February 6, 2012

Tattoos and Skin Deep Hermeneutics

by Clint Archer

It used to be easy for Christians to formulate an opinion about tattoos. Sailors had them. And some prisoners. Other than corpsmen and convicts the only ink you saw in church was on the page.

This is not a pointed tirade against tattoos, nor a defense of them; it’s a jab at bad hermeneutics. I have found that some like to decorate their arguments with Bible verses that have no place in the debate.

These are the three usual suspects…

1. Thou shalt not tattoo thyself.

Leviticus 19:28 “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.”

This one is the biggie. It is literally the only verse in the Bible to actually employ the word ‘tattoo.’ So if you can’t get this one to play for your team, you don’t have a team.


The immediate North & South context of the verse should provide a clear indication that an understanding of Leviticus’ place in the canon of Scripture is going to be a key. The verse below says don’t make your daughter a prostitute. I sure hope that still applies. But the verse above says you can’t trim your beard or the hair next to your ears. Ever been to an orthodox synagogue? The gents who congregate there (and keep the whole Mosaic Law—kudos for consistency) look a little different from those who attend the men’s breakfast at your church, right? If Christians don’t need to apply verse  27, then why do we have to obey vs 28 of the same chapter?

I experienced the arm wrestling tourney between Law & Grace when I preached through Deuteronomy. It was in that laboratory which I examined how the OT and the NT dance in unison. To be sure it’s a greasy topic to grasp, but I’m confident we can all agree that the verses in Leviticus are not directly binding on the NT church in the same way that it was for Israel (Rom 10:4).

So, Lev 19:28 gets a red card and is sent off the field as too old for this team.

2. Your Body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit.

1 Cor 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,”

Here’s an oldie-but-goodie that also wants to come out and play every time someone lights a stogie or perforates their nose. Unfortunately for our tat debate, this verse is already busy opposing real sin, namely sexual immorality. It can’t be pried loose from that important function to join our debate team.

1 Cor 6:19 verse is talking about sexual immorality being a spiritual affront on God’s holiness and a contamination of the Church Body. If this verse did apply to the physical damage we allow to deface the façade of our skin (“temple vandalism”), then we need to be consistent. Ever mowed the lawn in sandals, or without sunblock? You jeopardized the temple. Do you maintain your ideal BMI? Ever downed a can of Coke without immediately brushing your teeth? You see the thin edge of the wedge. Why draw the line at ink? So let us let this verse get back to work, while we audition another.

3. Do not be conformed to this world.  

Rom 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world …” 

This verse is a strong candidate. I like this one a lot. I don’t get why some Christians try their darndest to blend in with what the world is doing. Being holy and worldly at the same time is a messy business.

A common defense is that of contextualization for the sake of the gospel, which is little more than an sophisticated version of, “everybody’s doing it.” And everybody is doing it. In fact, no tattoo is the new tattoo.

There are so many social non-conformists out there, to distinguish oneself one really needs to get creative about not being a non-conformist. A non-non-conf… anyway, I digress. We should be distinct from our cultural norms, if said norms jar with Scripture.Using skin as a canvas for art used to be a sign of non-conformity and anti-establishment sentiment. Nowadays it’s more likely an indicator of boredom, herd mentality, or jejune impulsiveness.
But since tattoos are no longer associated exclusively with pagan worship (as in the days of the Celts and their inked druids perhaps), this verse doesn’t apply to this scenario. Nor is the phenomenon still linked with prison inmate pastimes and salty-mouthed seamen.The debate may have been trickier in the transition period, when tats began to go mainstream (say, the early 90s or so?). But that ship has now sailed. The only ones clinging to the tattoo taboo are those out of touch with what the decision to get marked represents these days. It is no longer necessarily rebellious. Tattoo parlors are no longer limited to dingy alleys operated by seedy social misfits. It is no longer alternative culture.So, we are forced to relegate this verse to the bench until “worldly” refers to tattoos again. I’m optimistic that the trend will fade as soon as this generation gets wrinkly. Bible verses contorted by sagging skin will convince our kids’ generation that long-term decisions have grotesque consequences when made on impulse, at age 17.
So, are there any verses left? I propose we stick to what God is concerned about: the heart.This body will be renewed sans scars later, but the soul needs to stay in shape now.When I counsel young people who want a tattoo, I ask about their heart in the decision.

