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Friday, May 30, 2008

Tattoo Apologetics

Last weekend, we showed the Popnovella video "About Tattoos" at Westwinds. Great feedback.

A couple of folks asked me--following the video--what the "biblical" take on tattoos is. I have had this conversation a few times over the years and it is always an interesting conversation.

A few years ago, Westwinds invited a tattoo artist to the church to engrave someone on stage. We have plenty of illustrated folks at Westwinds. I have a tattoo and come from a long line of tat bearers. So, yeah, tattoos work their way into conversation occasionally.

I usually find, when it comes to conversations about tattoos, people who grew up in the church "assume" the Bible says they are wrong. They usually have some faint memories of some OT passage banning pictures on the skin or graven images.

These conversations have led us to put together an official "statement" regarding tattoos for anyone who is interested in exploring what the Bible actually says about tats. (by the way, popnovella is having a "fire sale" on the Chapter 1 DVD that includes "About Tattoos" and if you email and mention this blog, you will have the DVD sent to you for 15 bucks total!)

Here it is:


Are you wearing a cotton blend shirt? How about a wool blend suit (Leviticus 19:19)? Have you shaved the sides of your head (being clean shaven), trimmed your beard, or eaten pork (Leviticus 11:6-7) lately? Oops! Guilty! Have you ever eaten lobster (Leviticus 11:10-12)? Oops, again. Or that steak you ate recently, do you know if it’s from hybrid cattle (Leviticus 19:19)?

According to Levitical law each of the above is forbidden right along with Leviticus 19:28 – You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord.
The reference of Leviticus 19:28 refers to a heathen practice meant to invoke the attention of pagan gods – usually by means of cutting oneself to “prove” one’s sincerity (Leviticus 21:5; Jeremiah 16:6 and Deuteronomy 14:1). It was an attempt to make oneself worthy to approach some graven image of a god through self-abasement.

God rightly admonished His chosen people not to follow the pagan rituals of such false “religions.”
Some critics will still hold fast to the literal letter of the law and conclude that regardless of its textual meaning, the act of tattooing is still forbidden.

Granted, the entire Bible is the inspired Word of the living God, but it also represents a progressive revelation of its Author – His nature, His grace and His plan for redemption. Taken in context of God’s plan to restore mankind into fellowship with Him, the law was given to show us that we could not redeem ourselves by our own efforts.

Paul writes in Romans that the law will justify no man. The law was given to reveal sin. Only through faith in the free gift of God’s grace, found in the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ, can man be justified (Romans 3:20-26). In fact, Jesus actually redeemed us from the law and its curse (Galatians 3:13 and 3:22).
Living by the law – the Old Covenant (promise, contract) – means keeping all of it, not just parts. If we do wrong in any part of the law we do wrong in all of it.

Thank God that He has provided a better way for us to be in relationship with Him. Romans 5:1-2 says we are acceptable by faith, given right standing with God through the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:8-11). Galatians 5 deals with the issue of contrasting law and liberty, the lusts of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit.

Under the New Covenant, all the law is fulfilled in loving God with all your heart, soul and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). Jesus fulfilled the law and now our right standing with God is based upon His right standing. Our righteousness is based upon His righteousness – not on the law. Galatians 2:21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.
The thorny issue of whether Gentile (non-Jewish) believers had to obey Jewish laws before they could become Christians caused many problems in the early church. This included eating meat sacrificed to idols. The meat itself was neither good nor bad.

Paul was more concerned about the attitude of the heart. (Romans 14:6; 14:21; I Corinthians 8:13; 10:25)
Is getting a tattoo defiling your body? (I Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; II Corinthians 6:16) In these scripture references Paul is addressing envy, strife and division of the church at Corinth and warning them to be careful of what is built upon the foundation laid down by Jesus or the temple will be defiled. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 15:11 it is what comes out of the mouth of man that defiles him.

It is the love, purity and faith that comes out of your heart that keeps your temple holy – or it is the strife, immorality and unbelief within your heart that defiles it.
At Westwinds we have always taken a stance that on black and white issues we needed to be firm but on gray issues we would be gray. Where there is no biblical, ethical or moral mandate for behavior we are in an area of liberty or gray.

Some of the typical “issues” for religious people surround drinking alcohol, watching rated R movies, getting body piercings , and getting tattoos—all within the area of gray. They are areas of liberty.

At Westwinds we have tried hard to keep agreement on the essentials, but allow freedom to choose on the nonessentials. This requires humility on everyone’s part. Gray areas by definition are open to personal conviction, opinion and leading. As a result we are in no place to judge others for taking a position different than ours, gray areas mean differing opinions are permitted.

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