CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

On Tattoos

Jul 7, 2019

OK, I have finally done it – I have penned a piece on tattoos! I have long put off writing a piece on this for various reasons. Indeed, let me open with a few prefatory remarks, which will help explain my reluctance in going anywhere near this topic!

One. This is one of those topics that far too many Christians go absolutely ballistic about. I can already guarantee that there will be a huge reaction to this – both from those who love tattoos and those who hate tattoos. There will be plenty of comments, likes, shares, disagreements and arguments. Sadly, much more important topics however usually get far less attention and response!

And overwhelmingly there will be all the usual emotional outbursts and knee jerk reactions. I have actually had Christian friends unfriend me over this matter. And incredibly, I said absolutely nothing about the topic. I simply did not like – or dislike – their posts on this. And for that, they threw a hissy fit, and unfriended me!

Two. For what it is worth, I don’t like tattoos – I think they are stupid, and I wish Christians would stop slavishly emulating the world. I wish they would stop doing every stupid thing the pagans do! This is just another sad example of Christians allowing the world to squeeze them into its mould. But having said that, please read this piece to the end!

Three. What pushed me over the edge here and prompted me to finally write this piece was all the unhelpful and foolish memes circulating on the social media at the moment – by both Christians and pagans – featuring a picture of Israel Folau with his tats, along with Leviticus 19:28. Whether believers or nonbelievers, they have used this passage to bash Folau and discredit his entire case concerning religious freedom.

Four. On a very practical level, everyone should bear in mind that one of the greatest growth industries in the West today is that of tattoo removals! So we all need to think carefully before rushing off to get one of these things. They are not easily undone!

Five. This piece could readily be included in my “Difficult Bible Passages” series. And as is often the case, it is not so much because the text in question is so terribly difficult, but because it can be so misused and abused. This is however one of those passages where care is needed, and historical, cultural and biblical matters must be looked at in some detail.

The Biblical Data

So now I turn to the actual biblical material on the topic. And the simple truth is this: we have only one direct verse on this, and various indirect verses. The one and only clear passage on this is Leviticus 19:28: “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.”

It seems that verses 26-27 which immediately proceed it may well be closely connected to it, forming a unit. Therefore they need to also be taken into account and discussed: “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.”

Some of the secondary passages we can appeal to here would be texts like 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “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, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

This is a very important biblical principle. But often Christians can be all rather selective in how they apply it. The same believers who use this text to condemn all believers who might have a tattoo may well be quite overweight and/or careless with their health, eating and exercise habits.

These things too can also really harm your “temple,” so they need to be dealt with as well. Likewise, believers who smoke, or drink excessively are also doing damage to their bodies. So if we use this text to rail against one group of people, let’s make sure we are not being hypocritical in terms of how we apply it.

But let’s get back to the main passage in question. My short point is this: if you consult any important critical commentary which looks in depth at cultural, historical, biblical, exegetical and hermeneutical matters, you will discover this: It seems that this prohibition may have mainly had to do with ancient pagan practices – particularly pagan mourning rites.

And even here there is not complete unanimity. The simple truth is, we cannot be 100 per cent certain what the actual prohibition is referring to. But you will see some general agreement by scholars here as to what is and is not being spoken against. And a key phrase is “for the dead” in verse 28.

That phrase does indeed tie this in specifically with pagan cultic death practices. But let me feature some representative quotes here from some fine conservative Old Testament scholars and commentators. John Hartley offers this commentary on the background to the prohibition:

The body is a marvelous creation of God. Its wholeness represents the beauty and perfection of holiness. Thus the body is to be kept whole. It is not to be intentionally harmed or marred in any way. Specifically prohibited is the pagan custom of lacerating the body as a means of mourning (cf. Deut 14:1; Jer 16:6; 41:5; 47:5; 48:37, which speak of Israelites gashing their bodies as part of their mourning rites). This practice was to increase one‘s sorrow. In Snaith‘s view, however, it was primarily done to offer blood to the departed spirit. A couple of texts from Ras Shamra speak about mourners lacerating themselves. In mourning for Baal, El the Kind “cuts his skin with a razor; he cuts his cheeks and chin, he raked his arms with reed, he plowed his chest like a garden, he raked his back like a valley”. Laceration may have been included in the rites of Baalistic fertility worship, especially when Baal appeared to be deaf to the pleas of his followers (cf. 1 Kgs 18:28).