  • motives (1 Cor 10:31)
  • parents‘ views (Eph 6:1)
  • level of contentment (1 Tim6:6)
  • view of modesty in dress (1 Tim 2:9)
  • understanding of dishonorable nakedness (1 Cor 12:23)

I like this insightful blogpost by Gareth Palmer, a young non-conformist who has some good thoughts on the issue (and no tattoo).

If examining the heart doesn’t work just have your arty teen turn to Leviticus. By the time they have matured enough to know they’ve been hoodwinked by skin deep hermeneutics, they’ll have outgrown the impulse for a tattoo.

What verses would you use to counsel one through making the decision?

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Guest

    We, the parents, made it about the money. We told our son that when he was financially on his own he could choose to use his own money on a tattoo. That way we knew he would be a bit older when and if he made that decision. He did get one his last year of college. He was a young man by that time and it wasn’t about any type of rebellion just a personal perference.

    • Thats a good way to handle it. 🙂 I’m going to file that away for the future.

      • You should get a tattoo of it so you’ll never forget it!

    • This is a clever tactic, like the FBI putting Capone away for tax evasion!

  • I blogged on the subject of tattoos a couple of weeks ago here.

    • Thanks for the link.

  • I’m just grateful that I’m not of the generation that is young enough to inevitably be ’embarrassed about their mom’s tattoos’…

  • Kim

    This is a great article! I’m very appreciative for it as my husband and I raise our young children. It’ not necessarily an issue for us now, but we have older teen (role models?) in our church whom my children definitely look up to and my dear ones may or may not find tattoos/multiple piercings are “super duper cool.” Personally, along with all of the other great exhortations/verses mentioned here, Romans 14 comes to mind in terms of Christian liberties. But I hope to reconcile these verses, with others mentioned above, in encouraging them to use their (hopeful) liberty in Christ to display the life-changing gospel in their lives and our desire is to challenge them to seriously consider how tattoos and multiple piercings accomplish this.

    • Great point (no pun intended) about Rom 14.

  • Jess

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding, but your rational on “do not be conformed to this world” perfectly demonstrates what you are calling “skin deep hermeneutics.”
    You said, “Butsince tattoos are no longer associated exclusively with pagan worship (as in the days of the Celts and their inked druids perhaps), this verse doesn’t apply to this scenario.”

    What?????? So, when the world starts accepting something as the norm, it trumps the Bible? Sounds like we’re making what’s normal in the world our sole authority of faith and practice, instead of what’s in Scripture. Many consider smoking pot acceptable too. Does that mean it’s now OK for Christians to do it? What about watching R rated movies? Normal practice in the world. And the list could go on…

    Sadly, you’re hermeneutics are not much better than those you are writing against in this article. The fact that tattoos are now mainstream makes an even STRONGER case for “not being conformed to the world.” I’m thinking if the whole word is doing it, and thinks it’s ok, maybe the Christian ought to step back and take a second look!

    • Richard

      Excellent, Jess! (We could also add body piercings, earrings on males, etc. to the list in your 2nd paragraph.)

      • Matt

        So piercings on your body are something that we should think twice about doing but piercings in your ears are fine? And those earrings are only acceptable when they’re on women but if a man is thinking about getting them we need to think twice about that? What is the justification for that? That’s not even consistent. The only reason for being fine with women getting earrings and not men is that it’s “normal” for women to have earrings. Following the logic in these arguments, since piercings are cutting your flesh and earrings on women are normal practice in the world, shouldn’t we then have a strong case for “not ring conformed to the world?”

        • Thanks Matt, I invoke your wisdom in the above comment.

      • I’m afraid I have to agree with Matt below. You are arbitrarily deciding that pierced female ears are permissible because that is accepted in our society. You are using circular reasoning here.

        • Richard

          Matt wrote: “…piercings in your ears are fine? ”
          Clint wrote: “…pierced female ears…”

          Please note that I did not specify earrings that require piercing; there are many kinds that don’t. Perhaps my wording might be seem to imply ear piercing, but I didn’t intend it to do so.

          • Tina

            I am a middle-aged female. I don’t believe that piercings or tattoos are God-honoring for the most part. They are cultural, like celebrating Santa Claus. Having said that, I do have some good friends that decided to tattoo wedding rings on their fingers instead of wearing them. This is something they prayed about and absolutely felt was God-honoring. They wanted to show that their marriage bond was until death.

            So, while tattoos may not be sinful in and of themselves, I do think that most people who get them are not thinking of it as a way to honor God, but to join in the culture. And each of us has to decide just how set-apart God is calling us to be.

