Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tattoo My Face, Pierce My Ear, My Nose, My Tongue, My . . .

Not long ago I went to a restaurant and had concerns when the wait staff assigned to my table had a tongue stud induced speech impediment, something gold protruding from the side of a nostril, and a gold loop through their left eyebrow. This event can left me wondering how sanitary can all that be? Especially a pierced tongue. If a waiter or waitress does not care appear to care about their own health, why should I think they care about mine?Maybe you have similar concerns . . . or not.

I admit that the preceding thoughts are just that . . .thoughts. They are my thoughts and that is all they are ultimately worth. Recently someone asked what the Bible says about tattoos and body piercing. After giving it some thought, I wanted to share my answer. Let me begin by saying that this article concerns multiple piercings and not an earring or two. It concerns what some call "body art" and not a personal tattoo.

What does the Bible say about piercing and tattoos?

There are two Old Covenant passages we should look at as we begin to find an answer. These two passages are part of the Laws God gave to Israel through Moses. They served a purpose for the people then and have a principle that applies to us.

  • Exodus 21:5-6 – "But if the servant plainly says, `I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,' then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever."(NKJV)

  • Leviticus 19:28 – "You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord." (NKJV)

Exodus 21:5-6 is a law concerning masters and slaves. If a slave chose to continue in his master's service after being offered freedom, his master would pierce his ear signifying perpetual servanthood. The slave volunteered to be a servant for life. This passage has no specific application to the body piercing that is part of our culture. This passage does however teach us the depth of dedication we should have for our Lord and Master. Compare Romans 6:16-18 where Paul tells us that we are slaves of the one we obey.

Leviticus 19:28 is in the context of warnings of idolatrous worship. God gave Israel laws that prohibited them from imitating the ceremonies of those worshipping idols. The mutilating of the body in this passage is how many cultures mourned for their dead. They would cut their skin to show sorrow to their gods and neighbors. The tattoos were symbols in memory of the dead. (Pulpit Commentary, Vol II, p. 289.)

Again there is no specific correlation to our present culture of piercing or tattoos. The message for us is that we are "called out," separate from the world. Compare Deuteronomy 26:18 and Titus 2:14. Like Israel whom God called out as His own Special people, so are we as Christians today. We cannot allow ourselves to be molded by the world. This thought does speak to tattoos and piercings. Who am I trying to be like? Who am I molding myself after? Am I imitating God or the world?

Now we need to turn to the New Covenant. Paul talks about jewelry in 1 Timothy 2:9-10. " . . . Women adorn (yourselves) in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works."

Paul is contrasting the worship of the true God with worship of idols. Worship of idols was a social event. Participants wore their best to impress each other and to impress the gods. Paul is telling Christian women that godliness and good works are more important to God, not how much gold they can wear. This passage teaches that we are to always be modest in our manner of dress. We (men, women, boys and girls) are not to dress to attract undue attention to ourselves. We live life to give glory to God and not to self. Peter says the same thing to wives in 1 Peter 3:3-4.

So what does the Bible teach about body piercing and tattoos? It says very little. What can we say then? Is it wrong to pierce my ear, nose, eyebrow, tongue, etc.? It is sinful to cover my body with tattoos? To answer in one word, "yes." Yes, if I am doing it to draw unnecessary attention to myself. It seems that the motivation behind today's cultural tattoos and piercings is to get attention. It is ostentatious, self-serving, and rebellious in nature, and that is what makes many tattoos and piercings wrong.


Adam said...

Thanks for this reminder.

When I was a youth minister, this was something I tried to teach the young people. While we often focus on "short shorts" and "bare midriffs" when talking about immodesty, we must remind everyone that it is simply dressing in such a way that we draw undue attention to ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Tattoos and piercings are not wrong. Your assuming that everyone who does it is doing it for attention, but the might just like how they look, also tattoos can be a great way of showing your faith. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit & equating that with Solomons temple, which was decorated with fancy designs & gold, it should be decorated with pictures that glorify God. Also I'm not sure whether the scripture from 1 Tim was aimed at the culture at the time or not... but I don't think that God wants us to dress up like nuns.

If tattoos and piercings are not your thing then don't get them, but as far as I see it they are not wrong only they way they can be used is wrong

Scott said...

@savedtoshred, Please reread my post. I do not say that all tattoos and piercings are wrong. My suggestion is that if a tattoo or piercing is a way to draw undue attention or if it is in glorification of sin (or sinful behavior) then such is wrong. If my wording in my post did not communicate this fully I do apologize. I have dear friends (brothers and sisters in Christ) who have very discreet personal tattoos and some more obvious tattoos that reflect their Christian faith. But I also have friends who as older now Christian adults wish they had never had a tattoo of a mostly unclad Pacific Island beauty put on while they were in the Navy, Marines, etc.