Marking the body is also prohibited. While the exact meaning of [the Hebrew word] is unknown, it could refer either to making tattoos on the body or to painting the body. Painting the body was a pagan practice. Those preparing to attend a ritual painted their bodies. Elliger thinks this was done to ward off spirits of the dead. Bodily markings also served as a sign of belonging to a certain cult.

The commentary by Jay Sklar offers similar material, although he seems willing to offer a bit more leeway here:

Verses 27-28 prohibit pagan mourning rites, such as various hair or beard styles, or cutting one’s body for the dead. (cf. Lev. 21:5; Deut. 14:1). The rationale is not provided, although cutting one’s body is associated elsewhere with pagan worship (1 Kgs. 18:28), perhaps implying all these practices were somehow involved with illicit spiritual rites (cf. Isa. 15:2, where lamenting for the dead involves some of these rites and is done at high places). Alternatively, it could simply be that they were so associated with Canaanite practices that adopting them would blur the distinction between the Israelites and the Canaanites.

The words translated as tattoo marks occur only here. Although their precise meaning is unclear, the first word is related to ‘writing’ or ‘marking’, and the context supports some sort of marking on the flesh (either tattooing or perhaps painting). It is not clear whether this is connected with mourning rites or is simply another pagan custom that involves putting marks on the body; in either case, it is probably prohibited for the same reasons as the preceding practices. Tattoos today – at least in Western cultures – do not have the same pagan associations as they did in ancient Israel, so believers are no longer prohibited from getting them (just as they are no longer prohibited from various hair or beard styles, v. 27). Other quite separate questions might include: ‘Is it wise to get a tattoo?’ and ‘What does it mean to do so wisely?’

Yes those final questions are the main issue here! Finally, let me draw upon the remarks of Gordon Wenham who takes a slightly stronger position on this:

No bodily disfigurement: cf. 21:5; Deut. 14:1; cf. Job 1:20; Isa. 22:12, etc. This is usually taken to be simply a prohibition of pagan mourning rites, but there is more to it than this. Mourning was not discouraged, only those customs which involved physical disfigurement. This law conforms to other holiness rules which seek to uphold the natural order of creation and preserve it from corruption (cf. Lev 19:19; 18:22–23; 21:17ff.). God created man in his image and pronounced all creation very good (Gen. 1). Man is not to disfigure the divine likeness implanted in him by scarring his body. The external appearance of the people should reflect their internal status as the chosen and holy people of God (Dt. 14:1–2). Paul uses a similar line of argument in 1 Cor. 6. The body of the believer belongs to Christ, therefore “glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20).

In sum, one can only go so far in using a verse like Leviticus 19:28 in this particular debate, either to defend tattoos or to condemn them. This one direct OT passage may not be the final word on how NT believers today proceed. The actual cultural and historical context is of course rather different from that of today. Nonetheless, passages such as 1 Cor. 6:19-20 certainly do need to be seriously borne in mind, at least on the level of Christian principle.

Many more things could be said on this I suppose. For example, some might say that they get tattoos for somewhat more noble purposes, such as commemorating a departed loved one. But it can be said that there would be other useful ways to remember a lost family member or friend.

As I have mentioned above, I do not think this is the most important topic there is for Christians. Yes it matters, but Christians can differ on this. I have already given my personal opinion, as well as tried to offer a bit of biblical data on all this.

