Friday, May 22, 2009

Is It a Sin to Get Pierced or Tatooed?

The question has come to me a lot lately, whether it’s a sin to get tattooed or pierced. Certainly there are a lot of opinions in our culture about people who are tattooed or who have body piercings. In the history of our American culture, men who were tattooed or pierced were probably sailors at best, and pirates at worst. Sailors and pirates often pierced their ears so if they died at sea there would be enough gold in their ear to pay for their burial. Tattoos have existed in many cultures for thousands of years, but came to America from sailors who traveled to the South Pacific. Today, nobody considers the morality behind a woman getting her ears pierced. But if a man gets his ear pierced, there are many who think this is a sign of a troublemaker or homosexual. Some say it is OK to pierce your ears, but no other part of your body. Some say that tattoos are signs of low social class, while others boast the beauty of the artwork on their bodies. With all these questions, we need to ask ourselves, “What does the Bible have to say about it?” As Christians, are we supposed to take our cue from social convention, or from the Scriptures?



My Celtic cross tattoo,
by Amber Dinn at Memento Mori in Abbotsford, BC
First, let’s talk about body piercing. In Genesis 24, we read the story of Abraham’s servant seeking a bride for Isaac. When he tells Rebecca’s father about how he met the young woman, he says, that the Lord brought them together. “So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD (Verses 47-48).” A ring in the nose! Now that’s different than the American norm! In Ezekiel 16, God speaks to Israel as if the country were his bride. He says, “I adorned you with ornaments: I put bracelets on your arms, a chain on your neck, a ring on your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown upon your head (Verses 11-12).” Yes, this is very different than what Americans are used to. But if God uses such language, how can we condemn it? In fact, God commands body piercing in Exodus 21:5-6. If a slave loved his master so much that he wanted to become part of the family, the Scripture says, His master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.” So it appears here that nobody who condemns ear or body piercing can use Scripture to back it up. That is a matter of personal taste and style.

Some who are opposed to body piercing quote Leviticus 19:28. Here, I will quote the first part. Later I will quote the second part. It says, “You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead.” During the time the Israelites were entering the land of Canaan, the pagans who lived there had a practice of cutting themselves in mourning. They would also cut themselves as part of their fervent idol worship (See 1 Kings 18:28). Today, there are people who have psychological issues regarding self-abuse. These “cutters” often say they cut themselves to make life seem more real, or to punish themselves for their perceived low self-worth. These practices have nothing to do with body decoration. People who engage in such activities are in need of psychological help. As the verse quoted above involves such practices, and not body decoration, it cannot be used to condemn body piercing.

There is one kind of "mark on the body for the dead" that I want to talk about.  I've known many people who have lost someone dear to them, and they want to commemorate that person's life with a "memorial tattoo."  Christians and non-Christians alike should be careful with this.  Often when a person constantly sees a deceased loved one's name or image tattooed on his or her body every day, it becomes very difficult to come to the end of the grieving process.  Mark 12:27 says that God is "not the God of the dead, but of the living."  God wants you to be able to heal from your hurt.  When you get a memorial tattoo, instead of eventually being able to let go of the hurt of loss, the constant reminder can keep the pain fresh.  Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10)."  He wants you to live in His life, not become obsessed with death.  So you might want to think very carefully about memorial tattoos, because you don't want to make an idol out of your dearly departed. 

But what about tattooing in general? Encyclopedia Britannica says, “Tattooing has been practiced in most parts of the world, and examples have been found on Egyptian and Nubian mummies dating from 2000 BC.” In the Canaanite religion, tattoos were associated with idol worship. Leviticus 19:26-28 says, “You shall not eat anything with its blood. You shall not practice augury or witchcraft. You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD.” It is certainly clear what the Scripture passage says, but what does it mean? Drinking blood was also associated with idol worship. Hebrews wouldn’t even eat a rare steak! Trimming your beard was associated with witchcraft. Ironically the long beards that good Hebrew men were supposed to have are today mostly found on tattooed bikers! Clearly these verses are meant to be taken in social context. Remember, these rules were meant for the Hebrews as they were moving into Canaan. If you live in a culture where trimming your beard is a sign that you’re a witch, don’t trim your beard. If you live in a culture where trimming your beard is more acceptable, then go for it! The same is true for tattoos.

Some will use 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 to say that tattoos are sinful. These verses say, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” First, the temple that is being referred to here is the Church. Again, we have to look at context. Paul is writing to the Corinthian church about divisions that are threatening to destroy the church. It is not referring to the human body at all. Second, in no way does a tattoo or piercing destroy the body.

