I jumped the gun a bit (having been "condemned" myself, this morning - I was on an indignant roll) and responded that tattooing was, in fact, in the Bible, and tattooing happens to be part of MANY religious practices all over the world.
Just because Mr. Door-Preacher interprets the Bible as a condemnation of everyone's soul does not, in fact, mean that the rest of the world does. It also most certainly doesn't mean that God does.
Anywho, I figured this would be a good topic to bring up since so many people seem to be confused about the "sin-potential" of tattooing and what the Bible actually says about it. I am, a bit, too, so open dialogue is always a plus.
Disclaimer: I've always wanted a tattoo. I've never gotten one, but I've always been intrigued by some of the more beautiful body art I've seen. Some artwork truly is beautiful, and I admit wanting a piece of the action for myself.
That being said, I've always refrained because of the stigma attached to them. I never - EVER - wanted my kids to utilize my tattoos as a means for their own questionable activities. I also never wanted to give them reason to think poorly of me (as I'm sure I can handle that on my own without the aid of taboos).
Anyway, my desire for tattooing is what led me to research the Biblical history of tattoos. I figured if I ever did get one, I'd want to make sure it was permissible so I'd have evidence to back myself up when folks would inevitably start raining hellfire on me.
So if you're wondering why I'd ever know any of this, my own selfishness is why. Ha!
So - onwards with the discussion!
Leviticus 19:28: "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord."
This is typically the number one quote used by those who want to condemn tattooed folks to hell. However, this is like using a microscope to view a sunset.
When you only see a tiny part of the picture, you neglect to realize that there's a whole lot more to see. Until you remove the microscope and view the image in its fullness, you can't claim to pass judgement on the various colors, silhouettes, and cloud layers that work in tandem to create that sunset.
So, let's zoom out a bit and put some context to that particular quote.
Leviticus 19:26-31 deals with temple laws. You see, now that the Jews had to rely on Levitical priests to sacrifice and commune with God (instead of all the male heads of households before the Golden Calf incident), they were forced to create a gathering space in which these Levites could carry out the work of God. In developing their religious culture to match the punishment doled out by Divine Justice, a temple needed to be constructed which would serve as a central place for worship / sacrifice. This was the first time in Jewish history that they'd need a temple just like all the other pagan religions that were being practiced.
Because of this, God foresaw the very real possibility of the Israelites slipping back into their "Let's do what everyone else is doing!" habits. As such, He made provisions in the Law to ensure that His people would not be led astray by pagan customs.
The prohibitions in Lev 19: 26-31 ALL deal with prohibitions against pagan practices. God didn't want His people to slip into the idolatry of the surrounding nations because they were supposed to be set apart. Israel was MEANT to stand-out as different because their example of holiness (if practiced accordingly) would attract the pagan nations away from their sinfulness and towards God.
So, now that we know that, we need to figure out exactly what that aforementioned verse 28 really stated.
Alrighty - so understanding that these are based on the pagan religious practices of their respective temples, God is specifically saying, "Don't make yourselves LOOK like pagans."
It was typical of pagans to mutilate themselves as part of the grieving process. Also, the tattoos of some pagan cultures wasn't the colorful ink we think of when we hear the word tattoo. That sort of tattoo was reserved for the wealthy because they could afford ink and such. Others, however, had their skin seared in a pattern that became raised as the skin healed into a scar. It would've looked something like this:
"And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof." (Ez. 9:4)
Hey now wait a minute! I thought God doesn't want us tattooing ourselves!
Well, before you bust out your needles, again, let's pull away from the microscope and view the panoramic shot in full.
God was commanding the prophet to go through the Holy Land and mark those who are innocent of sin against the Lord. Those without this special marking upon their forehead were punished by Divine Justice. Those marked with the sign of "taw" (a letter of the Hebrew alphabet meaning "truth") escaped the wrath of God.
***Interestingly, this letter is translated to "T" using our alphabet... a symbol of the Cross of Christ. Another interesting thing that makes me giddy is that the Arabic version of the Hebrew taw is what looks to be a smilie face. Ha ha!***
Anyway, God's not talking about marking folks with tattoos. He just wanted to make sure His harbinger of justice could easily discern who needed to be slain and who didn't. So it's not like this was a permanent mark. Not to make light of a truly horrible situation, but my guess is the man with the linen cloth had something akin to a Sharpie. The mark definitely stood out, but it could be scrubbed away after a period of time (that period lasting through the close of slaughter).
Are tattoos allowed, or aren't they?
According to most Jewish scholars, the answer is "No." Thus, if the Jews held that tattoos are a no-no, Christians would hold the same principle to be true (expounded upon in many of the epistles with the theme of our bodies being Temples of the Spirit).
However, does that mean to get one would be a sure-ticket to hell?
No. To my knowledge there's only one sin that is a sure-ticket to hell, and that's the sin against the Holy Spirit (refusing to trust that His Mercy is greater than your guilt). Granted, I don't claim to know the Mind of the Lord, but there's a difference between getting a tattoo of Zeus on your arm in the hopes that it brings you power and getting a tattoo of a butterfly after surviving breast cancer, ya know?
Plus, with these particular "little laws" of Leviticus, they really do have a substantial amount of social influence. As such, we need to understand that times have changed and these principles (not dogmatic in nature) are free to be interpreted differently at different times (which is why Jewish women pierce their ears even though that's technically forbidden in the same verse that forbids tattooing).
So is tattooing going to send you straight to hell? No. Could it possibly open the door to idolatrous actions that have you sliding down the slippery slope? Definitely - but so could that bag of Funions I'm currently eying. If I pop that baby open, I'm likely to go all sorts of gluttonous.
We are tasked with moderation and keeping our consciences clear before the Lord. He gave us a body with which to love and praise Him with. If you'd like to show Him honor by keeping a tattoo of His Mother over your heart, I certainly won't be condemning you for it. If you wish to praise Him by tattooing His Word on your hand so you keep it ever in-mind, far be it from me to prepare a seat in hell for you.
However, I can't see myself getting one simply because I don't feel doing those things would be beneficial to my spiritual life. I also tend to play it safe when it comes to Scripture. Ha ha ha.
Moral of the story: You cannot condemn a person for getting a tattoo. Unless your name is Jesus Christ, Son of the Most High God, keep your mouth shut in judgement of another's soul. When in doubt, just offer a prayer to the Lord for their purity of heart.
So, anyone else have thoughts on this?
***Large uptick in visitors after dinner. Please let me know who is directing traffic my way. Thanks! Also, please keep the language clean and the discourse civil. I don't want to be deleting / editing commentary all night.***