What's New?

Tattoos - Yes or No?

Our lovely Voice editor, Esther Burrage, was inspired to research and write about tattoos after listening to a talk at The Connexion Conference, where they were named under the heading of ‘A Crisis of Culture’. As a young person who gained her first tattoos over the past couple of years, Esther decided to ponder on her reasons for engraving her skin.

Tattoo History

Tattoos have a long and detailed history, with evidence of them being used from over three thousand years ago. That history has included pagan rituals, cultural status symbols, labels of deviance, memories of events, and so much more. In modern times, the tattoo has been used in so many different contexts that some might argue that their significance has been forgotten and anyone can get one for any reason – or even for no reason at all.

What does the Bible say about tattoos?

The only real mention of tattoos in the Bible comes from Leviticus 19:28: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.” Now this is pretty condemning for tattoos, but let’s break it down. The command God gives to not wear a tattoo comes in the same command as not participating in another ritual ‘for the dead’. As we have already mentioned, tattoos have been used in these pagan or occult rituals over time, but this is not the sole way in which tattoos have been used, and it certainly didn’t inspire any of the other ways, since travelling across the land of different cultures and religions was no easy feat in those days. The Vikings didn’t learn the practice from the Amazonian tribes, nineteenth century urban gangs weren’t inspired by seventeenth century pilgrims to the Holy Land.

The art of tattooing has popped up all over the world, for the most part with little connection to each other. I was speaking to my tattoo artist and she told me that the most popular reasons her clients get tattoos is either because it means something personal to them, such as a memory of a loved one or symbol of a journey they have made, or simply for no other reason except that they found a design they liked and wanted it to turn their skin into a work of art. In this case, it’s the motivation of getting a tattoo that gives it meaning, not the action – because the action simply can’t be claimed by anyone.

A Quick Question

Let me ask you a question… Men, raise your hand if you’ve ever trimmed your beard. Okay, you can put your hand down, but if you ever “clip off the edges of your beard” then you have disobeyed the command the Lord makes just one verse before tattoos are mentioned. These are laws which time has allowed to be interpreted differently across the denominations of Christianity – they even have different interpretations within the Bible itself. Take Isaiah 44:5, for example: “Some will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’, others will call themselves by the name of Jacob; still others will write on their hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and will take the name Israel.” This verse might be referencing getting a tattoo as a symbol of worshipping God, and it says that this is okay. So, in the same way that we couldn’t bow to a false god and would only bow to the one God, we shouldn’t get a tattoo for a false god but can get one for the one God.

Every view is different

I’m sure that as you read this article you’re wondering when I’ll bring up the big verse: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples 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 bodies.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. I titled this article as ‘A view of tattoos´ because there are simply so many views and opinions that none can truly be condemned and none can truly be called correct. There is no one answer to whether as Christians we should all love tattoos or hate them. It has always been the interpretation of tattoos that has given them their significance throughout history – from them being seen as labels of deviancy, to power, to devotion. If your personal view is that getting a tattoo would not be honouring God with your body, then obviously there is no need to feel you have to get one.

If, however, you believe that getting a tattoo reflects the artistic beauty of the world and does honour God, then go for it! That’s what I did when I started getting my own, and the cross on my arm reminds me every day of how close God is to my heart; just as wearing my cross necklace does. This verse in 1 Corinthians reminds us that we should live for our maker and use our bodies to honour him, and as long as you do that and keep God at the centre, you will not be letting him down.

Esther's Conclusion

Throughout my research I found many contrasting views about how tattoos can be seen as a part of a ‘crisis’, but the main issue seemed to be how some people believe that tattoo shouldn’t have to have to any meaning at all, whereas others believe they are losing their meaning through an increase in accessibility and destigmatisation. I questioned myself after learning about these views, wondering whether I had been drawn into the trap of wanting a tattoo for no reason and thus dishonoured God in doing so, but my conclusion has been that my motive was not contrary to Christianity. Though I’ve always known that some people don’t approve or agree with tattoos, I’ve found that my decision reflects who I am as a young person, finding my own ideas and still following God with all my heart. But I am interested in what you think – do you have tattoos? What meaning do you give to them, if any? Do you believe tattoos can honour God, or should we strictly follow the rules in Leviticus...?