I realise that some folks are just chomping at the bits to come here and start WWIII over the matter! Well, let the fireworks begin, but let me provide a warning: Those who are too hot-headed or too emotional or too judgmental will not be given a run here. But if you can offer reasonable and charitable remarks, please do so.

[1800 words]

45 Responses to On Tattoos

  • And given that all sorts of hotheads will come here to crucify me for my remarks, let me try to restate my position. I said I think tattoos are dumb, and I said the one clear passage on this may refer to particular pagan practices back then, but it still should give us all a bit of a warning about heading down this path. But I realise that folks from both sides of the debate will likely hate on me here – so I guess I just can’t win!

  • I do not like tattoos, I admit it. I heard a young Catholic priest give a talk on tattoos once, neither condemning them or sanctioning them, but he did make a very useful (and insightful) suggestion. He suggested that before you get a tattoo of that “cool” saying, or the “awesome” image, get a t-shirt printed with the same image or saying and wear it for a year, every day, 24/7. If after a year you are still happy with the proposed tattoo, well go for it. But chances are you will not be as enthusiastic about it and may even have changed your mind. A t-shirt you can just take off or throw in the wash for a break, A tattoo is more permanent. Seems good advice I must admit.

  • Thanks Beth. One friend on the social media just posted this:

    Check out info on St Harold the King and also the history of the Ethiopian Copts re tattoos. Also there is a Coptic tattooist in Jerusalem who has been there for over a century marking Christian pilgrims with various Christian insignia so they can proudly display their faith.

    I thanked him and said, that is one angle my article did not cover. It may be worth looking at more closely.

  • Hi Bill. I wouldn’t do it, but I would not look down on any person Christian or non Christian. We do have Freedom in Christ.

    KJV. 1 Corinthians 6.12. 12 All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

  • I find this video pretty on point

    https://youtu.be/sig4hAqtpLg

  • I would not normally comment on this subject, for the reason that I hate tattoos, because I have a phobia and struggle to even think about them. Since I was a child ( I am 50 now), not have I always hated any pen mark or something on my body (if I got one, (I always quickly rub them off as soon as possible), but I hate seeing them on others as well. As someone who has worked with children, while I can handle face painting around me, I have never actually painted a child’s face. I just can’t cope.

    The tattoo thing has boomed in about the last twenty years, and I find little more freakish or hugely stressful than to see them on someone. Hence, I sometimes have to move away from a stranger if they have one, or worse, more than one.

    However, as a Christian, I have never been able to say that it is Biblically wrong, and my attitudes to them are personal. I’d love to say the Bible prohibits them, but I am not convinced of that, and this article pretty much sums up my views, including the harming of one’s body in the NT. If they do cause harm, then, yes, I could see them as morally wrong, but, if not, then I just hate them and am regularly traumatised by them because of a personal phobia with which I’ve been born, but has only been a serious issue this century.

  • Do we accept, like graffiti? Then why graffiti our body? The morbid practice of cutting one self has a long dark history in the demonic pages of satanism, demonism and the occult.
    Commercially acquired tattoos account for more than twice as many hHep C infections as injections drug us. Hep C is a deadly fatal disease.

  • The dangers of the ink particles permeating through the skin to the lymphatic system and the blood stream, up into the liver. Scientific research shows leaks of the ink into the blood system. Scarey.

  • Thanks Judith. My piece was primarily a biblical/theological assessment. But yes other considerations are worth running with, including medical ones.

  • What about Is 49:16 ? Does God engrave our names on His hand? Strong says the word could be translated cut in, engrave … I don’t like tattoos either!

  • Thanks Rob. But the reply to that is easy enough: given that God is a spiritual being, and not a physical being, he has no hands! So this of course is just a figure of speech, and it would not directly bear on the tattoo issue!