            I have two children, and I do not advocate tattoos or body cuttings for them. I teach them that God made their bodies beautiful and perfect just the way they are and that they should think carefully and be in prayer before making any permanent mark on their bodies for the purpose of decoration. I personally hope they never feel the need to.

            BTW- My mother had my ears pierced when I was 10 for my birthday. I never thought much about it until I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. Since that time, I have decided to stop wearing earrings. I’m not upset with my mother, she did what her mother had done, and so on. But it is definitely not something I will pass on to my daughter.

    • Daniel J. Phillips

      So you don’t say “Thursday” because the world once meant “Thor’s day” by it? What do you say, you know, to be unworldly?

      • I use this consistency test too. BTW, the internet is worldly too. 🙂

    • Thanks for your concern and giving me an opportunity to clarify. I certainly agree with you that the Church should never look to the world’s norms as guidance for what we consider right or wrong. This was one of my (attempted) points. But Scripture does not outlaw getting a tattoo outright, which sets it apart from smoking pot for example (Rom 13:1 says to keep the law, and Eph 5:18 says to not get drunk). So when a behavior is overtly associated with paganism, then it is worldly. But if the behavior is neutral (say, driving a car or commenting on the internet), then it is not worldly. Some behaviors used to associated with rebellion, like earing skirts that don’t cover the ankle, or ladies wearing jeans. These behaviors are no longer associated with sin in the same way so a Christian may be able to partake int he behavior without sinning. I hope this clarifies things. Thanks again.

    • Anonymous

      Where does that thinking end? It ends with the Amish. At some point that line of reasoning has to be cut off, and it’s usually based on the preferences of the person holding to that line, which are often entirely subjective.

      Surely that is where the logic leads, that we are not to do anything that secular society considers normal…

      I am not disagreeing with your last sentence, I think that is a healthy way to go about our lives as Christians, but there is a pretty clear distinction between smoking pot, watching R-rated movies, and tattoos.

      Smoking pot alters us, R-rated movies alter us, but do tattoos really alter us? If they become idols that we worship and love more than God, than yes. If we see them as the most important part of ourselves, then yes. If the whole point of us getting them is to impress, then yes, it’s likely that we shouldn’t have ever gotten them. But when a tattoo is done, what power over the Christian does it hold? Certainly it is completely unlike pot and movies in that sense.

      Now of course if your tattoo is an outright offense to God, then it should be removed. But in pursuing this topic over all others (not saying you do this, but I know people who do), we may start to look like a whole lot of white-washed tombs.

      • And the main issue is that the NT clearly addresses lust (X Rated movies) and drunkenness (Eph 5:18 as applied to smoking pot), whereas the issue of body markings is absent in the NT.

    • Chrisgriffin97


      I think you are misunderstanding his point. He is not saying that any sin is okay if it becomes commonly practiced. He is saying that if the reason something is wrong (association with paganism) is taken away that the thing (tattoos) are no longer inherently wrong.

      Also, are you saying that anything normally practiced by the world is wrong? The world is also brushing it’s teeth, taking showers, and eating breakfast. Should we take a second look at these activities too? Something is not wrong because it is commonly done.

    • Billyquan

      weak sauce Jess.

  • I’m confused, so is “cutting the body” okay as long as it is not tied to paganism and has gone mainstream?

    /end sarcasm

    Tattoos have as much chance of passing the “heart test” as do breast implants. Another verse that surely applies is 1 Corinthians 10:31. How does it glorify the Lord permanently mark up the body? If a person argues that it does glorify the Lord, then why not cover the whole body with them, glorifying Him all the more?

    • So, this is a good question. The ‘cutting the body’ in a context of self-mutilation would be wrong from a stewardship of the body point of view. Incidentally, it would not cover having a surgeon cut your skin for the purpose of saving your life. Again, I think the heart issue is the key.

    • chris


      It may be possible for another brother or sister in Christ to have a clear conscience about getting a tattoo. Maybe, you are not able to do that, but your not being able to doesn’t mean others can’t. I am sure you know of someone somewhere who has a conviction you do not hold. They could say the same thing about you that you are saying about Christian brothers and sisters who get tattoos.

      Concerning glorifying the Lord with a tattoo, it’s probably more like getting a picture on a wall in your home. Hypothetically, someone has a conviction against pictures on a wall. I say I want a picture on my wall to glorify God. The other person asks me why I don’t cover every wall in my house with that picture. You are doing the same thing with the tattoo.

