“You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves.” – Leviticus 19:28
Tattoos have been persisting in society for thousands of years. Their popularity has grown in recent years wrapped under the names of ‘fashion statement’ or as a reverence to someone. But this was not always the case. Tattooing had been forbidden in ancient times by the writers of the Hebrew Bible. Here are a few reasons why it was forbidden.
Focus on what’s inside than outside
In the bible, it has been specifically mentioned to be minimal from the outside and maximal from the inside. Too much focus on clothes, hairstyle, etc. is distractive. Besides, tattoos are a step ahead when it comes to preoccupation with looks because contrary to hair and makeup, tattoos are a long-term commitment. Before getting inked, a person would take a lot of things into consideration, especially how it will look afterward.
Self-Mutilation isn’t accepted
Religions before Christianity, like the worshipping of Baal and the Canaanite religion, included rituals like self-mutilation. But the Bible says that God does not want his people to get hurt because of him. Besides, it is dangerous and can lead to many health problems (considering that ancient times did not enjoy proper health and medical benefits). If these acts went wrong, it can lead to death.
Not the right way to hide or honor the pain
People might self-harm for the same reason as getting tattoos. Pain or emotion can be a part of how they cope with difficult times. Instead, God wants their disciples to turn to him in tense times.
“When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul” (Psalm 94:19).
“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”
Mutilation and to some extent getting inked has been associated with punishing oneself in many cultures. It is a reminder of hatred and pain. And Bible is against that. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31). Thus, it is considered an act of unbelief in God & his ways of making everything right. According to the Bible, inflicting pain on oneself is not the way to forgiveness. Repentance and redemption are.
The incorrect way to honor the dead
Most people get tattoos to honor their loved one’s death. However, this is a Canaanite tradition where self-harm represents mourning.
“Leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Luke 9:60.
Christianity urges people to celebrate the death of their loved ones with respect and have faith in themselves and the almighty that they will be reunited with the dead after salvation. Idol worship is not appreciated in Christianity and making one’s own body a shrine for a loved one is the same as idol worshipping. However, the Bible is not against remorse and sadness because they are natural feelings. But some people take it too far and instead of moving forward take a step backward.
Tattoos are a permanent deal. Most people when they get a tattoo do not think that they might get it removed later on (also considering extra money and going through a painful process involved in tattoo removal.) Rather, they have ‘forever’ in mind. Tattoos, including permanent makeup, are something that you can’t just ‘take off.’
Your taste & culture will evolve
According to the Bible, change is inevitable and hence, you might not have the same desires, outlook, and mindset that you might have now; it will only lead to regrets and negative emotions down the lane. For example, your colored streaks might look like an ugly blotch over the years. And that happens to us on a daily basis! Thus, getting a permanent mark on your skin is not necessarily a wise decision and would only lead to remorse and regret.
Tattoos can taint what’s natural
“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, honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
Bible does not give any relevance to what’s unnatural. Tattoos are apparently exactly that. Besides, tattoos fade and turn the natural tint of the skin into something ugly. Discoloration has only one solution – that you get it colored again. So, you are limited in your approach to keeping it fresh forever.
So, what does that mean? Should a true Christian not get a tattoo? And what about the Christians who have followed the pre-Christian notions? All that can be said is that it is still a personal testimony. All that truly matters is the change from the inside.