It was one of those moments I’ll never forget. A respected professional told a room full of believers how she went from hating the establishment to loving Jesus in one fell swoop. As she shared her story she showed a picture of a guy with tattoos, facial piercings, and a green Mohawk. These words slid like molasses out of her unpierced lips: People who dress like this are angry and don’t want you to talk to them.
Gulp. I half-expected people to turn toward the back of the room and throw Ash Brown hair dye at me.
There I sat, a pierced, fuchsia-haired believer, neither angry nor antisocial. An enigma. Though it was true the get-outta-my-face attitude was the speaker’s modus operandi before she came to Christ, it wasn’t mine, then or now. Nor, my guessing, that of most “adorned” believers.
So I needed a second opinion. Trusted Bible scholar and Reasons To Believe’s dean of online learning Krista Bontrager helped bring clarity to the tough question: Is it okay for Christians to get tattoos and piercings?
First, let’s take a look at what Scripture says:
“You are the children of the LORD your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead.” Deuteronomy 14:1
“Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves.” Leviticus 19:28
Some might argue that these words are enough to forbid body ornamentation. Others may say we are living “in the New Testament” and no longer under Old Testament laws. But, just as with the verse about the fence posts, we have to dig a little deeper to get to the “universal principle” in focus.
As Krista points out, “We should consider the context for these commands about cutting and marking your body.” For example, in 1 Kings 18, Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to rouse their god. Verse 28 says, “So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.” It’s possible, then, that the modern (or universal) application is not about piercings or tattoos, per se, but about engaging in self-mutilation or bloodletting as part of a pagan ritual.
Further, Exodus 21:6 indicates that piercing was what a master did to his slaves. “He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.” (See also Deuteronomy 15:17.) Perhaps the universal principle is that we are no longer slaves to anyone but God alone?
But before making a bee line to the nearest ink parlor, consider John 14:17; Romans 8:9, 11; and 1 Cor. 6:19–20. These verses make clear that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit. And 2 Corinthians 6:16 makes a strong point that God does not share temple space with Satan: “And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.”
So are we back to the no-tattoos-and-piercings rule? Not necessarily. “At minimum,” Krista explains, “we should refrain from tattooing any sort of pagan or tribal symbols on ourselves, especially those that may have connections to pagan worship practices.”
In addition, she offers three questions to consider before decorating our “temples.”
• Why did I choose this design or piercing?
• Does it have any religious symbolic connection?
• Am I doing this as a means of self harm or self mutilation?
• What message will this piercing/tattoo communicate to people I meet?
In the end, some believers will see body ornamentation as acceptable while others won’t. Whichever conclusion a person comes to, Krista adds,
Christians should respect the decisions of their brothers and sisters in Christ as this is an issue of Christian freedom. At the same time, we need to be careful what kind of images our choices project about us because we are also called to reflect Christ.
We may not all be adorned with ink or piercings, but we can all be adorned with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Who would be angry about that?
CHIME IN: What do you think about this issue? Is it okay for Christians to get piercings and tattoos?
See chapter 16 of Kenneth Samples’ book Without A Doubt for a discussion on human autonomy.