I have been wanting for some time now to write about my tattoos. Yes, you read that correctly. This Junior High Principal has tattoos. Even still within the Christian community, there is a stigma concerning tattoos. “Are Christian’s allowed to have tattoos?!” Every time I hear that, I have to smile. That’s what is funny about our society. Christians are placed under the microscope and examined for any possible flaws they may have. When one is found, that individual is scrutinized, placed on the chopping block, and the guillotine is released. Well, before you release the lever, allow me to give you my explanation as to why I have tattoos and what they mean to me.
I have read many different explanations against tattooed Christians. As so many will point out, there is one definitive verse in the Bible that proclaims very “clearly” that we are NOT allowed to get inked. The verse in question states, “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:28, NKJV). As I have been raised to do, I always put scripture in context. Too many will take portions of scripture and interpret them how they choose, not how the Lord intended. The following is one of the better explanations of this scripture and its context, and one I am in agreement with:
The Hebrew word translated tattoo in the NASB, qaaqa, is only used once in the Old Testament. Qaaqa is defined as a “cut, incision” or “gross cutting of the skin.” While the Anchor Bible Commentary suggests that its etymology is unknown, Strong’s believes it comes from the word koa which has the sense of cutting off. Yet in context, it could possibly refer to painting or scarring of the skin – both which were non-verbal signs of mourning. I believe that this is the proper understanding of qaaqa. I do not think it refers to cutting or gashing oneself, for that concept is referred to earlier in the verse by using the word sehret which refers to an “incision.” Strong’s suggest that its primitive root is sarat which can be translated “to cut in pieces.” Self-mutilation of the body is clearly outlawed in numerous other passages which speak of Israelites gashing their bodies as part of their mourning rites (Deuteronomy 14:1, Jer 16:6, 41:5, 47:5, 48:37). Lacerations may have been inflicted to increase mourning, offer blood to the departed spirit, and may have been included in the rites of Baalistic fertility worship, especially when Baal appeared to be deaf to the pleas of his followers (1 Kings 18:28).
I believe the key principle in Leviticus 19:28 is: God does not want His people to be idolatrous. The emphatic theme of Leviticus is God calling His people to holiness. This particular portion of Leviticus explains standards which Israelites were to uphold in maintaining their relationship with the one true God. Kittel portrays the idolatrous nature of tattooing in the Israelite culture by stating, “When a person was tattooed he became dedicated to the god and became its servant, as well as came under its protection, so that he should not be harmed.” Since tattooing was done by the pagans as a sign of ownership and devotion to their gods, God did not want the Israelites to be identified with this idolatry.”
I believe that tattoos do not inherently desecrate the structural aspect of the IOG [Image of God], nor do I believe that tattoos inherently violate the conscience of a believer, since they are not bound by the Old Covenant. Leviticus 19:28 is part of the Old Testament Law which Christ superceded (Ephesians 2:5). We are free from the Law, and are now under the Law of Christ which does not reiterate the prohibition against tattoos. I further believe that the timeless principle of Leviticus 19:28 remains clear: God’s people are not to be idolatrous.
Lorne Zelyck, “Under the Needle: An Ethical Evaluation of Tattoos and Body Piercings” in The Christian Research Journal (Vol. 28/ No. 06/ 2005).