  • I admit I don’t like tattoos – I associate them largely with barbarism and criminality. Even if Scripture doesn’t explicitly prohibit them there is the question of personal witness. If the World see tattoos as bad – irrespective of whether being bad is a cool thing, and Christians as supposed to be good – even if the World holds that Christian righteousness is wrong, then isn’t there an inconsistency? I might reserve judgment as regards the military but that’d be about the lone exception.

  • It is amazing how some people who do not like commitment will get a tattoo.

  • I agree with you that tattoos are too closely associated with the pagan world for me to ever be comfortable with them. (although, my father, who was in the navy and survived Pearl Harbour, had tattoos on his forearms signifying his service, which he had admittedly done in his misspent youth, and I remember his with fondness.) I have only recently been able to allow for tattoos being done by someone “before” they had become a Christian. Those done after they had allegedly come to Christ seems an act of ignorance or rebellion to me. There may be nothing in the bible that outright forbids it in all circumstances, but neither is there anything that says it’s a positive or profitable thing to do in any circumstance. I’ve assumed that Israel Folau had his tats done prior to becoming a Christian…do you know the truth of that?

  • Some things are also spiritually discerned – adding this to the scriptures related to our body as temples and others about where our focus should be as Christlike believers and servants, tattoos seem to be a form of idolatry and self worship or, narcissism. I am sure they are unwise and the way of the world. we are told not to learn or mimic the ways of pagans and the world. I love people with tats as much as those with them, but I am sure they are misguided in their maturity and focus as Christians. There you go!

  • I’m black and white on the issue. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. A tattoo, to me, is akin to graffiti scrawled on its walls.
    I believe it is also a form of self-harm reflecting the state of the inner self at the time of getting the tattoo. There are many Christians who get them before being saved and keep them as reminders of their pre-born again like existence.
    But in any case, if you are going to paint a mural on the temple walls, why pay a second rate artist to do it. The ceiling of the Cistine Chapel was painted by one of the world’s best artists-that is the standard we should set before getting our own temple adorned permanently.

  • Bill,
    I do not understand this cultural phenomenon. At 70 years old I have never had a tattoo craving nor a craving to satisfy cultural trends. I served in the US Army from 1967-1971. It seems that a majority of my battle buddies could not wait to put a pin-up babe on their arm. As for me I always thought it was silly. It was like a bumper sticker for your body and they just keep getting larger.

    I really don’t care if you have an overwhelming desire to put this silliness on your body. But one must remember it is one sin you can’t wash away completely!

  • If one feels uncomfortable at the thought of Jesus doning a tatoo then don’t have a tatoo.
    Whenever uncertain, ask would Jesus do that?
    Jesus is our example and forerunner. Just follow Jesus’ don’ts and do’s.
    Our body belongs to Christ it is not ours to do whatever pleases us.

  • I see the increase in people covered in tattoos as a return to paganism. In Britain we now have Pagan Pride Parades, Pagan police, the festivals of Beltane in Scotland, the celebration of the Summer solstice at Stonehenge. Every where we look we see the return to paganism and the barbarism from which Britain emerged 1400 years ago.
    As for cutting the body how about this on the streets of London, with the festival of Ashura?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lol4FhI05G8

    Perhaps the only people who can legitimately wear their tattoos with pride are Jews who were tattood in the concentration camps.

    David Skinner UK

  • I am 55 years old and have been a believer since I was 20.

    I have had conversations too numerous to count on this topic over the years.

    I have yet to walk away from a single one saying to myself.

    “AHA! NOW I have a biblical understanding of how Jesus is more glorified and honored in this person’s life because they have a tattoo. ”

    Ohhhhh how much different the church in the west would be if Christian’s stopped asking whether sometjhing will hurt their walk with Christ and started asking whether it will help. Using scripture and orthodox church history in framing both the questions and the answers, rather than what is hip n groovy according to the world.

