eyewitness

Zzzzzzzzzzz...

Many people would say that's the sound of a church service on any typical Sunday morning. Deadly boring... soapy platitudes... hypocritical denunciations... prudish warnings against anything real and deeply pleasurable... ranks of drowsy worshipers putting in their mandatory time in "God's house" before being released once more to life outside the dim stained glass, behind which they comfortably deposit most of their religion until the next weekend.

If that's Christianity, who wants it?

On the contrary, Christianity is a face-to-face reunion with God. Visit our "Eyewitnesses" section to read how Jesus Christ is wonderfully alive and busy in the world today, bringing people to life. As people believe in him and open their hearts and lives to him, they find that he is undeniably real, powerful, and good. Our earnest hope is that you also will become an eyewitness of his majesty.

tattoo

Pastor’s Note
Christians & Tattoos: A Letter to a Church Member

From Pastor Paul to a brother in the church:

Dear Brother: Thanks for asking about tattoos in the context of Lev. 19:27-28, which reads as follows: “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.”

I do not understand the prohibition on tattoos in Lev. 19:28 to be a universal command forbidding God’s people ever to have tattoos, so that for a Christian ever to have what we can call a tattoo would be a sin. As you also mentioned, in the context it forbids Israelites to have tattoos specifically because they were associated with pagan religion and mourning rituals. Therefore, the more immediate and abiding prohibition for us is really to avoid worshiping idols and embracing false religion of any kind.

However, Lev.19:28 does connect to a larger biblical prohibition against “harming” the human person in body or soul, because we are made in God’s image. Even our bodies teach lessons about the divine glory. Though God does not have a body, the eye teaches that God sees; the ear that he hears, etc. (Psalm 94:8-9 “Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise? He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?”) The orderliness, integrity, and essential appearance of the body is to be maintained according to God’s intention. Therefore, bodily disfigurement in general is prohibited.

Of course, that raises the larger question, with regard to tattoos in our context, of how much their popular resurgence has to do with the loss of a Christian world view, and that therefore any and all tattoos cut somewhat across the grain of Christianity (even Christian tattoos, just like Christian heavy metal bands!). I think that explains it… but neither do I think that then amounts to an enforceable biblical prohibition on tattoos. It is a matter of Christian liberty. In cases of Christian liberty, there may be a best option among the several choices that are lawful, but even then it is not enforceable, as in this example: 1 Corinthians 7:38 “So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.”

In practice, it seems there are large gray areas in this question of bodily disfigurement. For instance, the cutting off of the hair for mourning was forbidden, because it smacked of pagan religious rites. Priests were specifically forbidden cutting their hair or body as a form of mourning: Leviticus 21:1-5 “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: No one shall make himself unclean for the dead among his people, except for his closest relatives, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother, or his virgin sister (who is near to him because she has had no husband; for her he may make himself unclean). He shall not make himself unclean as a husband among his people and so profane himself. They shall not make bald patches on their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuts on their body.'” The people of Israel in general were also forbidden this custom as a sign of mourning precisely because they were to be distinctive as God’s own people: Deuteronomy 14:1-2 “You are the sons of the LORD your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”

But for other purposes, the cutting off of the hair was a rite instituted by God, as in the fulfilling of Nazirite vows, which even the apostle Paul did: Numbers 6:18 “And the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire that is under the sacrifice of the peace offering.” Acts 18:18 “After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow.”

Also, piercings for the purpose of earrings and nose rings is not forbidden in Scripture. Eliezer, Abraham’s servant puts them on Rebekah, even as God puts them both on Israel (figuratively, in Ezekiel): Genesis 24:47-48 “Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Ezekiel 16:11-12 “And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head.”

I personally am convinced there is no biblical argument to say that tattoos are universally forbidden by God. The only time they are mentioned is because of their direct connection with contemporary pagan mourning rituals.

However, I do believe there is a general biblical principle or “thrust” that, the more tattoos, piercings, or other bodily alterations cover up, obscure, or change the human body from its divinely created orderliness and attractiveness, the more they fall under the prohibition against bodily disfigurement. In short, we are created to be billboards of God’s glory, and ought not to hinder that essential function by scrawling our own messages, be it art or be it graffiti, on our bodies. Our bodies teach important lessons about God our creator, and it is rebellion to alter our appearance to such a degree that we belie those truths.

This should be taught in the church, but with discretion, in order to help Christians make the “better” choices as they exercise Christian liberty. It is not “external markers of holiness” that make us Christians, but the faith we hold in Jesus who washes away sin from our souls. Many Christians have small or discreetly placed tattoos on them, and many have expressly Christian messages in their tattoos. I don’t think we have warrant to make these brethren feel guilty for their choices. Also, because of the current cultural fad of tattooing, we should expect that many new converts will have tattoos on them (praise be to God!). They should feel welcomed and loved, not judged because they carry in their bodies relics of past choices. Likewise, because tattoos are culturally accepted, we don’t need to worry that Christians will silence their own witness if they bear tattoos. Therefore, we should remember that this is usually a secondary matter in the Christian life. Finally, the Lord Jesus will remove all sin—and all tattoos—when he raises up our sin-encumbered bodies of humiliation to be like his pristine body of glory (Php. 3:21).

Love in Christ,
Paul

 
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