Should a Christian be tattooed or pierced? (Part I)
This paper is mainly addressed to the person who professes to be a Christian. If you are unsaved, these verses may not speak to your heart.
If you are a Christian who is considering getting a tattoo or a piercing, I hope that you will read this in its entirety. If you are someone who already has a tattoo or a piercing, you too will find food for thought.
In going through the bible, I found many, many verses that speak volumes about how believers should live, look, and carry themselves. So many verses, in fact, that I have divided this paper into sections that I believe will address questions or thoughts that one may have had on this topic. Here are the topics and sections that the paper is divided into:
(1) Tattoos around the world.
(2) Can the Lord be glorified by something once only thought of as a pagan practice?
(3) Yes, many pagan groups and cultures embrace piercings and tattoos, but what if my motive is to symbolize who my Savior is to me?
(4) My tattoo (or piercing) is to remind me of the sacrifice Jesus made.
(5) Tattoos as a witnessing tool.
(1) TATTOOS AROUND THE WORLD
Let's start with a quick overview of what tattoos have meant to different cultures and people around the world. You will find many different reasons why people have gotten tattooed. Here are just a few reasons. Some say that in Borneo tattoos were used to ward off harm and disease. In the Polynesian culture, some say tattoos are a right of passage into manhood. Some American Indians believed that "war paint" protected them in battle. Some say that there are those in Burma today who believe that a tattoo over the heart can stop bullets. I've read that to some Samoans the tattoo is a show of respect for the god-quality within themselves or evidence that you can bear pain. Some cultures believed that tattoos would give them magical power. Other cultures even believed that tattoos would help them gain admittance into the afterworld. And then, of course, in the bible there are instances of people who were tattooed to worship their false gods or to honor the dead.
And what about right here in America? Well, some merchant sailors in times past wore tattoos as a "good luck charm" against the possibility of drowning at sea. And we have all seen traditional American tattoos. These tattoos were and still are often a sign of rebellion: tattoos of skulls, flames, lewd women, snakes. Then there have always been the tattoos that pay homage to dead loved ones, or tattoos that show one's gang affiliation.
Yes, tattoos mean and have meant a lot of things to a lot of different people. Superstition. Pagan worship or beliefs. Power. Strength. Rebelliousness. Love. Tattoos have become so common that many folks say, "What's the big deal? It is just an outward expression of an inner feeling, desire, belief, or mood."
Then the next issue becomes, should a Christian (who also has a desire to "express" himself or herself) be tattooed? Let's look at this from several different angles from the Scriptures and see what the bible has to say.
(2) CAN THE LORD BE GLORIFIED BY SOMETHING ONCE CONSIDERED A PAGAN PRACTICE?
I believe that there are many sincere people who are excited about the Lord and sincerely want to glorify Him by the outward expression of a tattoo. But I must tell you that if you search the Scriptures, you will see that the Lord did not and does not want us to use those things that the pagan people use to worship their false gods to pay Him honor.
Throughout the bible, the Lord condemned all heathen practices, and true followers of the Lord hated the heathen practices. I REPEAT: THESE PRACTICES WERE HATED. THEY WERE NOT ADOPTED.
Idolatrous altars and groves were destroyed and cut down. They were not "revamped" and put to Christian use. The ways of Egypt (the world) were and are an abomination to God. Here are some verses to illustrate this point:
Exodus 23:24, "Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images." Exodus 34:13, "But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: "
Deuteronomy 7:25, "The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the Lord thy God."
Numbers 16:26, "And he spake unto the congregation, saying, Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest ye be consumed in all their sins."
And if those verses didn't make it plain enough, read this one (especially the last part).
Deuteronomy 12:2-4, "Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: and ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place. Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God."
God is saying in that verse to not only destroy these places, practices and devices, but then emphasizes, basically, that ye shall not try to recycle these things in ANY kind of worship to your God. Don't reuse the wood. Don't reuse the silver or gold. Don't emulate or copy the heathens' style of worship. Touch none of it! Why would you even want to offer to the Lord something that the pagan nations offered to their false gods? God's word could not be any plainer than that!