      Grace and Peace,

      • “It may be possible for another brother or sister in Christ to have a clear conscience about getting a tattoo. ”

        It certainly may be possible (as having a tattoos isn’t some legalistic test of salvation), but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. What if my conscience says I can put in 25 piercings on my face for the glory of God? What if my conscience says I can cover my body with tattoos? What if my church’s conscience says we can put a tattoo parlor in the building?


        The issue here isn’t a Romans 14 issue. There, food and and wine are both good creations by God. Are tattoos a good creation of God meant for his people?

        This issue is like the cremation discussion. It’s tells us a lot about how a person respects, or doesn’t respect, the pinnacle of God’s creation. Cremation started with pagans, because of their view of the body and the afterlife. Tattoos started with pagans, because of….

        • Chris


          I agree with what you seem to be saying that a person’s conscience is not always right, but saying that our conscience is not always right does not mean it is wrong in this instance either.

          I disagree that it’s not a Romans 14 issue. I don’t believe that text is only meant to be applied to one or two areas of disagreement and then on everything else we can judge one another and throw stumblingblocks in front of one another. The text also mentions the honoring or not honoring of certain days. The text is meant to be applied to all matters of conscience where Christian brothers and sisters disagree.

          Brother, I disagree with your last paragraph. Let us both be fully convinced in our own minds. I will do my best not to put a stumblingblock in front of you, and I hope you won’t judge me (I don’t currently have one) or others who get tattoos in faith.

  • Bryan McWhite

    Hi Clint,
    Good thoughts. I tried to answer this question for my congregation (and others) here: http://twog.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/to-tattoo-or-not-to-tattoo/

    • Thanks for joining the discussion Bryan.

  • Anonymous

    I appreciate this post, Clint. I got a tattoo when I was 17, and another one when I was 23. Both on my forearms, and both when I was not necessarily all that in tune with Scripture. When I first began growing spiritually shortly after that second one, I hated that I had tattoos and was ashamed of them, knowing that in my heart of hearts I had done them for vanity.

    It’s interesting now though, and reading some of the comments here has confirmed to me, that while it is quite difficult to judge someone’s motives for getting a tattoo (and it’s difficult to have the right ones, I would say), in the end it is about what comes from it, and I can tell you from my experience, seeing the cross of Christ on myself is something I will never be ashamed of, because if your heart is right with God, if you live a life of repentance, what do you have to fear?

    It’s easy to try to manufacture opinions on petty things, especially things that aren’t actually applicable to ourselves. For example, I have my opinion on drinking alcohol. I don’t do it. Most of my friends do. I could spend all of my time, every time I see them drinking socially, telling them I disagree with what they are doing even if they do not become drunk. Or I can pray for them in quiet places, that they would stay safe and make decisions that honor God regardless of whether I agree with their actions, and have grace when I am with them.

    • Thanks for sharing, and for your transparency.

  • Funny, I’ve always thought of Leviticus 19:28 as an indictment against men getting vasectomies. Cutting the flesh to please the false gods of self (ala the priest of Baal)

    • LOL. I have no reply to that.

  • Robert Stump

    I wonder about the passage in 1 Cor. 9:19-23 wherein Paul describes his become all things to all people. Ten years or so ago there was a prevalence of straightedge, hardcore, and any number of X-core (solve for x) youth who while a part of a certain culture were reached by men passionate for the gospel within these mini-people groups; tattooed, pierced, and otherwise.

    Paul would tilt heavily to the side of the heart issue; I cannot help but think the man who spoke power to truth in chains, who would have gladly given himself up to save Israel (Rom 9:3), who defended the Gentiles against the Judaizers, and put himself through purification rights for the Judaizers at the risk of his own life would take issue with being like a culture to reach a culture. I digress.

    • Good insights Robert. Thanks for sharing.

  • Clint, you’ve fallen victim to a shabby logical fallacy. In points 1 and 2 of your post, you suggest that a certain action cannot be sin because other related actions aren’t considered sin by our present culture.

    “The verse below says don’t make your daughter a prostitute. I sure hope that still applies. But the verse above says you can’t trim your beard or the hair next to your ears.”

    At this point, you have arbitrarily chosen to place the middle command (regarding tattoos) in the context of “the verse above”, yet provided no scriptural reason for doing so. This is not an argument against using this verse for abstaining from tattoos because someone from the other position may simply place that command in the context of the verse regarding child prostitution. It’s a “he said, she said” argument.

