Are Christians Allowed To Get Tattoos And Piercings?
“You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” — Leviticus 19:28
Biblical and historical context is key for understanding Scripture. God commanded these specific laws to set Israel apart from the rest of the nations. Tattoos and piercings are not wrong unless one intends to use them for pagan worship. The pagan ritual of mourning for the dead consisted of mutilating the body, to appease the anger of the false gods and assist those in the afterlife.
“Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them.” — 1 Kings 18:28
Whereas the prophets of Baal would violently disfigure themselves during pagan worship, modern-day piercings tend to be solely for aesthetic reasons. Nevertheless, if you were to interpret Leviticus 19 in a literal sense by claiming that all tattoos and piercings are sinful, you would also have to obey all the other ritual and moral observances of the Law.
“You shall keep all my statutes and all my ordinances and observe them: I am the Lord.” — Leviticus 19:37
This would include not shaving/getting a trim (Leviticus 19:27); not eating steak or other meat with blood (Leviticus 19:26) and not wearing clothing made from two different materials, such as cotton and linen (Leviticus 19:19). Though most believers would assert that in Christ these laws have come to pass, a double standard tends to be created when it comes to tattoos and piercings.
“We know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor.” — Galatians 2:16-18
According to the archaeological manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the ‘works of the law’ refer to the cultural and ritual observances of the Mosaic Law. St Paul makes it clear that ceremonial laws no longer bind Christians in the New Covenant and therefore circumcision, animal sacrifices and other purification rituals are no longer necessary for salvation.
In the light of this context, St Paul was refuting the “Judaizers”, who despite believing in Christ, still believed that obedience to the Mosaic Law was necessary. As a result, they attempted to justify themselves apart from Christ, by binding themselves to the Old Law that Christ did away with. By claiming in an absolute sense that all tattoos and piercings are wrong, would be to build back up the Law that was once torn down.
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth?” — Galatians 5:6-7
In the same way that circumcision no longer binds Christians, neither does the restrictions on tattoos and piercings. Jesus came to fulfil the ceremonial laws, but He did not come to abolish the moral laws, which is why abortion, murder, sexual immorality, and idolatry will always be wrong as it is based on the 10 commandments and God’s nature which is just, holy, and unchanging.
"It's not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth... For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you." — Matthew 15:11-20
The Pharisees were hypocrites since they prioritised external righteousness, over inner righteousness. By strictly adhering to the ceremonial laws, they found themselves transgressing the moral laws. Ink stains and piercings no longer defile a person, since Jesus distinguishes between what truly defiles you (breaking moral laws) and what does not defile you (breaking ceremonial laws).
“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body.” — 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Tattoos and piercings should adorn and beautify our bodies, the dwelling place of the Spirit, rather than conceal our identity or hide what is lacking. God is not against tattoos or piercings in moderation, for He desires His Bride, Jerusalem, to be adorned in such splendour and beauty.
“I gave you lovely jewellery, bracelets, beautiful necklaces, a ring for your nose, earrings for your ears, and a lovely crown for your head... I dressed you in my splendour and perfected your beauty, says the Sovereign Lord.” — Ezekiel 16:11-14
If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo or a piercing, pray about it. Anything offensive, obscene, and impure is not from God and anything that draws unnecessary attention to aspects of your body, which should be veiled, does not reveal your dignity. Every aspect of us, including our tattoos and piercings, ultimately should bring glory to God and therefore, should reflect the good, the true and the beautiful...
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect.” — Romans 12:2