Not only does God tell us not to follow the heathens' practices; God doesn't want us even inquiring about what they did or how they did it because He knows that we would try to emulate them. Deuteronomy 12:29-30, "When the Lord thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise." We can't say, "Good idea. I'm gonna do that too, but to honor my God."
These verses sum it up best: 3 John:1:11, "Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God." Proverbs 15:9, "The way of the wicked is an abomination unto the Lord: but he loveth him that followeth after righteousness."
What was one of the ways heathens worshipped, paid homage to, and served their gods? By getting tattoos. What does God's word tell us NOT to do? Serve or worship Him by doing those things that the heathen people did or do. Again, God's word could not be any plainer than that. And if you still didn't catch the point I'm trying to make, here is one more verse before we move on: 1 Corinthians 10:20a-21, "I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils."
(3) YES, MANY PAGAN GROUPS AND CULTURES EMBRACE PIERCINGS AND TATTOOS, BUT WHAT IF MY MOTIVE IS TO SYMBOLIZE WHO MY SAVIOR IS TO ME?
For those who say, "But these crosses on my arms have spiritual significance," I say God's word shows us that you cannot put "new wine" into old bottles. You cannot take a practice that has been embraced by heathens and condemned by God and turn it into something that is "honoring" the Lord. If you take a pig and put him in a tuxedo, all you have is a dressed-up pig!
And you cannot say, "Well, I know that piercings carry a sexual connotation or a heathen connotation, but that's not what I mean by it." Or "I know that tattoos originated in pagan traditions and that a lot of satanic people embrace them, but that's not what I mean by it." Friend, if that's what it means to God, who cares what you mean by it? Is your opinion or impression or intent greater or more important than God's? God's word has this to say to you: Isaiah 5:20, "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!"
And if you say, "But those pagans were worshipping false gods and idols and images. My tattoos are a symbol of my faith in the Only True God," please read this part very carefully. The Lord does not want us to be into ANY symbolism or effigies or images. Not even images that supposedly represent Him!
Whether you have on your flesh the pagan triquetra to symbolize the Trinity or a dove or the crown of thorns or a "face of Jesus" or a cross or whatever else, YOU ARE DOING EXACTLY WHAT THE BIBLE TELLS US NOT TO DO! Read these verses carefully:
Exodus 20:4, "Thou shalt not make unto thee ANY graven image, or ANY likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:"
Deuteronomy 27:15: "Cursed be the man that maketh ANY graven or molten image, an abomination unto the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place. And all the people shall answer and say, Amen."
Romans 1:23: "And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things."
Friend, what is a tattoo but an "engraving" on your flesh? The second definition of the word "engrave" is: to picture or represent by incisions. To imprint; to impress deeply; to infix. Whether an image is carved in a tree or engraved on your arm, the Lord commands us not to turn His glory into ANY symbolic images or engravings.
And if you are still arguing, "But I'm not worshipping the image engraved on my arm," you are still missing the point. Yes, the Lord does not want us to worship images, but the Lord's word is clear that God also does not want us reducing His glory to any kind of likeness. The Lord specifically spoke to His people through burning bushes and in the fire, et cetera, because He knew that sinful man would want to limit his glory to a "look." The Lord has given us verse after verse telling us this ought not to be.
Here is yet another verse AGAINST us using symbolism and images to represent God. Please read it carefully: Deuteronomy 4:15-18, "Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth..."
And here is a similar verse in the New Testament: Acts 17:29, "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead [the Trinity] is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device."
If you believe that it is cool to "symbolize" who God is, you are in direct rebellion against what God has declared! All of the above verses could not be any plainer. The Old Testament and New Testament alike tell us not to make ANY images symbolizing God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the Trinity.
(And here is a side note specifically to people who have tattooed onto their bodies the heathen triquetra to symbolize the Trinity. This symbol has always been and presently is still associated with witchcraft, Satanism, and the occult. Click here if you don't believe me. Do you really think the Lord wants you to have anything to do with this?)
(4) MY TATTOO (OR PIERCING) IS TO REMIND ME OF THE SACRIFICE THAT JESUS MADE.
If you are still protesting, "But my tattoo is for me. It is to remind me of the sacrifice that Jesus made," I would ask, friend, why do you need to be reminded of who Christ is or what He has done for you? Is the Lord's finished work on the cross so trivial and meaningless that you need something to remind you of it? I have to sometimes write a note to myself to remind me to pick up toothpaste from Wal-Mart, but I never need to be reminded of who my Savior is or what He did.