  • If tatooing were difficult and expensive, it would become the symbol of wealth. People who had reached the upper levels of society would get a tattoo to show they had arrived. They would also hire the best artists available. This, essentially, was the case in the South Seas (and Israel Folau is, remember, a Tongan). However, it was brought back to Europe by sailors, and spread along the docks and the barracks. Also, in cold climates, the only people who regularly expose their upper limbs and chests are manual labourers. Thus, the attitude grew up that only those of low social standing and culture would get a tattoo – and that has become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

  • The Greek word stigma could refer to a body marking denoting the ownership of a slave. For a freedman, the old ownership mark would be replaced by the mark of the god at whose temple his manumission was performed and recorded.

    The Greek word for “mark” as in “the mark of the Beast” is charagma – a word which also was used to refer to the puncture marks left by a snakebite!

    There were people marked or sealed for divine protection in Scripture, e.g. Cain (Genesis 4:15) – compare also Ezekiel 9:4; Revelation 7:3; 9:4.

    The Revelation also differentiates between those “marked” and those who are “sealed”. St Paul spoke of bearing the marks of Jesus on his body (Galatians 5:17) and of people sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13).

    Does the Leviticus 19 passage also have some metaphysical or spiritual bearing on the self-injurious behaviour known as “cutting” which has become a mental health issue for too many troubled young people in our times?

  • I also dislike tattoos. Its a big business often with sleazy connections. And its not especially hygienic. But what about Israel Folau? The issue is that those trying to discredit him link the condemnation of tattoos with that of homosexuality. So they accuse Israel of hypocrisy. In his defence I have heard it said that his tattoos are a cultural thing. Maybe so. But we defend Israel for his commentary and so we should. And one imagines that tattooing and homosexuality are on not in the same league. Nevertheless we need to try and understand context. It creates some challenges for us today. We all seem to get ourselves tied up in knots over Paul’s commentary on hair and hats.

  • As born again Christians, we all have had some kinds of tattoos in our life in one form or another.

    It is not what we were or where we came from, but how we finished that counts.

    Many start well, but ended badly. The first will be last and last will be first.

    One of the the thieves on the cross started badly, but ended well.

    Whatever in the past has passed. Let us sin no more.

  • If holiness and being separate from the world are Biblical principles for all believers, I would have thought abstaining from being inked would be a good witness in the current tattoo crazed culture. As for getting John 3:16 tattooed on your forehead as a testimony to your faith, perhaps living the truth & speaking the truth might be more Biblical?

    Thanks for the article Bill.

  • @Judith Bond,

    Hepatitis C has been curable at rates of 95% or better across all 6 genotypes (subvarieties) for some time now with medications available on the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme).
    https://www.hepatitisaustralia.com/hepatitis-c-cures
    https://www.hep.org.au/hep-c/hep-c-treatment/
    An internet search on topic of ‘hepatitis C cures Australia’ will show more information.

    The issue of HIV/AIDS transmission given the lack of stringent regulation and medical training within the tattooing industry are still valid concerns as far as I am aware.

  • The only tattoo I would have is across the chest….DNR – gone to a better place!!!! For those that do not know what DNR stands for – “Do not Resuscitate!!!

  • Christian tattooing in Bosnia and Herzegovina
    https://www.slavorum.org/christian-tattooing-in-bosnia-and-herzegovina/
    “Croatian Catholic communities in Bosnia suffered a lot under the Ottoman invasion…women took to tattooing themselves on their hands, fingers, chests and foreheads with crosses and other ancient ornaments. They did believe such practices would create a spiritual guard that would ward off the Turks, or would at least let people know they were once Catholic before undergoing a forced conversion…and it was successful in many examples, it was a passive resistance to an occupation!”
    “Tattooing was necessary during the Turkish occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina so that the children could be protected from kidnapping. Many had their names or initials tattooed into the skin to prevent their identity being taken from them.”
    “Although the cult outlasted the Ottoman oppressors, communist authorities made tattooed women targets of hate campaigns…women stopped tattooing their children…by the 1950s.”

