Who says tattoos
are sacrilegious? Does the bible? Why do many good Christians condemn
those who have tattoos or who want to get tattooed?
It seems every Christian anti-tattoo argument is based primarily on one
thing...a single verse from Leviticus:
"You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead
or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD."
Now, there is a very real problem with this argument. One cannot believe
that Jesus is Lord and He came to save the world through grace and love
and still accept this verse as applicable to us today.
Christ gave a New Law, one that supersedes the Old Testament Law, which
includes Leviticus 19:28.
Before Christ embraced humanity and became man, the world was in disarray:
it was divided and people did not understand that we shared a common
Father, that is, the one true God. The bible tells us this much. In fact,
we know that men were spiritually childlike, immature, and unable to
comprehend their sinfulness, and divided as we were, there was no quick
solution for unity. It was at this moment, with the coming of Christ
already a part of His Divine plan, that the Lord our God took to himself a
people who would be set apart and made ready to receive the Redeemer
To prepare for this moment, the fullness of time when Christ would appear,
God gave Moses and the Israelites certain laws that awakened their
consciences and, at the same time, set them apart from the pagan nations,
a kind of "barrier" that ensured the Israelites remained free
The Old Law is divided into two parts, the moral code and the civil and
ceremonial precepts or ritual observances.
The moral code, summed up in the Ten Commandments, is a natural law, the
law of the conscience, gathered by reason, and the foundation upon which
man is to realize his vocation to live in the image of God.
The commandments make plain what is against the love of God, and therefore
they show us our sins. The second part of the Old Law, the observances,
was necessary to ensure the Israelites remained united as a people and
apart from the pagans.
So if we had a Law, why did we need a New Law? Becasue the Old Law is
incomplete. That is not to say it is unholy or uninspired or not part of
God's mysterious plan.
The Old Law, with its severe punishments and earthly rewards, was
necessary for an obstinate people who were both carnal and unspiritual.
God wanted his chosen people to develop an awareness of sinfulness so when
the fullness of time arrived, God would introduce a New Law that would
allow each of us to know, in our hearts, the love of God, who forgives our
sins and raises us to eternal life. And therein lies the weaknesses of the
Old Law -
It does not forgive sins (since only God's love can do this)
It suggests our actions, in accordance with the Law, are the only criteria
for eternal life (wrong, since only grace based on faith can guarantee
It relies on fear of punishment, rather than love, which is God In truth,
if the Old Law did have the power to make us righteous and sinless, clean
and perfect sacrifices for the Lord, then Jesus' death on the cross, the
sacrifice that opens the door to God the Father, would have been
Galatians 2:21 -
"I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through
the law, then Christ died to no purpose."
Hebrews 8:6-7 -
"Christ has obtained a ministry which is as much more excellent than
the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on
better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there
would have been no occasion for a second."
It is clear that the Old Law does not have the power to free us from the
chains of sin, because only the grace of the Holy Spirit, given to the
faithful through faith in Christ, is able to remove the stain of sin.
Faith and forgiveness of sins are gifts that lead to eternal life, and
only Christ can give those gifts. The ceremonial and ritual observances of
the Old Law were only indications of a purer, more effective way of life,
as seen in the New Law, which, when instituted, rendered most of the Old
The entire New Testament is a proclamation of the New Law, as are the
actions of the early church. We see the New Law in the writings of the
Apostles, the Evangelists, and St. Paul the actions of the Early Church
In the New Testament, St. John the Baptist is among the first persons to
acknowledge that there is a New Law we are to follow if we are to attain
forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
John 1:29 -
"The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold, the
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'"
In just one statement, John the Baptist makes it clear that Jesus is the
sacrifice (Lamb) that removes our sin, not the sacrifices outlined in the
Old Law. If the ritual observances held any weight at this point, John the
Baptist would have said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who, along with
circumcision and burnt offerings, takes away the sin of the world!'"
But he didn't.
St. John the Evangelist, in his Gospel, outlines the necessity of
faith-not observance of the Old Law-as the basis for the gaining of the
John 3:16 -
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever
believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
St. John doesn't write that in order to gain the kingdom, we must be
circumcised or offer burnt offerings on an altar or refuse to touch
lepers. No, he writes that we need to have faith, faith in Christ.
And St. Peter, first among the Apostles and leader of the early church,
said that faith in Christ, and not adherence to the Old Law, is the main
requirement for the forgiveness of sins:
Acts 10:43 -
"To him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in
him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
If some Christians believe that these expressions are too obtuse and
obscure and do not sufficiently describe the abrogation of the Old Law in
favor of the New Law, then I say that they should read what St. Paul had
to say about the Law that governed the lives of the Jews. St. Paul is
prodigious in his condemnation of the Old Law as a necessary tool for the
attainment of salvation -
Galatians 5:4-6 -
"You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law;
you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait
for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision
nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love."