So, what is the proper attitude to have regarding tattoos and body piercings? Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, which says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” Now, in this Scripture, Paul is talking about the human body! Whatever we do with it should honor God (or at least not bring dishonor to God). So a cute little butterfly or motorcycle, or a tattoo that honors Jesus like a cross or fish symbol, would be just fine. What about a tattoo to mark a significant place in your spiritual journey with the Lord? But let’s stay away from the pentagrams and skulls with bloody daggers stuck through them, OK? Of course, remember Exodus 20:12 – “Honor your father and your mother.” If you’re considering one, try a big red heart that says MOM. But wait until you’re an adult.

Finally, just for fun…

  • God was the first tattoo artist – Genesis 4:15 – “And the LORD put a mark on Cain.”
  • Paul said, “I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body (Galatians 6:17).”
  • God says in Isaiah 49:16 – “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.”

Author's Note:  I have been amazed at the overwhelming popularity of this particular blog post.  When I googled the search terms "Is it a sin to be tattoed or pierced" my blog is the first site that comes up.  People from around the world have been interested in just this question, and I'm glad I can help them find an answer.


The strange thing is that I don't have any tattoos or piercings.  This really isn't a big issue for me.  I wrote this Bible study years ago because I was serving a church that had a lot of people with tattoos and piercings.  Based on the popularity of this particular blog post, you'd almost think that tattoos and piercings are the main thing that I write about, and this is far from the case.  I hope you'll check out my other blog posts, and enjoy the other topics that I write about.  Also, you can read about having a deeper prayer life on my other blog, The Logos Prayer.  Leave a comment, and let me know what you think.

    28 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    Thank you so much for this Information adn it makes alot of cence!! Alot of people just say it says right in the bible so it must be a sin but dont look into the history of why it was said. thank you so much it clears alot of things up!!

    Charles said...

    This helped. I'm not considering getting one of these, but I'm glad to be able to tell the religious what the Bible really says.

    Greg said...

    I just came across some info that says that my hometown, Richmond, Virginia, is the third most tattooed city in America. Who knew??? Thought I'd share that with you.

    -Greg Smith

    Anonymous said...

    Thank you so much for this post! It's very well written, easy to follow, and you've got GRREAT evidence to back you up. It really helped me; I was just about to take out my earrings and let them completely close up because I wasn't sure if it was sinful!

    Jake Wells said...

    Thank you for your post. Could I share my testimony? I am a tattoo artist. I would be honored if you read it. http://www.jacobwells.com/?page_id=125
    Thank you and may Jesus continue to bless you.
    Jake

    Anonymous said...

    Thank you soooo much! Now Grandma can't say a word!

    Greg said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Greg said...

    http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/159413-church-members-get-tattoos-for-lent.html

    Follow the above link to a news story about a pastor who encouraged his church members to get tattoos of the Stations of the Cross for Lent.

    devil'sworstnightmare 316 said...

    Very detailed explanation......and im glad that someone ws able to bring this to light .... so many Christians forget the teachings of Christ and focus totally on the physical aspects of a person, judging them base on appearance and implement their own personal rules or guideline and reading the word of God without wisdom.....that's why he Christian community is not effective in the world today....like God says in hosea ..." people parish for lack of knowledge". im young adult and being constantly. shut down by those old than i about this topic.....

    Beth M. said...

    Hello Pastor Greg,

    Thanks so much for writing this article!! I have piercings and tattoos and none of them are evil. I love our Lord and Savior with all my heart and soul. I am so glad that I am not sinning by having these. Thanks again!

    Beth Melvin

    Anonymous said...

    Oh my gosh thanks so much for writing this,i've been trying to be an obedient follower of god and recently got a piercing and plan on getting a tattoo.I was worried it was a sin and my next door neighbor said if I got a tattoo or piercing I wouldn't be welcome into heaven because im supposed to keep my body pure.I think as long as gods in your heart and you always have faith in him through good and bad times he loves and accepts you!

    Anonymous said...

    Thank you so much for this, it's brought so much relief. It has honestly made me considerably less worried about getting my new piercing. Now all I have to worry about is the actual piercing process!

    Anonymous said...

    i think the reason for you making this particular post was rather interesting. as for the post itself ill say that it to was interesting as well

    Anonymous said...

    Interesting article. A lot of Christians find that a faith based tattoo is highly effective as a conversation-starter. My wife and I were shopping recently and a lady we met had a John 3.16 tattoo; and she said it was her favorite text; it's mine too. I reckon that she has had many conversations with other people also.

    Irvin Reyes said...