  • Yep, like many fringe issues, it is a good topic to bring up. As with so many things we humans love to major in the minors. However, if we spent more time considering how we may live in greater intimacy with God and more perceptive to the Holy Spirit within us, and actually living out Christ’s commission to us all, we’d spend a lot less time worrying about these superficial details, and fringe topic.

    In that vein, I like the comment above
    “Ohhhhh how much different the church in the west would be if Christian’s stopped asking whether something will hurt their walk with Christ and started asking whether it will help.”
    is the most appropriate, and frankly should be the basis of all of our decisions before the Lord. But when it comes to others… how about we let the Holy Spirit deal with them according to His purposes.

    Methinks, such matters as this are not going to determine our “standing” in the throne room, but the love for God and one another and whether our lives were lived for Christ and His kingdom.

  • When working as a prison chaplain, one of the most notorious inmates came for a chat. He was a Muslim. He told me his story which was pretty dark – most of his life had been spent behind bars. During our discussion, I mentioned the Latin phrase Post tenebras lux, which being translated means: “After the darkness light”. He rather liked the words, not knowing that they were the battle cry of the Reformation. Anyhow, we got onto the subject of tattoos. He told me that he would have the words; Post Tenebras Lux tattooed across his back once his sentence was up. Imagine – a Muslim with the cry of the Protestant Reformation plastered across his back! One has to be innovative in evangelizing Muslims, especially prisoner’s!

  • In Jewish sacrifice the animal had to be spotless and without blemish. One assumes that until Jesus Christ was badly disfigured at the hands of the Romans, he also was without spot, blemish or tattoo.

    I agree with John C Wigg who said, “The Revelation also differentiates between those “marked” and those who are “sealed”. St Paul spoke of bearing the marks of Jesus on his body (Galatians 5:17) and of people sealed with the promised Holy Spirit”. In Revelations it suggests that we shall all have to be tattooed with a number if we are able to either provide or receive goods and services.

    David Skinner UK

  • My take on this is perhaps simplistic. God created us with bodies that He designed. Why ‘deface’ it?

  • I am perhaps a little bit judgemental here. While I have not had any lightning bolt moments on what the Bible specifically says about tattoos, I must admit that whenever I see someone (Particularly a Christian) get their first tattoo my immediate thought is “conformist”. I don’t think my grown daughters appreciate my judgemental attitude 🙂

  • Darkness is powerfully afoot in the world to deface beauty and replace it with ugliness. Abstract art, discordant music, asymmetrical fashions are just part of this manifestation. Some tattooing is cultural, like the Maori use (and other south pacific peoples). An argument could be made that such practice had to do with pagan religions and the practice should cease under Christianity. But this should not be a legalism. Each individual knows what the Spirit wants him or her to do. Some tattooing – such as a minor picture of beauty – may be quite aesthetic. But where it physically defaces, I would suggest God’s beauty is being deliberately graffitied and defaced.
    I don’t think you will find a biblical injunction. Rather, this is very much spiritual. Those led by the Spirit know what pleases and displeases God.

  • I am in absolute agreement. I believe it is an insult to what God has given you to mark it with tattoos and we also have very good evidence that it is immoral societies that tend to do this. I really don’t think they are a good look.

    Having said that tattoos and homosexuality are simply not in the same league. Nowhere in scripture does it say tattoos are to result in people’s death – they simply are *not* a mortal sin. Unlike homosexuality, tattoos are not mentioned in the N.T. because they are a minor issue compared to things like homosexuality, which the Apostles reinforce is a mortal sin and which lack of repentance from will result in people not gaining salvation. This is why the N.T. scripture says :-

    Act 15:29 to keep away from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from anything strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you avoid these things, you will do well…
    (ISV)

    The Apostles were absolutely clear about this division of the law but if people want further evidence all they have to do is read the second verse of the chapter :-

    Lev 19:2 Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I, Jehovah your God, am holy.
    (MKJV)

