“You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:28
The Hebrew word translated “tattoo” is the word, “qa·‘ă·qa‘,” Strong’s 7085 [e], which can mean an incision, imprint, or tattoo, so it can refer to any marking that is made on the body, which could quite possibly include things like Henna, even though this isn’t permanent.
With the growing popularity of tattoos, I feel like the Lord wanted me to talk about this a bit as I’ve come to see things differently related to tattoos in the last year. It is now estimated that 23% percent of all Americans, and 32% of those ages 30-45 have tattoos. In America, it used to be a sign to show allegiance to the military, gang, or club, but today, we have a tattoo cross-over as more and more Christians are also getting on board with the tattoo craze, but in keeping in line with their faith, are having crosses, words of faith, and symbols of Jesus. So, does God agree with this? Let’s do some research on the history of tattoos…
The earliest record of tattoos can be found as far back as around 3,000 BC, all of which were found on preserved mummies. Mummies were wrapped because of their belief that by wrapping the body, it was preserved so that it could be resurrected as a god. This was specifically done on those of great status, like nobility, rulers, the wealthy and powerful. Commoners were not mummified.
Tattoos can be traced to the countries of: Egypt, China, Japan, Phillipines, Indonesia, Somoa, Solomon Islands, New Zeland, Siberian, Taiwan, Thailand, Europe, Persia, Greece, Rome, Great Britain, and then finally to North America in the late 1,800’s.
Here are some key dates for tattoos:
- A.D. 316 — Roman Emperor Constantine bans the practice of facial tattooing. His rationale is that man has been created in the image of God, and so to defile the face is to disgrace the divine.
- 720 — Body art goes out of fashion in Japan when officials begin using tattoos to punish criminals. This lasts until the 17th century, when tattooing is replaced by other punishments. Decorative tattoos quickly become fashionable once more.
- 922 — While visiting what is now Russia, Arab diplomat Ahmad Ibn Fadlan encounters a group of heavily tattooed traders from northern Europe. Ibn Fadlan describes the tattoos as dark green lines and pictures, extending from the tip of each man’s toes to his neck.
- 1769 — After an expedition to Tahiti and New Zealand, British explorer Capt. James Cook brings back tales of the natives’ elaborate body art. He also popularizes the vocabulary we still use today: The Polynesian word tatau (meaning “to strike”) gives rise to the Western term “tattoo.”
- 1846 — Martin Hildebrandt opens the first U.S. tattoo parlor in New York City, servicing clientele that includes soldiers from both sides of the Civil War. His daughter, Nora, rises to fame in the 1890s when she tours with the Barnum and Bailey Circus as the Tattooed Lady.
As you can see, American tattoos started from a German in the 1,800’s who began tattooing soldiers during the Civil War. It was an expensive process, so it soon came to be a status symbol for the elite. In the 2,000’s it began to be promoted through the media in shows such as “Inked” and “Miami Ink.” Janis Joplin’s tattoo has been attributed to the moment when they were accepted in pop culture, and now they are rampant in the media from stars to sport players.
So, because tattoos are now the thing to do, has God changed His mind since He wrote His command in Leviticus to now? I used to believe there were two types of laws that were to be followed, the required law for all time – such as the 10 Commandments, and the social law that was just for a set time (like how men were to keep their beards.) I still believe this to a point, but the question comes when we look at all of the Levitical laws, and even laws that Paul states in the New Testament, and then try to determine what laws apply today and what were for their time only. It’s an almost impossible task that is highly debated among scholars (and, of which, I totally am not!). So, we cannot understand the answer fully to this huge question, but we can try to discuss how God might view the law today based on our knowledge of Him and what is going on in the unseen spiritual realm.
What do we know? We know that we are to keep the commandments (or laws), so this is assumed the 10 Commandments, but is He also talking about the laws that help keep the commandments? Not sure! Keeping the commandments is obviously still important in the New Testament.
- ““So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 22:31
- “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.” Deuteronomy 4:2
- “And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”” Matthew 19:17
- ” “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15
- “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”” John 14:21
- “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3
- “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” Revelation 14:12
I’m not going to argue the point of why God might like tattoos because I can’t really find justification in Scripture, so I’ll just discuss why might God still not want us to get tattoos today, even if they are Christian-related. If you can find proof of how He might have changed and like them today, please comment your thoughts. I’d love to be able to research your thoughts.
Here’s my thoughts on this, which doesn’t make it necessarily true, but should give us all some thoughts to chew.
Satan’s focus is to devour and destroy, but what is the underlying root goal of Satan? It isn’t to just destroy for the sake of destroying and it isn’t even to destroy man for the sake of destroying man, but his underlying goal is to infuriate God so that He gets off His throne and wage war against him. Satan believes he can overthrow God and assume his ‘rightful’ place as leader overall, but in order to overthrow Him, he first needs to get Him off His throne and to fight. We know that Satan has spent the last 6,000 years trying to get God to go to war with him. How does he get God angry enough to go to war? Quite simply, He defiles the image of God and defiles the temple of God.
After Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to live within believers, God’s temple no longer was made of stone and mortar, but was now inside, situated within the flesh and blood of believers.
“What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” 2 Corinthians 6:16
God has a very solid, long history of warning to those who defiles His temple, and I believe it is because this is Satan’s ultimate goal. God knows this and so He must warn us sternly to not defile the temple by listening and agreeing with Satan’s tactics. God will go to war at His designated time and He will not be provoked prior to this appointed day; however, He gets increasingly angry.
- “16 Do you not know that you[a] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.” 1 Corinthians 3:16-18
- “17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin[a] a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 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, 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, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:17-20
- “31 Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.” Daniel 11:31
- “O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.” Psalm 79:1
- “28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” ” Acts 21:28
- “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:28
In conclusion, I believe that God still wouldn’t agree with tattoos, no matter the design, and not because the tattoo is wrong itself, but rather because it is a defilement of the temple of God, or in other words, it’s a change in the design of the temple as was originally designed by God. God gave specific plans to King David to build the temple (Solomon ended up actually building it) and each detail needed to be followed exactly from the number of stitches, to the exact colors and designs, to the specific dimensions. The builders were not allowed to change God’s plans from a purple and scarlet curtain to a lime green & hot pink curtain because it was their preference. There was no wiggle room for negotiation as to how the temple was to be built. God also designed each of our bodies a specific way. We had no say-so as to what color our skin was, how short or tall we were, or our gender. What God wanted designed, He did. Tattoos are us saying that we didn’t fully agree with God’s design and are thus adding some new permanent detail to the temple walls, to give it our own personal touch. We have crept in and modified the temple design.
If you have a tattoo today and are convicted by this message at all, tattoos are not the unforgivable sin, so no worries there, but please ask God to forgive your ignorance when your temple was defiled. God is an amazing, forgiving God and will totally understand because quite frankly, who would have ever thought that making a statement for Christ on your arm could actually be in opposition of God’s original design? Thank God for His incredible patience with us. There’s so much that we have not idea what we’re doing. What a good Father we have!
“When He saw their faith, He said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”” Luke 5:30