with why God allowed people to mark themselves in remembrance of Him and yet commanded people NOT to mark themselves for the dead.
Therefore, contextually we know that a Christian getting a tattoo isn’t just NOT a sin, but it can be a sign to God that they are committed to Him. Quite different than the western concept floating around that tattoos are awful and shouldn’t be allowed.
Further, God is a God of aesthetic beauty, of subjective and objective beauty. We are a people that look to reflect a dedication to God’s beauty in life and we paint, we sing, we dance, we create art. This is all dedicated, in some way, to God and showcasing that He is a creative God that isn’t boxed by humanity but expands humanity. My personal tattoos, like the one on my hand, remind me of God and draw me back to Him when I wander away. I cannot escape my commitment to God when it’s written permanently on my hand. What is written on my hand is a reflection of what is written in my heart.
The very idea that tattoos are to be prohibited in the modern church goes against Scripture and reinforces a poor practice of both exegesis and expression in the Church.
If you please, get tattooed. If you wish not to, don’t.
There is no reason to force a falsehood on someone simply because they are expressing their beauty and their craft differently than another. Much like anything, there are always limits and the right ways to do things.
Be free to express the beauty that lies within.