    The true logical fallacy, however, comes in your attempt to legitimize the behaviour by associating the behaviour with other “accepted” behaviours. We call this the “tu quoque” fallacy, or the “you too” fallacy. You claim that 1 Cor. 6 can’t be used contra tattoos because it might have to be used contra other bad things we do to our bodies. Again, this is a terrible argument against using that verse. In fact, this is exactly how many 7th Day Adventists do apply this verse.

    The context of sexual morality in 1 Cor. 6 is an excellent argument against using this verse contra tattoos. Also, I am not here arguing against tattoos. But I despise seeing the scriptures used in a way that essentially makes their interpretation dependent on cultural norms.

    • Nuts, I hate falling victim to U2 fallacies. Thanks for the chance to explain. My point with the 2 Leviticus verses was to show that NONE of the OT Law applies to us, unless it is reiterated in the NT as an instruction for the Church age. Thanks again for letting me clarify. I love U2 before they became worldly (pre Achtung Baby).

      • i’m confident that “bloody sunday” was about a tattoo disaster in a seedy part of dublin

  • Jeremiah Kirberg

    Great stuff Clint! I have used the exact same counsel to teenagers in the past…

    • I note that you didn’t mention if it worked or not!

  • Noah Hartmetz

    Why is this line getting overlooked: “the verses in Leviticus are not directly binding on the NT church in the same way that it was for Israel (Rom 10:4)”?

    It seems to me that a case should be made that your first point is valid because of much of what Paul wrote to the Galatians. For example, why does the verse preceding Leviticus 19:28 not apply to the church while the verse afterwards does? The answer is because prostitution is sexual immorality and that is consistently condemned in the NT. Holding to Lev. 19:27-28, for example, would put the church in a similar and still uncomfortable position of always having to explain away why Paul circumcised Timothy but not Titus.

    To tattoo or not to tattoo is not answered directly by what the law of Israel said (this is said in all affirmation that the law of the Lord is good), but upon the ratcheted up law of Christ, which does not leave the question at “is it forbidden?” Rather, the question is more of something along the lines of “is it beneficial?”

    For the record, I have two tattoos and I would rather have zero.

    • Thanks for getting my back Noah. Your view is identical to mine as I read it. Our behavior is guided by the NT injunctions directly, and only indirectly by the principles found in the OT. Sexual immorality is also outlawed in the NT, but not beard trimming. Thanks brother for restating clearly that part of the post.

  • If you want to take a poll about if this article was helpful, harmful, or confusing, go to the excellent resource site Search and Trace… http://searchandtrace.wordpress.com/breaking-news/tattoos-and-skin-deep-hermeneutics-2/

  • Bthompson Ant

    This was actually a very helpful post for me on a personal level. I lost a decent amount of weight recently, which caused my fingers to (wonder of wonders!) get smaller — resulting in a lost wedding ring. I’ve been considering getting a permanent design in its place (can’t lose that!), but, admittedly, struggling with the spiritual aspects of doing so. This has been very clarifying.

    • A godly pastor I know has a wedding ring tattoo (as does his wife). It’s one way to symbolize the permanence of marriage! Seems more symbolic than rings that can be taken off or lost.

  • I posted this on facebook the other day, as the same conversation came up in our Cal group.

    “When my son was very young and wanted to get his ear pierced, I told him that was fine, and I would be glad to do it myself. After all, it would save us some money. I told him I would put a potato behind his ear, and all he needed to do was hold his breath and grit his teeth. Honestly, this is how it used to be done years ago. He never said another word about it. lol!”

    Mind you, I am coming up on 60, and back then this is how many people pierced their ears. They would put a potato behind ones ear, used a large sterilized needle, then poked it through the skin until it hit the potato. Wow, we were so innovative back then. lol!

    • A homemade tattoo would probably leave more emotional scars than epidermal ones! Thanks for sharing MET.

  • One of the biggest issues for me, being tattooed and not regretting it, is the money. Tattoos are expensive. $100/hr. is the going rate for decent work. Where a person puts their money is usually indicative of what their heart values. Lots of people are starving. Of course God is sovereign over these issues despite frivolous spending (an American epidemic), but we should check our hearts with every purchase. So tattoo it is for me, a boat it is for you, eating out it may be for another.

    • This is a point made by Gareth in his article too. It is something to consider. Though the counter argument would be that a $100 suit doesn’t last as long as ink.

