The Theology Of Tattoos

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The debate on whether tattoos are acceptable or not is based off Lev 19:28. It is a clear instruction to the Israelites from God to not tattoo their bodies however let’s examine this passage a bit more to gain a better understanding of what God was saying and the underlying principle.

The Old Testament Law contains 613 commandments which can be broken down into three categories; moral laws, civil laws and ceremonial laws. Moral laws are the ones that form the foundation of many legal systems around the world and include the 10 Commandments. Civil Laws are ones that applied to the Israelites and how they were to conduct themselves as the newly established nation of God in the Promised Land. Finally, the ceremonial laws surrounded what was done with respect to worship and the tabernacle/temple. All of these laws outlined what was to be expected, however because we as Christians live in the New Testament in 2018 many of these laws have been superseded or outdated (eg. Deut 23:2 – everyone is now welcomed at church, Exo 23:19 – weird and outdated, Lev 19:19 – we wear clothes with blended material, Lev 19:26 – we eat blue/rare/medium-rare steak). This doesn’t mean we can disregard them entirely. Some laws may be outdated, but the principles will never be! 

Examining Lev 19:28 closer we can see that the cutting of the flesh and tattooing was for the dead. The Promised Land the Israelites were entering was populated with cities and tribes that practiced ancestral worship who would cut and tattoo themselves as an act of worship. God gave this law to the Israelites because He was their God and He alone is to be worshiped (Exo 20:1-3). This was a civil law that has since become outdated, however the principle of worshipping God alone still stands firm today.

So should you or should you not get a tattoo?

It comes down to the why behind it. If you are getting a tattoo because someone you admire has one? Than that is wrong. That is idolatry, which is the very reason God said not to tattoo yourself. In fact if you do anything because that's what someone else does, that's idolatry, We are followers of Jesus not followers of people. Take the time to think, pray and consult others about it? It may sound over the top but it is something that needs to be brought before God rather than simply following what others are doing.

All our decisions must based on what the Word of God says not what someone else does.