Our journey through the bible this week brings us into the territory of the “law” texts. When reading through Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, one can often wonder, what do all these laws mean and do any of these apply to the Christian today?
The law texts in the Old Testament were stipulations given to Israel, by God, under the covenant that God made with Israel. In other words, this was a covenant list of “to-dos” for Israel. Another word for testament is covenant. The law texts are all grouped in the Old Covenant. For Christians today, we are under the New Testament or New Covenant, which means that the Old Testament laws are no longer binding upon Christians unless stated within the New Covenant. Jesus made references to the ten commandments, also known as, the ethical laws in various ways, as is found in the book of Matthew 5:21-48. These are the commandments of Jesus and are applicable to Christians. All the rest of the Old Testament laws are not applicable.
With that said, Leviticus 19:28 says, ” You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.” This particular law was one of a few laws that forbid an Israelite from conforming to certain pagan rituals that were common among the surrounding Canaanite societies. Among the Canaanite mourning rites for the dead was putting tattoo marks on the body, signifying allegiance to certain pagan deities. This goes hand in hand with the very beginning of Leviticus 19 where it talks about being Holy (set apart) from the surrounding cultures and not to follow after those deities.
In today’s world, tattoos are very commonplace. Although tattooing still can be done to show allegiance to deities, mainstream tattoos are done usually for the sake of self expression. In the Christian world, more and more people are choosing to get inked, either for simply personal expression, to show allegiance to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, or a combination of the two. So what’s the deal, is this a good thing or a bad thing?
Well, I will say it like this. It depends. First of all, we need to establish the fact that Christians are not bound to the Old Testament laws, and in the New Testament, Jesus does not mention anything about the practice of tattooing. In fact one can argue that even Jesus had some form of writing on His body (Rev 19:16). Although that last point could be argued on the basis of biblical interpretation, I think it is safe to say that Leviticus 19:28 does not apply to Christians.
However, 1 Corinthians 10:23 says, “Everything is permissible – But not everything is beneficial” Paul goes on to say that “nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.”
So my take on the Christian and the tattoo would be, think about it before getting inked. It is a big decision. I know some Christians, including myself, who have tattoos to have their testimonies on their skin for the sake of witnessing to the saving power of Jesus. I’m personally all for that, keeping in mind that I am not conforming to the world for the sake of just fitting in, but to stay on mission for the Lord. But I would highly recommend prayer and fasting if you are considering going that route just to make sure that your heart is to, first and foremost, honour the Lord with your life. It took me a few years of praying and seeking God before finally get inked. I still choose to be cautious of causing others to stumble, so I won’t necessarily be busting out my sleeve tat in church when I am preaching!! Maybe someday!
In sum, Christians are not bound to Leviticus, but we are bound to our Lord and to live for His glory.