Every single one of my tattoos (roughly 18) have meaning to me, whether personal, patriotic, or religious. I have had multiple conversations directly related to my tattoos with both friends and strangers. In fact, it just happened today. I was picking up lunch and a gentleman noticed the ink on my arm and simply said, “Praise the Lord!” We were able to have a conversation about our faith, love for God, and encourage each other in the Lord. On another occasion, I was at Disneyland and a gentleman approached me and asked me why I chose those particular tattoos. It gave me an opportunity to share my faith with him and what I believe. Not too long after that, a young lady approached me and said, “That’s the coolest Christian tattoo I’ve ever seen! Can I take a picture of it?” Okay, that was a little awkward. Another very cool meeting took place when I was on a trip to Boston. I was touring the USS Constitution/”Old Ironsides” (the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel) and one of the stationed seaman noticed my leg and said, “Thank you for honoring the country I love and serve.” To which I responded, “No sir, thank YOU for serving our country.” I admit that it brought tears to my eyes and pride to my heart to have him thank me, when he was the one most deserved of thanks. Here he was, serving our country, could be sent overseas and potentially lose his life, and he was thanking me for the tattoo on my leg. And some will say that tattoos don’t have meaning?! There have been plenty of other conversations that have taken place due to my ink. I am pretty sure there are plenty of people who have seen my tattoos and have immediately judged me. I don’t hold that against them. It’s their opinion.
I love my tattoos, and more importantly the joy it brings when I am able to share with people why I have them and what they mean to me. They are a symbol of my faith, my patriotism, and my family. There is not one tattoo on me that I regret. I requested, via Facebook, people’s thoughts and opinions on tattoos. Here’s some of the responses I received:
On the side of Agreement:
“I am an artist and it’s another way to express my creativity. I believe a lot of people get tats as a reminder for various memories, statements, or spontaneous moments (which can create a memory in itself!) It is special to the person.”
“Personally I find it difficult to witness to non-believers; my tats are a great starting point and have allowed me to share our Lord with others who otherwise wouldn’t have given me the time of day!”
“I believe that tattoos CAN be used to glorify God and to edify the Church, however that does not mean we have license to go mark ourselves up with whatever we want. We must be mindful of what we display on our bodies because we are reflections of Christ to the world, and if we are marked with profane or grotesque images, I think we’d be doing a pretty lousy job of representing Him.”
“I have three of them…And each one has a spiritual or very heart touching moment attached to it. I believe man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.”
On the side of disagreement:
“Disagree. If God wanted you to have it on you He would of created you with it. People have good intentions on some of their tattoos, but do you really need to tattoo a symbol on your body to remind you of a special time in your life that you consider ‘unforgettable?'”
“We have complete liberty in Christ!! That said, Paul wrote, ‘all things are permissible, BUT not all things are profitable’. I personally find no profit in a tattoo so I don’t have one. I want to be set apart from this world in every way I can. But I would hope my life itself would demonstrate a difference greater than bodily adornment.”
“Desecrating, an act of defiance, going with the crowd, not art…I don’t know how else to explain it…all tattoos on all people is in bad taste and poor judgment. Tattoos tell me what kind of person they are, I won’t say what I think the person is.”
As anyone will agree, whether for or against tattoos, it is ultimately a personal decision, with personal meaning. I think we can all agree as well that some people make their tattoo choices too quickly. With that in mind, here is my advice to anyone wanting a tattoo: 1) Are you of legal age to get a tattoo? Breaking the law is not acceptable at any time, for any reason. 2) If you live with your parents, would they approve of this decision? We are to honor our parents (Matthew 19:19) 3) Would you still want this tattoo when you are older? And I don’t mean a few years down the road. Will you want this when your 50, 60, or 70 (by then, your butterfly will have turned in to a droopy moth) 4) Will your tattoo bring glory to God? For this is the greatest commandment that we are to live by (Matthew 22:37-38). 5) Allow a significant amount of time to pass prior to finalizing your decision to get the tattoo. Personally, I have waited weeks, and in some cases, months before moving forward. You really need to spend time thinking about WHAT you’re getting done and WHY you’re getting it permanently inked on your body.
You may not agree with me on this subject, and that’s okay. I respect your opinion, IF you can clearly give me an understanding as to why you believe what you believe. In that, we can mutually agree to disagree and still respect each other. So before you jump all over someone for having tattoos, simply ask them why they have them. You might be surprised by the answers you get.
* Read more about Matt Laster and Devoted Ink here.
* Read the full article by Lorne Zelyck entitled, “Under the Needle: An Ethical Evaluation of Tattoos and Body Piercings.”