Romans 7:6 -
"But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us
captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new
life of the Spirit."
Philippians 3:8-9 -
"For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them
as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having
a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith
in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith"
2 Corinthians 3:5-6 -
"Our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be
ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for
the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life."
In addition to the writings of the apostles, evangelists, and St. Paul,
the actions of the early church indicate that a New Law was being
St. Peter, leader of the church and Christ's proxy on earth, shows by
example while visiting the pagan Cornelius, who is astounded that St.
Peter would meet with him, someone considered unclean by the standards
expressed in the Old Law. Here, Peter tells those gathered in the house of
Cornelius that a New Law has been promulgated -
Acts 10:28 -
"You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with
or to visit any one of another nation; but God has shown me that I should
not call any man common or unclean."
In the next few years, the early church would become even more adamant
about severing itself from the ritual practices that enslaved the Jews and
kept them from loving all equally. In Acts 15, we see the leaders of the
church (Peter, James, Paul, Barnabas, and many others) gather to clarify
the church's position towards circumcision, one of the holiest (and most
separatist) laws of the Old Covenant established by Moses. The result
should surprise no one: the apostles abolished the requirement for
circumcision and almost every other law that bound the Jews. Why? The Holy
Spirit told them not to lay a greater burden than was necessary (Acts
15:28) because faith was the necessary element for a life in Christ.
Another of the most sacred laws of the Old Covenant, the Sabbath, was
thoroughly eroded by the time St. Paul wrote his first letter to the
1 Corinthians 16:2 -
"On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a
sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come
no collections will have to be made."
But perhaps some Christians may say forget everything above: the early
church misinterpreted what Jesus said and did during his ministry. How far
from the Truth this is! Jesus not only spoke about the New Covenant He was
establishing, He acted in a way so as to make it abundantly clear that His
New Law was a matter of fact:
-He calls apostles uneducated in the Law
-He forgives sinners almost exclusively
-He condemns the religious orthodoxy (Pharisees)
-His teachings and parables show examples of the New Law
-He breaks the Old Law
If Christ were concerned about perpetuating the Old Law, would He not have
chosen all of his apostles from among the Pharisees and Sadducees, who
were rigid in their confirmation to the Law?
Instead, Jesus' choice of men is the complete opposite of such a scenario.
His apostles are fishermen, tax collectors, and rebel fighters, hardly
those who would be best to teach adherence to the Old Law.
Furthermore, who can contradict the Gospels, which relate how Jesus
forgives the sins of pagans, unclean persons, and egregious sinners. -John
5:1, Mark 7:24, Mark 8:22, Matthew 9:20 -
If God were so concerned with rituals and observances, would Christ have
bothered with these people, who obviously didn't adhere to the Old Law?
No, obviously not. So what do these "sinners" have in common?
They have faith, the one necessary element for our union with God. That is
why Jesus tells those He healed, "Your faith has made you well."
Of course, Jesus not only saves the sinners, He also condemns those who do
follow the Law without concern for the Spirit, and this is very important.
The very people who epitomize the Old Law are the people for whom Jesus
reserves His most bitter condemnations. In several instances, Jesus
denounces the Pharisees, who pride themselves on their strict adherence
to the Law.
Matthew 16:11-12 -
"How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about
bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sad'ducees. Then they
understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but
of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sad'ducees."
Matthew and Luke also relate a vehement speech in which Christ denounces
the Pharisees, and by implication, the Old Law and its ritual observances
to which they are so dedicated:
"...But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you
shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves,
nor allow those who would enter to go inů And you say, 'If any one
swears by the altar, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gift that
is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.' You blind men! For which is
greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So he who
swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and he who
swears by the temple, swears by it and by him who dwells in it; and he who
swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint
and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law,
justice and mercy and faith..." - verses from Matthew 23 & Luke
Jesus' denunciation of the actions of the Pharisees does not end there. He
also comments on their observances (part of the Old Law) and how those
observances have no power to save them. In Luke 18:9-14 - the parable of
the Tax Collector and the Pharisee, the Tax Collector, who understands he
is a sinner but has faith that God will save him, is justified while the
Pharisee, who fasts twice a week and tithes all he gets, receives no
Even Christ's teachings, His parables, are filled with the application and
celebration of the New Law. In the parable of the Good Samaritan - Luke
10:30-35, it is not the priest or the Levite followers of the Old Law who
help the man who was beaten by robbers.
Why didn't they help him? Well, if he had died or was dead already, the
priest and the Levite, being followers of the Law, would have had to
undergo a rigorous cleansing process. Of course, this "process,"
part of the law, left no room for compassion. That is why it was the
Samaritan, someone outside the Law, aided the helpless man.