Then I've also heard people who say, "Getting my tattoo (or piercing) was painful, and it symbolizes for me the pain Christ endured." Listen, the Lord endured the shame of the cross. He was falsely accused, mocked, scourged, hated, crucified, and pierced. There was nothing hip, cool, trendy, or desirous about it. Don't trivialize Christ's suffering and pain and crucifixion by believing that your vainglorious piercing or "statement" cross tattoo has anything to do with what Jesus endured for the sins of the world.
Then there are some people who say, "My tattoo is because I want to be identified as a Christian." To that I would say that you should not have to go around announcing, "You know I'm a Christian, don't you? And to prove it, here is my 'mark of Christ.'" No, instead, your life and your witness should identify you as a Christian. People should SEE your love for Christ in your walk, talk, and deeds. Remember the scribes? They wanted everyone to "see" their holiness. They loved the long ornate robes that "identified" them as religious folks. But this is what the bible said of them: Matthew 23:5: But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments.." Friend, don't be showy like the Pharisees and Scribes, desirous that man can see and identify that you are part of a religious sect. (Refer also to Mark 12:38 and Luke 20:46).
(This young man wants to be identified as a Christian: Click here really quick and tell me if you can see his Christian light shining.)
As Christians, we should not crave that man sees how committed we are through our religious symbols, et cetera, adorned and tattooed on our arms or necks. Yes, there are some ornaments that we should wear in our bodies, but they have nothing to do with tattoos or piercings. What ornaments are those? 1 Peter 3:4, "But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." If the Lord wanted us to physically wear something special to signify our allegiance to Him, don't you think He would have told us that in His word?
So, again, if you really, really want to be identified as a Christian and do something for the Lord, why don't you routinely visit some shut-in elderly folks. Start a bible study at a prison. Mentor an at-risk youth. Find a meaningful way to let your Christian light shine and at the same time spread the gospel to these people by sharing God's Holy Word. Then people will see how important Christ is to you and how committed you are to Him and understand the sacrifice that Jesus made. Doesn't just getting a tattoo or a piercing sound lame when compared to that? (Refer to James 1:27, Matthew 25:35-40)
(5) BUT MY TATTOO IS A WITNESSING TOOL.
Many people will say that their tattoo opens doors with a certain crowd of people, gives them cultural authenticity, or that it is helpful as a witnessing tool. To that I would say that Christ's apostles and disciples "preached Jesus" through their actions and words. They didn't need gimmicks or cool fashions or fads of the day to relate to people and neither do we!
You don't need physical piercings to relate to people. The Bible says in Hebrews 4:12, "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."
God's Holy word is the only "piercing" thing that will save people! The disciples preached God's word, lived by God's commands. People saw Jesus living through them and learned what it meant to be saved by hearing them preaching God's word and seeing the fruit of their lives. The disciples didn't try to be fashionable like the world. They didn't seek to entertain the world.
Matthew 5:16, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Your light, not your tat)
Our Christian light should shine. We should not be busy taking on the world's image. We should not be concerned with looking such a way that is pleasing to men. Galatians 1:10, "For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ." Acts 5:29, "We ought to obey God rather than men."
For those who say, "But I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22), I say to you that God's word has already shown us that we are NOT to be conformed to this wicked and adulteress world. Do I have to smoke crack or marijuana so that I can relate to those who are on drugs? Do I have to dress like a whore and hang out on the street corners so that I can try to witness to my lost sisters who are prostitutes? Should I join a gang and take on the trademarks of a certain "set" so that I can speak to those young men who are obviously in need of a relationship with our Savior? Of course not! This dark world needs the Light. It does not need us to come down to its dark, fleshly level.
As I said at the beginning of this paper, I am sure that many of you are sincere in your love of the Lord. But I hope that you now see that if you love the Lord, a tattoo or piercing is not the way to show it. God does not want us to have "Christian tattoos," and He does not want us to be tattooed or pierced just because we think it's a cool look. Don't just listen to your heart or look to your friends for answers. God's word shows us how God wants us to live. Obey the Lord above all else!