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What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos and Piercings

What Does the Bible Say about Tattoos

What does the bible say about tattoos? “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord,” Leviticus 19:28. This verse is often used as an argument to tell Christians to abstain from tattoos. However, let’s look at this.

It's important to look at the context of this passage. The surrounding text is specifically addressing pagan religious rituals. In verse 26 it states, "Do not eat meat that has not been drained of its blood," and verse 27, "Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards." Obviously most Christians who say the Bible forbids tattoos still eat non-kosher meats and get haircuts. So, should Christians not get tattooed, not get haircuts, and not eat non-kosher meats? On a deeper look, these customs (along with sacrificing babies on burning alters and providing your daughter as a prostitute) were practiced in pagan rites and rituals. Scholars believe tattooing and the cutting of skin were related to mourning for the dead. The pagan worshipers of this region disfigured their bodies to appease the anger of their gods and find help for the deceased.

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What Does the Bible Say About Piercings

Several religions do not allow piercings; however, Christians are able to have piercings. What does the Bible say about piercings? The Bible has multiple mentions of body jewelry and piercings (nose rings, earrings etc). In fact, body jewelry was used in dowries for marriage and as currency. Archeologists have found Hebrew body jewelry (used for piercings) in archeological digs across modern day Israel.

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Tattoos and Christianity in Culture

Some people argue that piercings and tattoos and Christianity in culture (specifically Western culture) send rebellious negative messages and non-Christian messages. Thus, it’s wrong for Christians in the West. Actions, habits or adornment in one culture may mean something completely different in another culture. Let's take a look at tattoos in a cultural context (additionally explore a deeper look and browse tattoo statistics).

What Scripture Says: In 1 Samuel 16:7 it says, "The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for being “white washed tombs,” meaning they were clean on the outside but dead inside. The Bible clearly states throughout the entirety of the scripture that God looks at the heart. Each person is to examine why they are getting a tattoo or piercing and what’s the message. Let’s look at the cultural message.

What Tattoos Mean in the West: Some people argue what tattoos mean in the West and what they symbolize is rebellion and gang culture, and hence Christians shouldn’t participate. Currently, in Western culture, tattoo culture has shifted. Almost 3 in 4 seniors with tattoos are men. When polled, almost 92% of seniors said they got their tattoos out of rebellion. However, today, the demographics have almost flipped 180 degrees. For the college and recently post college age group, 2 in 3 people who are tattooed are actually women, and when polled only 4% of them said their tattoos were out of rebellion. While tattoos in the West 70 – 100 years ago might have been synonymous with rebellion, gangs, and drunk sailors currently that’s not the cultural norm or message.

International Cultural Differences: Culture plays a big role in the heart of the action. For example, in some parts of Eritrea it is common for people to courteously greet each other by stepping on the other person’s feet and spitting on the ground. If you do that in Germany or America it’s a guaranteed quick trip to the hospital. In Saudi Arabia it’s rude to shake with your left hand, and a common hand gesture in the West used for welcoming people means “I’ll kill you.” In Britain it’s obscene to say, “I’m stuffed” following a filling meal. In America, it’s rude to wear white to a funeral, but in parts of Asia it’s customary to wear white at funerals. In parts of Arabia, open toed shoes signal you’re a prostitute. It’s the same actions and apparel, but completely different cultural messages. Let’s look at an example.

Italian Example: Today, Christians would not say women can’t wear pantyhose. However, pantyhose were originally worn by prostitutes in Italy centuries ago. It was an externally identifying mark for prostitutes to let others know of their services. Thus, centuries ago in Italy, Christian women would not have worn pantyhose merely to avoid adorning themselves with articles that would identify them with prostitution. However, if a Christian woman in America today wore pantyhose that would in no way associate her with prostitution. Thus, the cultural meaning behind the adornment can cause certain adornments to be wrong or right in various cultures but not in others. The same applies for the cultural implications of piercings and tattoos and Christianity in different cultures.

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Tattoo and Piercing Double Standards

Here are a series of common arguments for the question, “can Christians get tattoos and piercings?” Tattoos and piercings are a type of adornment and accessory in our culture much like a hat, scarf, or contacts. Some people argue compared to tattoos and piercings, items like hats, scarfs and contacts have a functional purpose. However, makeup, dyed hair, jewelry and rings, like tattoos and piercings, are all examples of non-functional adornments solely used for beautification purposes. In response, some people would say the difference between those beautifications and tattoos is tattoos are permanent. However, permanent changes like hair implants, laser hair removal, and implants have no functional purpose, and are solely for beautification and are permanent like tattoos, yet there is a double standard. Today, several “acceptable” adornments have no functional purpose, beauty, or permanent difference compared to tattoos and piercings, yet they are condoned by the same people who criticize tattoos and piercings.

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When looking at, “what does the Bible say about tattoos and piercings,” here are some thoughts. While the Bible does not address tattooing for adornment purposes, it does say, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,” 1 Corinthians 10:31. Tattoos are powerful permanent messages, and several of those messages don’t line up with the Bible. Obscene, racy, or racist tattoos have messages that contradict Christian behavior and values. Here is a deeper look at tattoos and Christianity.

In conclusion, the Bible states the most important adornment and true mark of beauty for Christians is inner character which is “imperishable beauty” (1 Peter 3:3-4, Proverbs 31:30, Matthew 5:8). Share this article with someone if you enjoyed it, and as with anything else in the Bible, don’t take someone’s word for it, read it for yourself.
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