Christ is showing us here that love, working in us through the Holy
Spirit, is what's important, not adherence to a Law that puts so called "cleanliness
With clarity, Jesus rescinds the prohibition against eating foods deemed
unclean by the Old Law, because the prohibition has zero chance of making
someone holy and welcoming to God -
Matthew 15:10-11 -
"And he called the people to him and said to them, "Hear and
understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out
of the mouth, this defiles a man."
Lastly, Jesus will BREAK certain precepts of the Old Law in order to show
that rituals and observances are nothing without the Spirit, which moves
us in unexplainable ways. Christ shocks and angers the Pharisees on two
occasions, when He disobeys the Law restricting work on the Sabbath, one
of the most revered of the Laws. In one instance, Christ heals a man with
a withered hand on the Sabbath -Luke 6:6-10, Mark 3:1-5, and, in another
instance, He allows His apostles to pick and eat wheat in a field on the
Sabbath - Luke 6:1-5, Matthew 12:1-8.
Would Jesus do such things if the Old Law were sacrosanct? Doubtful.
Instead, it's more likely that He wanted to show that observance means
little if the heart, the Spirit, is not part of the equation.
Then, there are those who say, "What about Christ's proclamation that
He did not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil
them?" - Matthew 5:17 - It is true that Jesus said that not one iota
of the law will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
But Jesus accomplished everything. His life, death, and resurrection
fulfilled the prophecies and brought to a conclusion the Old Covenant,
opening the way for a New Covenant governed by a New Law.
So, when Christ is talking about the Law remaining, he is saying to his
contemporaries that they will not see a change while he is alive.
Without a doubt, we have shown that God, through Christ, has instituted a
New Law. Is all the Old Law null and void?
No. We know that each of us needs to follow what is essential in the Old
Law - the Ten Commandments. Jesus told us so. When the lawyer asked him to
name the first (the most important) commandment, Jesus answered -
Matthew 22:37-40 -
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all
your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first
And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On
these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets."
Here, Christ explicitly tells us that laws we need to follow are those
that deal with the love of God and the love of our neighbour. Therefore,
He is telling us to continue to practice the moral code (the Ten
Commandments), but do so because you are motivated by love and spirit
rather than fear of punishment.
In fact, Jesus not only tells us that the only part of the Law that is
necessary is the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), He also takes those
commandments and gives us a new understanding, based on his New Law of
love and faith. He shows that it is not enough to follow the letter of the
Law, there is also an underlying Spirit -
Matthew 5:21-22 & 23-48 -
"You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not
kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you
that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment -
whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever
says, 'You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire."
It is true that we have a New Law that both fulfills and abrogates the Old
Law, by elevating the moral code (the Ten Commandments) and rescinding the
rituals and observances. Hence, we are not bound by certain Laws, such as
those that require our circumcision or the abstention from certain foods.
It becomes rather obvious that the prohibition against tattoos in
Leviticus is also one of those Laws. It is as simple as that.
Tattoo opponents also like to stress these words of Paul -
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 -
"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who
is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were
bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body."
This verse in context - Paul is not opposing tattoos but warning the
residents of Corinth about the dangers of sexual promiscuity, especially
in the pagan practice of having sex with ritual prostitutes.
To put this into perspective, Corinth during Paul's time was a thriving
Metropolis, a rich city with two ports. One of its main attractions was a
massive temple dedicated to the Greek Goddess of Love, Aphrodite.
Thousands of ritual prostitutes, used in celebration of Aphrodite,
congregated around the temple. Since a sizeable part of the newly formed
Christian community in Corinth was of pagan origin, the use of ritual
prostitutes was something of a habit that needed to be broken. In his
letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul shows that we belong to God, brought
about through His Son Jesus Christ's sacrifice, and that fornicating with
ritual prostitutes is tantamount to sacrificing to false Gods. He is also
showing that sexual immorality is a sin against the body, which houses the
Holy Spirit, in essence, sexual immorality is a sin committed directly
against God. Interesting to note that all of this, nowhere is tattooing
We know that religious tattooing before the time of Christ was common for
nearly everyone except the Jewish people (otherwise we would not see the
prohibition in Leviticus 19:28)
And although there are no scriptural references in which we are told to
"get tattooed," there are a number of verses in which the
writers, whom we believe were inspired by the Holy Spirit, make allusions
to tattoos or use tattoos as metaphors.
This leads me to believe that tattooing was an acknowledged part of life.
If such a subject were taboo or against the Law, would its use as an
allusion or metaphor be justified?
Exodus 13:16 -
"And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial
between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth."
"It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes;
for by a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt."
