Tattoo You?

22 01 2008

I can imagine the course I’m about to take will offend some, and be controversial to many.  This will also be one of my lengthiest blogs.  If you focus on one issue, you’ll miss the many others that also must be considered prayerfully.


I once heard a pastor say that he had a congregant who was upset that he wore colored shirts with his suit (I don’t even wear a suit except for funerals and weddings!).  The elderly lady told him that he should only wear white ones.  His reply was, “If God is so picky as to care about that, He’ll get me on something else long before He gets to my shirt.”


Recently there has been a little bit of controversy in our denominational magazine concerning the issue of tattooing.  The anti-tat forces came out spouting Leviticus 19:28:

“ ‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.’ ”  (NIV)

There’s a big, big problem with that.  In narrow focusing on the one verse, we miss out on what the surrounding verses also tell us.  If we are to obey the one, we must then obey the many.  Many of these verses are fully supported under New Covenant teachings, but others are cultural and health-issue related. 


Let me interject that I have no tattoos, I’m too chicken to ever go under the inky needle, and I think they’re ugly and stupid anyway.  But that’s just my opinion.  It doesn’t stop me from fairly studying the intent of the law.  So, I spent a lot of time breaking down the 19th chapter of Leviticus to find out what else it instructs.  If I’m off track on a verse or two, I will gladly submit to those wiser than me in Old Testament studies.  However, I think that you’ll find that the overall focus here is 100% on track with what Christ taught.  This will take up a bit of space, but here is what I found, broken down verse by verse:


3 – respect your parents

4 – avoid idols (anything you put before God)…  things made of metal specifically mentioned

5-8 – offer sacrificial peace offerings, do so in the proper manner

9-10 – don’t harvest the edge of your crops, don’t pick up what drops from your crops, leave grapes on your trees…  all for those who need something to eat

11 – don’t steal, cheat or lie

12 – don’t swear to a lie using the name of God

13 – don’t cheat or steal, pay your workers on time every time

14 – show respect for the deaf & blind

15 – treat everyone the same, whether they are poor or rich

16 – don’t spread gossip, don’t try to get ahead in life at the cost of someone else

17 – don’t hate any of your relatives, if your neighbor commits a crime confront them directly about it

18 – don’t seek revenge or bear a grudge

19 – obey all laws, don’t raise hybrid livestock, plant only one kind of seed in your field (garden), don’t wear clothes made of more than one kind of fabric

20-22 – if you have sex with a slave girl who is engaged, you have to pay her fiancé, then the man should bring a sacrifice

23-25 – when you plant a tree, don’t eat its fruit for the first 3 years, the 4th year give the entire crop to the church as a praise offering

26 – don’t eat meat with any blood in it, don’t practice fortune telling or  witchcraft

27 – don’t trim the hair on your temples, don’t trim your beard


28 – Leviticus 19:28 (NIV)   ” ‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.


29 – don’t make a prostitute of your daughter

30 – rest on the Sabbath, keep the church a sacred place

31 – don’t go to a psychic

32 – stand up when the elderly are present, respect the aged

33-34 – don’t take advantage of outsiders (foreigners) – in fact, treat them like you treat everyone else

35-36 – use honest standards of weight, don’t be inaccurate

37 – keep all of God’s laws


Many are already in violation of some of these areas.  Before we quote v.28 to someone, we need to make sure we are in full compliance:


·         leaving crops/harvest for the poor

·         lying

·         treating people equally despite social status

·         hating certain relatives

·         gossip

·         revenge or grudges

·         obeying laws (would include speed limit)

·         using hybrids

·         gardens of multiple seeds

·         mixing clothes of different fabrics

·         fruit harvesting on new trees

·         eating meat with blood in it

·         trimming temple hairs/beard

·         resting on Sabbath

·         standing in the presence of elderly

·         keeping all of God’s laws


If we were to take this further and apply these concepts to today’s ways of life, we could fairly make these conclusions:


1.    Since commerce and industry has replaced agriculture as the prime way we care for ourselves and family, it would be fair to say we don’t give nearly enough of our income to the poor or the church.

2.    Too many of us nurse ill feelings for family members.

3.    We are a gossiping people – entertainment gossip is included.

4.    Our eating and grooming habits would never pass muster according to these laws.

5.    We are a society that does not truly respect our elderly (if you say we are, you’re lying, which is another sin!).  We certainly are not in the habit of showing signs of respect to the elderly when they are present (ever seen someone who won’t get up and offer an older person their seat in a crowded restaurant waiting area?).

6.    A vast majority of our people don’t properly respect the Sabbath or take a day of rest once a week.

7.    When we fail to subsidize handicap accessibility, we are in violation.

8.    According to this scripture, we should treat illegal immigrants the same as we treat everyone else! 

9.    It’s doubtful that any of us follow the letter and spirit of every law of our land.  Primarily this would pertain to traffic laws.  In addition to speed limits, many people also disobey turn-signal laws and we follow other much more closely than the law allows.  Further, when we argue with a police officer we are being neglect.

10. While we don’t cut our bodies for the dead in our culture, we do follow many other secular traditions that could arguably be similar.

11. There are many things our people put before God (thus making them idols of our worship) – and many contain metal!  Cars, TVs, computers, etc., can all be fairly included here.

12. In general, these laws regard living in peace, showing love and respect to all.  These are clearly things that Christ taught.  Few of our people can claim that they live in this way – failure to do so is sinful under the New Covenant. 


So, instead of picking on the tattooed and pierced, we need to evaluate this directive under the New Covenant, particularly considering the other provisions here.  And further, where there are provisions that pass New Covenant muster, we need to be aware that few of us are on a good track.  By the way – under these provisions – looking down on someone with tattoos is sinful…  and that seems to hold up with the teachings of Christ.


These words are not in defense of tattooing, rather, to point out how selective and sanctimonious we can become when we pick out one verse and fail to obey others.  We particularly fall short when it comes to taking care of the poor and foreigner, which Christ taught as well.  I’ve never been big on supporting illegal immigrants, but I clearly have to rethink this.  To allow them to work without status is clearly a violation of Scripture; certainly we have enough wealth to do this.


This is a very, very touchy and controversial area.   Rather than getting up in arms over our pet issues, it would be better for us all to fairly evaluate our own walk with Christ in light of Biblical teaching.  If we do this, we’ll be so busy we won’t have time to worry about the spec in anyone else’s eye.


Even if you don’t fully agree, I hope that I at least gave you something to think about.





2 responses

22 01 2008

I can imagine a world where deeply held beliefs are as closely kept, as sarcred, as is the intamacy two people deeply in love share. I can imagine a world where no one expects more another than he or she expects of him or herself. I can imagine a world that perfect…

24 01 2008

Hmm…those who spend all their time dwelling on someone else’s tattoos, piercings, wardrobe, and lifestyle rather than looking inward warrant very little if any of my attention. It brings to mind Luke 6:41-42

41″Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

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