    Thank You so much. I am very young. But I have always thought it would be very nice to pierce an ear and to get a few tattoos. But I ddint want to sin for I have been faithful to god from a young age. This really helped. God bless you. -Irvin Reyes

    Anonymous said...

    I'm very grateful for this... Thank you so much! I love God with all that I am and wouldn't wanna sin on purpose... but I'm grateful that piercings and tats aren't. Just for reference... you're a dedicated Christian, right?

    Thanks again and God bless! - Tin

    Greg said...

    Thank you, Tin. Yes, I'm a Baptist pastor, and have been in ministry for 22 years.

    t.j. said...

    Take a spelling course ok, I really think you could benefit from it.

    Buddha Tattoo said...

    awesome,
    thank you so much for sharing such an awesome

    blog..
    really i like your site.
    i enjoyed...
    Ear

    Piercing

    KenKen Taylor said...

    Hey! I'm so glad I've found this blog post. I've really been considering on getting a tattoo that symbolizes my journey with God so far: A rose that is blooming, symbolizing how I'm 'blooming' with God's word and all the things I've learned so far. That will be on the back of my neck. I also recently came up with another idea to get a tattoo possibly on the inside of my arm of those olden-day feather pens with ink dripping from it, expressing my love for writing. That I think is a gift/talent God has given me and that's just my way of showing that love and treasuring that gift. And whenever someone asks about them, I'll tell them the story behind the tattoos which are basically built from God himself I believe. So I want these tattoos to be the most beautiful they can be for God.

    I also plan on getting a nose piercing/ring, as well as a septum piercing. And then various other piercings on my ears including one industrial bar.

    Anonymous said...

    Are you sure about this . Is it not still mutilation?

    Anonymous said...

    Sure

    Greg said...

    Anonymous asked if this is not still mutilation. My shirt answer:. No more than circumcisions and other types of surgery.

    Anonymous said...

    I'm turning 13 and that's the age I can get my ears pierced. I am a christian. I'm actually nervous because I don't want it to be a sin then have it on me for the rest of my life. So I read this. I still don't know. Could some one give me their opinion?

    Greg said...

    Dear Anonymous (June 30),

    If you're a Christian, and have given your heart to Jesus, and have received forgiveness for your sins, then there is nothing you can do to lose your salvation. No sin is stronger than Jesus' grace. However, this Old Testament law was not given for gentile believers (I'm assuming you're not Jewish). Gentile believers aren't under the Jewish law, anyway--so you're free! And even for Jewish believers in Jesus, they are free, even as Paul declared himself free.

    Anonymous said...

    I enjoyed reading your article. You said to be careful of getting a tattoo of a loved one that has passed. Myself and several of my family members either have or going to get a tattoo for my nephew who was killed in November 2015. We aren't doing it as him being an idol. We are doing it as a memory of him and a celebration of his life not his death. Most of us are Christians and were worried about it.

    Anonymous said...

    (Different anonymous).That is not biblical. One's subsequent sinful and unrepented lifestyle after initially being saved will disqualify one from ultimately being saved. One must hold on to one's salvation with great passion and obedience in every way in order not to be found against God's will (Matthew 7:21). A person cannot keep their salvation if they continue in unrepented sin (1st Cor 6), this is why Jesus paid the high price of death so that the world would be saved and fully appreciate that we should stop sinning, as this is like one hasn't received Jesus yet. Therefore, biblically speaking, one can Absolutely lose their salvation because the holy and righteous God is looking at our ongoing and constant unrepented sins, which we must constantly reconcile before God by repentance in order to not be disqualified - as in the race for Life (we must follow All Of God's 'rules' thus to be 'continually' saved each day until the end. This bas nothing to do with "works" but pure Godly obedience according to Jesus. This is the biblical path to true salvation - it is unambiguously the ongoing, daily practice of biblical obedience to God. It is difficult as Jesus said, but it is the truth and we can be empowered by the Holy Spirit to observe it. God bless.

    Greg said...

    My dear Anonymous (the most recent anonymous):

    I would simply suggest you read the entire book of Galatians. I'm doing a study on that book right now at my church. I'd like to thank you for providing me a perfect example of the thinking of the Judaizers who required that all new male Christians had to be circumcised in order to be saved.

    Jesus died to set us free from sin. By the gospel that you preach, Jesus' death on the cross provided nothing for us except encouragement for us to stop sinning. According to your gospel, we save ourselves by our own good works. This is not the true gospel, but the very same perversion of it that Paul spoke of when he said:

    "I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.

    "Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.

    Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant (Galatians 1:6-10)."