      • It may not last as long, But I’m sure you agree, a suit tends to be slightly more functional than the ink

    • Guest

      Concerning the high cost of tattoos: I do believe you spend your money where your heart is. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” But please, if I see you post on facebook that you’re spending money on tattoos, don’t call me at the church office next week telling me you need help paying your water bill or buying groceries. That’s all I ask, lol. And yes, I do see this often. Maybe a nice photocopy of your tattoo will appease the water company since that’s what you chose to spend your money on.

  • Suzanne

    I got the point! (figuratively only 🙂
    Really great, clarifying article. I think it well represents the (huge) problem that is “skin deep” hermeneutics.

  • Pingback: Hermeneutics & Skin Art | A Modern Puritan()

  • Clint,

    Fun discussion, and some really good points! I think you are right about the hermeneutical points, but even when the verses don’t directly apply, they may contain principles which would legitimately apply.

    I think your approach to those who want to join the fad is good as well. I find the details of the fad itself much less interesting than the beliefs and motives which make it appealing to a person.

    While this is less of a concern now that laser removal is more viable, those pursuing the tattoo fad has always amazed me with their short-sightedness. People get older, and tattoos look silly and sad on people past the right age (like the 25 year old man still wearing his high-school letterman jacket). Tattoos get old and cease to look appealing–even more sad. Even more quickly, fads get old. And, though they have clearly limited shelf-life, tattoos are generally permanent. Getting into that fad seems to me like accepting a life-long monthly car payment for a car that will, without question, last no more than 5-7 years. Wrong? Not really. Foolish? In most cases, yes. The question that people often want to ask (“Is it wrong for people to get tattoos?”) is a bad question. It is not somehow universally wrong, but that is not really the question they should be asking.

    • Very well said. I certainly agree that every single verse in the OT has relevance and application to every Christian’s life due to the universal principles taught in them. That is simply different from saying they are directly binding. Thanks for you input.

  • Mr. Warshaw

    I think a good question when considering the continuation of an OT law is “what was the reason for the law, and have the circumstances changed?” OK, maybe that’s two questions. There weren’t any Mathematical Levitical laws, were there?

    I’ll take tithing as an example. I am convinced we ought to still do it (though certainly not use it as the end of giving, but rather as the beginning, like Israel did). I am convinced because the reason for tithing was 1) to give to the Lord of what was already his and had graciously given to his people; and 2) to show (and perhaps financially require) a sense of dependence on the Lord as provider. I don’t think the circumstances have changed.

    Why did God tell his people not to get tattoos? I’m not in the text right now, so I’ll speak in proposals instead of absolutes, but let’s say that, like in the case of circumcision, he required it as a sign of “otherness”. His people were to be set apart and distinct from the nations. And so I would propose that *if* the injunction against tattoos is intended to serve the same purpose as the injunction toward circumcision, then Paul would be just as quick to rebuke Peter for not eating with a Christian motorcycle club as he was to rebuke him for not eating with the fully-foreskined.

    I don’t have any tats, so I have nothing personally vested in this, but I appreciate the call to look at verses in a history-of-redemption context instead of plucking out individuals here and there to make an argument. Scripture argues perfectly well for itself and does not need our help to make comment on things about which it is truly silent. Discernment is important, and God does not have elastic truth, but the point of Paul’s stronger/weaker discourse in Romans is that the Bible is silent on a lot of things that are not of first importance, and we must not judge or despise a brother because we trace a line of thought past the point where the author actually drew it.

    • Thanks Mr. Warshaw, I think. If I follow you correctly you are agreeing with my point that the OT Law contains universal principles that will apply, but not direct, binding injunctions. I appreciate your input.

      • Mr. Warshaw

        Yes (but only if I understand you correctly). So the “universal principle” in my comment would be that God desires his people to be set apart and holy, but that we are not bound today by the Levitical implementation of that holiness. So if you were perhaps concerned that I was suggesting that the principles beneath the Levitical system were inappropriate or were somehow rendered unnecessary by Christ, that is not where I was headed, but rereading my comment, I can see how I might have unintentionally communicated that. I failed to note that the principle stands in tact, though expressed in a different way, in Christ. Sorry!

    • Your reply, Mr. Warshaw was full of more wisdom than the rest of the entire thread (I.M.O.)

      Pastor Clint, I appreciate your articles as well as the rest of the writers at cripplegate, and just curious, but would you mind sharing whether or not you and/or your spouse have tattoes?