    Unlike homosexuality, which God condemned for all nations in the previous chapter (Lev 18:24-25), the Mosaic law regarding tattoos was specific to “the congregation of the sons of Israel” i.e. it is part of the Mosaic law that we are no longer subject to because it is simply too hard for gentiles to be subject to. We all break the Mosaic law every day, but some laws, such as murder, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality etc. were to result in people’s death and still are. The Old Testament scriptures tell us people doing these sorts of things will surely die but the New Testament tells us if we repent of these things we can still obtain salvation, through Jesus’ sacrifice, but if we don’t repent then we remain condemned. There simply is no similar condemnation for tattoos.

    The chapter ends by saying :-

    Lev 19:37 And you shall observe all My statutes and all My judgments, and do them. I am Jehovah.
    (MKJV)

    Unlike the previews chapter it does not speak of how whole nations are defiled and destroyed for doing the things mentioned there, including homosexuality.

    I would direct people to not get tattoos because they want to be holy and respectful and there is no real reason to get any.

    So slandering someone who has a tattoo, especially someone who has had a tattoo prior to conversion, is simply not a part of what we are taught to do in the New Testament but warning people about things like homosexuality and adultery etc., most certainly is.

    Having said that, if asked, I would do my best to dissuade people from getting tattoos because, as Paul said :-

    1Ti_1:8 But we know that the law is good if a man uses it lawfully,…

  • My wife and I do not like tattoos personally, but having said that, both of our adult daughters have a multitude of them on their arms. One has them on her hands and backs of fingers, which we find rather sad. But we still love them unconditionally, and pray that they will come back to the Lord, from whom they departed in their teenage years. God Bless, Bill. Thank you for your insights.

  • Do any of you commenting here understand the significance of tattoos in Polynesian culture? Have any of you asked Israel what the motifs actually mean in his Tongan culture?

    ‘Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean’ (Romans 14:13-14).

    You’re right Bill, before anyone can quote the bible on ‘honouring God with our bodies’, we should take a look at our own self-obsessed culture before passing judgement. For example the bible has a lot more to say about over-eating then it does about tattoos. But somehow there is an obesity epidemic in western society and Australia is one of the worst offenders. Try these verses on for size: Deut 21:20, Num 11:18-34, Ezekiel 16:49, Psa 78:26-31, Prov 23:2, 28:7, Rom 13:14, 1 Cor 6:12, 10:7, 15:32, 2 Tim 3:1-5, Phil 3:19.
    I’d be interested if you penned a piece about that Bill.

  • “For example the bible has a lot more to say about over-eating then it does about tattoos”
    Yes Brent, the fact that I have *never* heard a sermon in more than 30 years of church attendance, about gluttony, is a clear pointer to the fact that most pastors in the West stay away from things that will upset their congregations. Yes, there have been sermons about idols in our lives and yet gluttony is steered clear of as if it is no longer a sin. When I have asked pastors about this, I have received silence, or hesitant agreement with yet not one sermon to follow (and that’s Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc.).

    Yet anything which is a compulsion we cannot control, an addiction, anything which has control of us, is an idol before God. And yet we, the brethren who are supposed to confess our sins one to another, upholding each other in truth and in love, remain silent while addiction and unchecked compulsion reigns among our fellowships.

    Gluttony also fits into this concept of “honouring our body”.

  • The Lord God’s “tattoo” on the forehead (Rev 7:3 and 22:4) is the one to get.

  • Many of your correspondents point out tattoos are spiritual markings, but fail to mention the possibility of demons being transferred to the recipient by the process of tattooing. I have yet to see any tattooists who claim to be Christians; rather their shop windows are adorned with many demonic images and sexually provocative pictures. If the tattooist sees no problem with these things, what else is he invoved with? Many (if not all) of the children in the Anne Hamilton Burn cult had hidden “curse pins” placed in their bodies and curses spoken over them- curses such as “this one will serve satan or she dies”. And these were supposedly ethical medical personnel performing these procedures. Many have subsequently been set free, but not without much Godly exorcisms.
    If you have been set free from satan, why would you gladly subject yourself to coming under his control again?

