God’s Will Regarding Tattoos


Leviticus 19:28


In context, the passage reads (from Leviticus 19):


26 “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. 27 You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. 28 You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.


29 “Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity. 30 You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.”


 This is the only passage in the Bible that gives instructions regarding Christians and tattoos.  It is the only passage where the Hebrew word qaaqa is used.  And since we have no other context to confirm the meaning of qaaqa, we must infer the meaning of the word from the context of the words that surround it.  What we know of the context is that it is related to intentional cuts on a person’s body, and that it is something you do to yourself.  We will hold open for the moment the data of “for the dead” because the phrase only directly applies to the making of cuts.  Some moderation is required, because the prohibition of intentional1 cuts on your body does not appear to be prohibiting medical surgeries.  “Tattoos” cannot be disqualified, but neither can the hundreds of other adverse things you could do against your own body.  If we were told that qaaqa meant bodily amputation, we could not use the data surrounding qaaqa to disqualify that meaning either.


Some defenders of tattoos argue that the New Testament says nothing of tattoos.  This is Old Testament, and we are free from the Law of Moses.  And I reply to that, “Not so fast.  To be free from the Law of Moses means that we will not be sent to Hell for having a tattoo, or 20.  But it does not suggest that it becomes God’s will that we all get tattooed.”  Consider some of the other commandments in the passage:


·         You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes.

·         Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute.


Certainly nobody would be tolerant of me if I were to decide that the second is not in force today.


It would be instructive if we actually knew with authority what 19:27 means.  The defenders of tattoos argue that it was a custom in pagan ritual, and thereby they limit the context of the entire passage to participation in pagan rituals.  While I cannot argue the falsity of the postulate – except to note that there is no mention of pagan ritual, neither can a defender argue its truth.


I personally teach against tattoos, but I do not judge them evil.  It is true that tattoos are not mentioned in the New Testament.  But my position on tattoos is formed by 1 Timothy 2:8-15, which addresses what is an appropriate appearance of a Christian.  We are called not to draw attention to our dress, our hair, our accoutrements, or our behavior, but only defines what that means in broad terms. 


1  “Intentional” is implied by virtue of it being a command.  There is no suggestion in either the tone or surrounding topics that a parent would be acting wisely by forbidding his children to play because they might fall down and cut themselves.


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