      I also, like Mr. Washam, don’t, and have taught my children (two teenagers and one younger) personal reasons I believe to be founded on Biblical principles for not having them, but have also taught my children not to stand in judgment of those who do. We have looked at all the passages you used in your post in our family devotions years ago, and discussed the shortcomings of using them directly as well.

      We have many friends who have tatts, some staff members at church have tatts, and my kids realize that within our household we have to make certain decisions based on our (their mom & me) convictions as to how we raise them. I lump this into a similar area where other families may watch certain shows that we don’t, and some of them aren’t inherently wrong (such as sponge-bob or rug-rats), but we’ve chosen to abstain from them in our family. But when we go to other’s homes, we don’t condemn them for watching them. We also don’t smoke cigarettes or allow it in our house, nor any form of alcohol. But when we go visit our Catholic in-laws in their home, as long as they don’t get drunk and get out-of-line, my children don’t tell them what to do in their home. It’s their decision.

      One more comment on tatts. My pastor told our congregation to seriously consider the possibility that the beautiful tattoo of a butterfly will one day become a buzzard ! LOL

      Enjoy the conversation, differing views, and trying to be like the Bereans, searching the Scriptures to see if these things are so.

      Don D.

  • mkgantt

    So, I ask a question in all sincerity and in no way want to appear “combative” – If in Leviticus, God had an issue with the tattoo – are we to assume that because we are not longer under the Old Covenant that God no longer has an issue with body modification? To me (and again this is my own position) if I can clearly see that God (who changes not) instructed His people to not tattoo their bodies – He didn’t want them to do that. Now, I may no longer be “under the Law” but because of reverence for Him and his expressed desire for His people – I would not get a tattoo. You are correct – it is a “matter of the heart” – but I think to do something simply because I am “no longer under the law” does in fact, reveal something of the heart. To continually “explain away” the Word of God so that what we want to do is now justified. It is still “identification with the world” which is enmity with God. This is not judgment, this is personal standard which I feel the need to state.

    • Noah Hartmetz

      Something that I think is helpful is to know that, unless you are Jewish, you never were under the Levitical law to begin with (somebody correct me if I’m wrong). And even Jews are not under the Levitical law, provided they place their trust in Jesus Christ as their atoning, once for all sacrifice. The Letter to the Hebrews has a lot to say about this, especially when it affirms that God does not change all the while proclaiming that the New Covenant makes the Old Covenant obsolete.

      • You are right. Also, Galatians backs you up on this. But it is a bit more complicated as you try to reconcile why some of the 10 commandments, for example are still binding (hint, they are restated in the NT).

        • Noah Hartmetz

          Aren’t 9 of the 10 restated? And the only one not restated is the one concerning the Sabbath? That’s gotta be a whole other post!

          • Right. But the fact that the one that is not restated is the one we don’t have to keep in the same way, proves the point that the OT Law is not binding (though it does apply through principles) on the NT believer.

    • Thank you for your sincerity and transparency. This topic is complicated, I wrestled with it well into seminary, and only finally nailed it in my understanding when I preached through Deuteronomy (the link in the article takes you to my personal blog where I go into that in more depth). Basically, you are absolutely right that God doesn’t change, so we need to look for the principle. But in the verse about tattoos he says why: as a sign for the dead. Also he said no shellfish or mixed material. And He doesn’t change. So we need to be consistent. The NT tell us how to use the OT. Read my article at clintarcher.com and let me know there if you have further questions. I respect your desire to honor the Lord, and I don;t want to put a stumbling block in your way while you are figuring it all out. NEVER violate your conscience!

      • JMHancock

        Ask people about their tats… almost every single one has a story. Many are in remembrance of someone who has died and therefore are a sign for the dead. My point is… the state of the heart, the reason behind the tat is where the discussion really belongs. Biggest question in my mind is how will this affect your testimony.

