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Is it a sin to get tattoos?

Is it a sin to get tattoos?

This is yet another question where even in Christian circles, you’ll receive a wide spectrum of responses.

One school of thought is an emphatic “Yes!”. Getting tattoos violates Leviticus 19:28, which says: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.”

It’s that simple, they’ll tell you. No tattoos. Period. End of story. Next question.

Another school of thought insists this verse applies to a different dispensation, back when God wanted Israel to maintain separation from surrounding godly nations. Besides, they say, if we were to look at other verses in Leviticus, Exodus and Deuteronomy, we’d also execute kids for being disrespectful towards their parents and anyone who works on the Sabbath. Other verses in these books prohibit wearing garments of mixed fibers (personally, I absolutely hate those itchy 50% cotton/50% polyester t-shirts), mixing meat with dairy (meaning if an Israelite traveled through time and came here, they’d have to avoid cheeseburgers) and having sexual relations with a woman who is on her period.

While it’s sadly common for Christians to take Bible verses out of context, I wonder how many are aware there are actually three types of Old Testament laws: ceremonial (regarding the procedures for sacrifices and often done to strict measures to create a picture of the Messiah), moral and dietary (prohibited animals were generally unhealthy to eat).

Whereas the No-Tattoo School says the body is the Temple of the Lord and should not be defiled by permanent ink inserted into the skin, the Tattoo-If-You-Wish School counters with the temple-of-the-Lord verse is conveniently applied here but conveniently not applied whenever Baptists gorge themselves with a huge potluck dinner or drink lots of sugary sodas (especially the caffeinated kind).

<Richard stops writing, raises his hand and acknowledges he’s guilty as charged>

The NTS counters that the TIYWS have assimilated too much into worldly trends and desires and will split hairs and twist the Bible around until they can make it justify their heathen lifestyles.

The end result often is a draw as neither side is willing to budge.

Years ago, I remember taking my father to task for getting a tattoo while he was in the Army. This was back in my absolute black and white days when men had nice short haircuts, women had longer hair and wore dresses or culottes and where there was a rigid set of rules to live by. In those days of being an independent fundamental Baptist, if a minister had told his congregation that sunglasses were ungodly to wear, there would no doubt be a large pile of sunglasses in that church’s conviction box (a box in which you deposit clothes, music, movies and non-KJV bibles you feel guilty about). The belief was also that if a new Christian came to church with long hair, tattoos and earrings, it was only a matter of time before the Holy Spirit took control and the person got a haircut, removed their earrings and wore clothing that covered up their “tats”. If they continued in that path, then the pastor magically found ways to work in “shame for a man to have long hair” in one of his sermons. You know the drill.

I remember at Pensacola Christian College, there were students who were disciplined and transferred into different collegians (what PCC called fraternities/sororities) and were given hefty demerits for getting their collegian Kappa Psi Delta’s Greek symbols tattooed on their arms. Those guys by now, I suspect, have had had new tattoos to cover up those old ones. Or maybe the tattoos remain for sentimental reasons. Or maybe they’ve been removed through one of those light saber-type lasers.

Looking back 15 years later at 37, I find myself wondering if everything I thought I “knew” about whether or not tattoos were Biblical was ever correct in the first place. Since then, I’ve even done sketches of drawings of possible ideas for tattoos. As a sentimental man and as a Christian, there’s that idea of getting a cross inked somewhere. Or maybe “Restless”, a homage to my Dad (who used that as a CB handle when driving trucks) and due to my own restless nature. Or maybe something memorializing my late sister, Kimberly. Or maybe a word in Spanish, Chinese and Russian–the three languages I’ve studied.

What prevents me from following through and getting inked?

A few things.

First, I’m still not convinced it’s 100% ok to get tattoos. If you have doubts, don’t–especially when it comes to something as permanent as getting your skin inked.

Second, tattoos cost money, and with the money I owe still, I can’t justify spending $50-$500 on a tattoo at all.

Third, buyer’s remorse. I have a lingering concern that no matter how sentimental a tattoo would be, a week or so later I would look at it and think, “Oh, no! What have I done?!”

At this point of my life, I’ve come to a few wet-cement conclusions:

One: due to financial constraints, I have no plans for tattoos anytime soon.

Two: even if I am finally ready for it or if someone is dumb enough to offer to buy one for me, I’d have to do a lot of praying and seeking of wise counsel first from Christians I deeply respect.

Three: while tattoos at this point (and possibly for the rest of my life) aren’t for me, I will not look down upon Christians who have them.

Does not having a tattoo make you a more morally-upright, spiritually-pure person? Not necessarily. Some of the most wonderful, dedicated, knowledgeable Christians I’ve ever met have had tattoos while some of the most condescending dirt bags I’ve ever met in my life have been bare-skinned Christians.

For some Christians, having tattoos makes sense since their ministry is to a group of people where, to be accepted and heard, perhaps it helps to be inked. For other Christians, who serve in churches where the idea of permanent body art (or even temporary, for that matter) is abhorrent, tattoos are a no go.

To both groups, I wish them well in their ministries as they seek to evangelize, encourage and edify.

The closest thing Richard Zowie has to a tattoo is a surgical scar from when a benign cyst was removed from his back. The scar looks like the Great Red Spot of Jupiter. Post comments here or drop a line to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

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