  • I know someone who recently came to Christ who managed to quit a 40+ year cigarette habit because he couldn’t picture Jesus smoking a cigarette.

    I think that is probably a great way of looking at this subject.

    Also, the Bible does tell us to judge by the fruit, and one often finds that those in rebellion to God are the ones wanting tattoos, also in Australia at least I’ve been told that all tattoo shops have links to bikie gangs. Apparently insurance companies won’t touch them with a ten-foot-pole either because they’re too high risk, I assume because of those associated with them.

    The only circumstances under which I could imagine myself ever consider it being a good and righteous thing for a Christian to get a tattoo would be to cover a previous demonic or lustful tattoo from their old life.

  • As a Christian who had tattoos when I was in sin and darkness, I have thought long and hard about this.
    To me it is similar to yoga. Sure, ‘it’s just stretching’, but to the creators (and often those who seek to popularise it in the West) of the practice, it was profoundly spiritual.
    Sure ‘it’s just ink’ but undoubtedly, all self-mutilation is a marring of the image of God, and have origins in Pagan spiritual practice.
    And speaking from personal experience, there is still a spiritual element, even if it is unknown at the time.
    The other two things to consider are that the basis of choosing to get a tattoo is often (as it was in my case) vanity- obviously not allowable for the Christian.
    Secondly, I have been redeemed at a price. I count nothing I own as truly mine, but all is for the service of the Lord. Tattoos are a terribly vain use of the provision that our Lord has provided us with.
    I’ll hop down from my soapbox now. I hope my tone wasn’t too judgmental. We live in such a media saturated world, with ungodly culture shoved down our throats every day. There are surely many areas in which each one of us are not conforming to God’s word.

  • Thanks Bill for your amazing writing.
    I too dislike tattoos and would advise anyone thinking about getting one not to do so.
    Some verses in Revelation 19 have often puzzled me. In v 12 Jesus ‘has a name written on Him that no one knows but He Himself.’ In v 16 ‘on His thigh He has this name written; King of kings and Lord off lords.’ Do you have any comment on those two verses. GBY

  • Thanks David. The book of Revelation is full of symbolism and figurative language, such as metaphor. That is a characteristic of apocalyptic writings, also found in places like Isaiah 24-27; Daniel 7–12; and Zechariah 1–8. As I have written elsewhere, ‘It is highly symbolic with striking imagery and style. The highly symbolic and esoteric nature of these writings makes it difficult to interpret.’
    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2018/12/26/bible-study-helps-revelation/

    So just as we would not take metaphors literally as we find them in the gospels, for example, Jesus calling himself the door (John 10:9), so too we should not take them literally here. Many of these passages make use of metaphors. Indeed, simply read the first part of verse 12: “His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns”. If these are actual, literal features of Christ, at the very least, they are somewhat strange. He would need a rather large head to hold all those crowns for example. So most folks simply recognise that metaphorical language is being used here.

    The same with other descriptions of Christ in Revelation. In 19:15 we read this: “Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” Once again, we have a clear use of figurative language – in this case, metaphor.

    In the same way we read about God inscribing us on the palm of his hands (Isaiah 49:16). But as I mentioned above, this too is of course metaphorical language, since God has no hands – he is a spirit, and not a physical being!

    And even if we do want to take the two verses you mention much more literally, it is possible that the name of v. 12 is written on his diadem. And we read that his robe has a name on it in v. 16, so maybe that includes the name on his thigh.

    But to wrap this up: however we understand some of these amazing and mysterious pictures of Christ and God in Revelation – and elsewhere – they often involve at least some use of metaphor and figurative language. As such, they really are not directly related to our current debate over tattoos.

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