  • Billyquan

    Great word Clint! I love this dialogue and all the comments! The arguments I keep hearing apposing tattoos are the same ones you posted. Along with a few others like “is it best?” and “is in necessary”. These and the ones you mentioned are quite poorly thought out by folks that just want a verse to back up there (usually legalistic) point of view. I hear similar arguments against the consumption of alcohol. They are slippery slopes that the accuser ends up falling victim to. How red is too red? It gets quite silly. What about braces? Braces are rarely done for health reasons. It is cosmetic like plastic surgery or coloring your hair (women) or jewelry or your cloths or blah blah blah. I think its funny that Christians will say that tattoos or piercings are bad but braces or coloring the ole grey our of your hair is ok. It is all vanity. It just depends on what level of vanity you are comfortable with. a question that is both very liberating and convicting at the same time. It comes down to personal conviction, decrement and wisdom. As is does with all “liberty” type issues. This reminds me of the issue I hear about worship. Traditional is good and contemporary is bad. Well unless it is worship that God gave Adam in the garden, then it was all contemporary at some point. Its just how far are you willing to go back. Anyways, I could go on but I won’t. This was a great read this morning. Thanks everyone!

    • I enjoyed your rant Billy. And agree with you. I’m glad my parents weren’t convicted about braces. I needed them!

  • Michael Delahunt

    One thing I’ve learned is that with tattoos, drinking, smoking, the whole nine yards, who are you serving? For me, I am not totally opposed to people doing these types of things (they are not, in and of themselves, sinful actions), but what is the heart (as you pointed out)? Am I doing it to glorify God or myself? I point to the verse “Whatever you do, whether it be eating or drinking, do all to the glory of God.” And then I try to think about how my actions affect others to whom I may be representing Christ (family, friends, especially bros/sisters in Christ). How does this affect them? Things like this should be done in consideration of others, since we are commanded put the “interests of others ahead of our own.”

    That said, often times, people do these things selfishly. And conversely, those opposed respond in a way of poor biblical hermeneutics. The main issue is that often times, people (me included) are too self-absorbed to consider other’s interests, much less God’s. Hence the brouhaha-ing.

    • Brilliant insight Michael. Much of what we do is an assertion of our will and desires rather than considering others or the Lord’s wisdom.

  • To have a tattoo or not have a tattoo? That is the question.

    My bro has an awesome tat on his finger. His left ring finger to be exact. This tattoo is his wedding ring. He decided upon a tattoo to show people that the vow he made is a permanent one.
    A prisoner I saw on the show ‘Beyond Scared Straight’ had a tattoo on his cheek that said ‘WILL OPEN FOR CIGS.’ I do not feel the need to elaborate any further.
    Two tats, two completely different meanings. So where does that leave us with the tattoo or no tattoo debate?
    With this, where we should have started in the first place;
    ‘But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”’ 1 Samuel 16:7

    • Great point Caleb, and well put.

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  • Guest

    Great article. I just counseled with a young college student today and used this same approach. In asking her if her heart was completely right with God at this time, I advised her that unless it was, she was not fully capable of making any kind of permanent life decision. I also asked her how the spiritual hearts were of those advising her to get the tattoo, because if they were not spiritually right with God they were not able to give her the best Godly advice. I then approached the topic of hireability after she graduates and that even though tats were socially acceptable today, there are still many employers who will not allow a tattooed person to represent their company. Even such places as Wendy’s restaurant, where my daughter worked for some time. You could not have any visible tats or unusual piercings and work there.

    • Limiting your job opportunities 9and perception of professionalism) is an excellent point. I didn’t mention that, but it’s a valid reason for younger people to refrain from making decisions that might affect their future. Thanks for the insight.

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  • Antking142

    I personally agree with Clint’s comments and blog, what concerns me more is the time that everyone has taken to read and write such things. (I have not read all the comments) The Devil is having a field day with all of God’s soldiers in the trenches arguing about semantics instead of encouraging each other to go over the wall and fight our common foe. Ant

    • Hey Ant, thanks for the encouragement. Just a reminder that semantics and precision in interpretation is important to make sure we have our marching orders clear. Otherwise we may end up zealously pursuing the wrong mission. We need both: discussion and action. Thanks for the time you took to comment.

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  • James S

    I never got one and i’m 46. I had lots of peer pressure to not only get a tattoo, but also back when the cool thing was for guys to get an earring as well. I refused on the grounds that I despise peer pressure, and as soon as I got pressured, it steeled my mind against it.
    I am pleased that I never folded to the pressure.
    I also feel even more unique and individualistic now, since everybody seems to have a tattoo or an earring and I don’t.

  • Karl Heitman

    Hey Clint, I appreciate the appeal to the context of the chosen passages, but I’m not sure I’m on board with the idea of tattoos not being worldly. When was the last time you hearkened the door of a tattoo parlor? Unless it’s different in your part of the world, in the US I’m pretty sure it’s not a place you’d encourage your youth group to hang out….

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