November 03, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #4--Tattoos and Body Piercings


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What does the Bible say about tattoos and body modifications? Isn't plastic surgery the same thing?

Leviticus 19:28 “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”

An easy answer, right?

Not so fast! Remember that everything we read in the Bible has to be viewed through the lens of context and culture. We have to ask, "is this a principle for a certain people during a certain time, or is it a principle that is normative and should be followed even today?"

Look at the verse just above it—Leviticus 19:27 “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard."

Well, most of us men are sinners then because I just trimmed my sideburns this morning. But, do we live under the law anymore? Of course not!

These verses actually deal with pagan mourning practices. The real point of the verse is “do not look like the pagans and do what they do. Be different from them.”

What about how we treat our bodies, though? There are no explicit verses in the NT that deal with tatooing or body piercing. None.

Teenagers, though, we are told to honor our parents (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1), so when it comes to their rules for your body, do what they say whether you agree or not. There is no reasons listed in the New Testament that would lead us to believe that God wants us to get piercings and tattoos.

But, if you are looking for some guidance on this issues, there are some verses that can serve as a guide.

1 Corinthians 10:31—“So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God”

The best rule of thumb in these situations is captured in Romans 14:1-23. It’s a discussion about whether it’s OK to eat meat that was sacrificed to idols. This decision boils down to conscience and how it affects your relationship with Christ.

Romans 14:22-23—“So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eatinig is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

If in your heart, it doesn’t seem right, then don't do it. If getting a tattoo, a piercing, plastic surgery is not for God’s glory and with a clean conscience, then don’t do it.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 are verses about sexual immorality, but it fits this situation too: “Do you not know that your body is a temple 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 body."

I did get a follow-up question about a bondservant having his ear pierced intentionally, so let me address that. This is a reference to Exodus 21:5-6 and refers to the rights of Hebrew slaves. People could sell themselves into slavery if they were poor or in debt. They could only do this for six years, then they had to be released. If a male servant wanted to remain in permanent service, then his master would pierce his ear with an awl to show that he was a willing servant.

So, if you want to use this as a justification to pierce your ear, then we'll be glad to make you a willing servant around the McGuirk house. I'm having a hard time keeping up with the pinestraw in my yard. I won't even charge you for the awl-piercing, which I'll be happy to do myself!

Tomorrow, we'll look at a question about whether it's proper for us to have images of Jesus on display, or whether those qualify as "graven images." You can check out all of the Q and A posts here.

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