In these two quotes from Exodus, God is telling his people that while
many-especially pagans-use tattoos and religious totems, He will give the
Jews something greater: a celebration of the day they were saved and
brought out of Egypt. For the Jews, this will be their unique mark. This
seems to contradict our position. However, the verses show that tattoos
were a normal aspect of society. God never tells the people that tattooing
is wrong or immoral. He doesn't even say that they need to stop doing it.
He only tells them that He will make them different than all others
through their celebrations.
Isaiah 44:5 -
"This one will say, 'I am the LORD's,' another will call himself by
the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, 'The Lord's,' and
surname himself by the name of Israel."
Isaiah 49:16 -
"Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands; your walls are
continually before me."
Here Isaiah is speaking God's word to the more conscious minorities of
Israel who, during their exile, are worried about becoming lost amidst the
pagans of Babylon. Through Isaiah, God reminds His people that he will
never forget them because He loves them, and as proof that He will never
abandon them, He tells the Jews that He has graven [carved into...written
permanently] on his hands a reminder to save them.
Ezekiel 9:4 -
"And the LORD said to him, 'Go through the city, through Jerusalem,
and put a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all
the abominations that are committed in it'."
The mark in this verse refers to the letter T or the Hebrew letter Tau,
which appears as the shape of a cross, and which was painted in lamb's
blood on the door posts to save the "remnant" of Israel when God
wiped out all the first born of Egypt during the last plague. In this
instance, the mark will be placed upon believers who are saddened by the
sins committed in Jerusalem.
Galatians 6:17 -
"Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the brand
marks of Jesus."
Here, Paul is likely discussing the beatings and punishments he endured
for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. This is a pointed jab at those who
believe they are justified by other marks, that is, circumcision.
Undeniable, though, is the tattoo imagery. Brand marks are what Roman
slave owners tattooed on their chattel to display ownership.
Revelations 7:2-3 -
"Then I saw another angel ascend from the rising of the sun, with the
seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels
who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, 'Do not harm the
earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God
upon their foreheads.'"
Revelations 19:16 -
"On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings
and Lord of lords."
This last verse from Revelations is part of John's prophecy about the
destruction of the Roman Empire and the heretofore-invincible Roman
armies. The verse shows Christ as the "Master of the Universe"
whose name, which is the Word of God (and, in essence, everything), is
more than just a title on a royal garment. Instead, it is something that
belongs to Jesus alone and is intrinsically linked to He who is Lord of
all...through a unique marking on his body.
Again, I want to stress that these verses do not show that God endorses
tattoos but that tattoos were an accepted part of society during the
biblical era and that there is little evidence to show that God explicitly
disapproves of tattoos.
Finally, it's important that Christians realize that Jesus doesn't want us
to hide our faith or keep our faith to ourselves. Just the opposite. He
commands us to do everything within our power to let our brothers and
sisters know the one true Word, the Good News -
Matthew 28:19 -
"Go, therefore, and make disciples from all the nations."
Matthew 10:27 -
"What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear
whispered, proclaim upon the housetops."
In fact, even if we wanted to keep it to ourselves (for selfish reasons or
for fear of persecution), once the Spirit moves us, we can longer keep
Luke 11:33 -
"No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a bushel,
but on a stand, that those who enter may see the light."
So, whether we choose stone tablets or tattoos, God, through the Holy
Spirit, lets us discover the different and dynamic ways we let others know
about Him. One thing is certain, though: as Christians, we need to fully
proclaim our beliefs, every day of our lives.
Tattoos are NOT sinful and Christians expressing their faith with some ink
under their skin have NOT succumbed to Satan's wiles (at least, not
because of the tattoos).
Paul tells us that we need to be careful that our actions do not lead
others away from the faith -
Romans 14:20-21 -
"Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is
indeed clean, but it is wrong for any one to make others fall by what he
eats; it is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes
your brother stumble."
With that in mind, let us pray that, through the intercession of the Holy
Spirit, each of us may understand God's intention for us, and whether or
not that calling includes getting a tattoo...
of The Laws in Contrast
Where is the altar that you use for your
When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a
pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev. 1:9.
The problem is my neighbors - They claim the odor is not pleasing to them.
Should I smite them?
I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus
21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for
I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her
period of menstrual unseemliness - Lev. 15:19-24. The problem is, how do I
tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female,
provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine
claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify?
Why can't I own Canadians?
I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2
clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill
A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination
- Lev. 11:10-, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't
agree. Can you settle this?
Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a
defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my
vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around
their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How
should they die?
I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me
unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different
crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two
different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse
and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble
of getting the whole town together to stone them? - Lev. 24:10-16.
Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do
with people who sleep with their in-laws? -Lev. 20:14