Earlier this week, I met with a tattoo artist to map out a few new tattoos that I’ll get in the next few weeks. I know other Christians who bring up conversations about tattoos “not being right”, etc… I know my answer to them, but I’m curious as to what your answer is. You’re definitely a very public, tattooed Christian, so I’m sure you’ve been challenged before as well!
Hope you had a good week! Peace be with you †
First off, I always love when people send me specific questions to answer, so PLEASE keep them coming!
This is a question I’ve gotten a few times, and I think that in order to answer it most fully, we need to look at the issue people have with tats and where that mentality comes from. I can see three potential arguments against tattoos and they look roughly like this:
- Only bad people get tattoos. Gang members are covered in them, prisons are full of ink, and they always make you look suspicious. You won’t get a good job with tattoos.
- The Bible says not to get them. It’s right there in black and white.
- I don’t like the way they look. Nothing against them morally, I just aesthetically don’t like them. (True story, I knew a lady who said she specifically didn’t like the way they looked on women just because it detracted from their beauty…she was fine with tattoos on men though.)
There’s nothing we can do about the third point, so I’ll focus on the first two.
Though the first one is somewhat subjective — there is nothing we can do to make someone perceive us differently, this is something everyone must consider when getting a tattoo. Some jobs will make you cover them up; others may not even hire you because of your ink. That’s just a reality you’ll have to accept when getting them.
However, the culture around tattoos seems to be shifting. More people are getting them, forcing employers to loosen their standards on hiring folks with ink. Many celebrities are covered with tattoos, so they are becoming the new norm, forcing people with outdated prejudices to adjust accordingly. The best way to combat the mindset that paints you as a bed person because you have a Spongebob tattoo on your leg is just to be kind. Prove them wrong. Make them realize that flesh is external and there can be good people, even beneath bad tattoos.
Now, to the most complex point. The biblical one.
Many people will point to verses such as Leviticus 19:28, which prohibit making cuttings on skin or markings like tattoos. I want to look at two different approaches to this text, but *spoiler alert*, neither of them really prohibits Christians from getting tattoos.
The first is a covenantal approach to these laws. The same people who quote this verse are likely disregarding a lot of other laws found in Moses’ Torah. For instance, in the exact same chapter, Moses writes that Israelites should not mix two types of fabric together in one garment. Do we lose our cool when someone wears a 50% cotton shirt? No, of course not!
Tattoos likely receive such attention because they denote that someone is different than the person pointing fingers. They are other. It is in human nature to distance themselves from the other, so when a more conservative person sees tattoos, it is natural for them to feel distant. We don’t feel like someone is other when they wear different types of fabric than us.
To put it simply, Jesus initiated a new covenant which replaced the old covenant(s) because it is greater than them. Next time someone at church condemns your tattoos, ask them when the last time they slaughtered an animal to atone for their sins was.
Now, the main reason that law was in the book to begin with is, slaves had tattoos. People who belonged to other nations were marked to show who they served. Recall that Moses is writing these laws immediately after freeing his people from slavery in Egypt. Why would God want them to return to this slavery mentality right after freeing them??
This instruction is a way of showing the Israelites that He wants them to serve Him and Him alone, not to see themselves as subservient to any human masters. Ironically, the fabric instruction is similar. God instructed the Israelites to be holy and set apart from the other nations on earth. This meant not being ‘blended’ with people from other nations, but being holy and set apart. Their garments reflected this symbolically by being ‘pure’ in their makeup.
So today, are you at risk of being a slave to someone else? Maybe. Like Bob Dylan said, everyone has to serve somebody. However, are tattoos a sign of slavery and ownership the way they have been in the past? Not as much. Make sure that you have proper intentions behind your ink, that you are not binding yourself to something by getting it, and you should be fine!
I hope that helps, as we continue to think through issues like this as Christians! May we not bind ourselves to anything but one another in love, and may we only serve one master: Christ.