Tattoos vs. Taboos: Old School vs. New school

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Tattoos have been a hotly debated topic in recent years within the Church. Some say the Old Testament forbids them, as well as piercings, and argue that since our bodies are the temple of God and where he dwells, we must be pristine and not blemish our bodies. On the other hand, it is argued that the Old Testament laws on tattoos are the same as dietary laws: outdated and no longer binding. They may also say that tattoos and piercings are a way to decorate our bodies as the Temple was decorated by the Jews.

Here’s my thoughts on the issue: A) “tattoo” as translated from the OT is not the same thing we mean by “tattoo” today. A “tattoo” back then was what was left after Pagans cut their bodies in god worship, it was a scar. Not “tattooing” yourself meant making sure you looked different than the Pagans. The same goes for dietary laws and circumcision. It was about differentiation. Even if the “tattooing” definition was the same, the fact that Christ and Paul opened up salvation to the Gentiles meant the need for differentiation in the same way as in the OT was no longer needed. It may be useful for some to abstain, but it was not in and of itself a sin.

Point #2: I have a hard time believing that a tattoo of a cross or a Bible verse or praying hands displeases God. A) it’s a permanent reminder to you of your faith. B) it’s a visible display of your faith that others can see. And who knows, maybe it starts a conversation that leads to meaningful discussion!

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About Michael Sorentino

I am a student at the University of Cincinnati and am majoring in Philosophy and Marketing. I love the Lord, and I try to live my life in a way that pleases Him. View all posts by Michael Sorentino

2 responses to “Tattoos vs. Taboos: Old School vs. New school

  • theirishatheist

    Unless you have some linguistic affirmation or historical precedence to back up your claims, you’re way off the mark. Tattoos as we know them today were common in Ancient Egypt (where the Hebrews had just come from) as well as civilisations from China to Ireland. The designs were different and meanings were different, but they were hardly ‘ritualistic scarring.’ They were what they are today: permanent ink marks meant for various purposes.

    Which means as much as you try to justify it, it’s just another example of Christians deciding that the inconvenient parts of the Bible don’t count any more.

    • sorentmd

      Here’s some commentary and references affirming the linguistic use of “tattoos.” The context of the passage below sees a connection between the cutting of your body for the dead and tattoos. And again, the important point here is that this section of Levitical Law directs itself at separating themselves from the Pagans, which is no longer needed in today’s Christianity because the Cross tore down the barrier between Jews and Gentiles. This isn’t about leaving out the inconvenient parts, but rather, interpreting Scripture correctly in a way that does not misinform people into thinking that certain behaviors are sinful if they aren’t.

      I would assume you would not say that the dietary laws and ritual hand-washings after each portion of a meal should still be followed. Nor some of the laws about animal sacrifice or temple worship. All of these things were fulfilled when Christ died on the cross.

      “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:28 — New American Standard

      These prohibitions seem to relate to pagan religious customs which should be avoided, including pagan mourning rites (vv. 27-28) Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983–c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary: An exposition of the scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

      The practice of making deep gashes on the face and arms and legs, in time of bereavement, was universal among the heathen, and it was deemed a becoming mark of respect for the dead, as well as a sort of propitiatory offering to the deities who presided over death and the grave. The Jews learned this custom in Egypt, and though weaned from it, relapsed in a later and degenerate age into this old superstition (Is 15:2; Je 16:6; 41:5). “nor print any marks upon you” (v:28 )—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. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (Le 19:28). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

      “Make any cuttings in your flesh” (v:28): the reference here is to the practice of making deep gashes in the skin while mourning the death of a relative. This was done to provide life blood for the spirit of the dead person rather than to express sorrow. On account of the dead: as indicated above, this describes the purpose of all the actions in verse 27 as well as verse 28. Péter-Contesse, R., & Ellington. (1992). A handbook on Leviticus. UBS handbooks; Helps for translating (Page 296). New York: United Bible Societies

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