This is my original submission on TATTOOS which is different from the edited (printed) version in Faithlink magazine. Significant differences are in areas indicated by the yellow
highlight and the two ^
red caret marks.
If you had read my column in the magazine and need further clarification, please contact me.
In the original, I reasoned rather than explicitly stating my position. For this web version, I have added comments in popup link descriptions for clarity.
Alan S.L. Wong
If tattoos are the ultimate personal statement, I want to know: What is it you want to tell me?
Sadly, many tattoos seem to be little more than fashion statements. Butterflies on shoulders, English names in Chinese characters, dragons, guns and roses - tattoos have become almost cliche, proof of both a desire to stand out and a lack of imagination.
But even then, I find it hard to judge. We all do things for the sake of vanity. Adults go for botox, liposuction and Lasik. Teenagers want tattoos to look pretty. Is it really that far off?
To be sure, tattoos can present health risks, they can make it hard to find a job, and they can go wrong.
Ng Tze Yong
The Electric New Paper
June 24, 2009
Faithlink - Parent Zone :: July 2008
A lot of teenagers have their bodies tattooed. Apart from the biblical perspective, how should I dissuade these youngsters from tattooing their bodies?
By Alan S.L. Wong
For the sake of all our readers, let’s take a look at what the Bible says about tattoos.
If you hold the view that a believer should not get a tattoo on the basis of Leviticus 19:28 then you also can’t have your steak "medium rare" because nearby Lev 19:26 says "You shall not eat anything with the blood". And not only these two …
28 "You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead
nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD."
The verses surrounding verse 28
forbid several other things: no meat with blood, no divination, no sorcery (v26); no cutting of hair at the sides of your head, no trimming of beards (v27); no prostitution of daughters (v29); and no mediums, no spiritists (v30).
The prohibition of eating blood has to do with the significance of blood in sacrificial atonement (Lev 17:11-12). Divination (foretelling), sorcery, calling of the dead and spirits through mediums are pagan religious practices which the Israelites are forbidden to imitate (Deut 18:9-13). No shaving of heads, no trimming of beard, no body laceration and no prostitution of daughters are prohibitions especially repeated (in Lev 21:5,9) for priests for ceremonial cleanness and as representatives of the people. All these prohibitions seem to relate to pagan worship and should be avoided.
Back to Lev 19:28 … body slashing or lacerations for the dead (v28a) seem to be mourning rites. Such body lacerations were also used to attract the attention of their gods (remember Baal’s prophets at Mt Carmel in 1 Kgs 18:27-28?). In its context, the tattoo marks of Lev 19:28 are related to pagan religious practices; they are lacerations that leave marks or scars on the body. The prohibition of tattoo marks was to keep the Israelites from idolatrous practices.
Are the tattoos of today the same as the tattoos in Lev 19:28?
^Tattoos today are more for self expression, romantic gestures and body deco and do not seem to be linked to idolatry.
But isn’t tattooing one’s body a desecration of the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19-20)? If you hold this view then you must
be prepared to answer a teen’s objection, "What is the reason my mother/sister can have an ear piercing while I cannot have a tattoo?" ^Both are decorative in nature and yield no health benefits. By the way, (1) the
context of 1 Cor 6:19-20 refers to sexual immorality and (2)
earrings may have had an idolatrous association (see Gen 35:2-4 and Exo 32:1-4) though (3)
ear piercing was prescribed for bond-servants as a sign of their devotion and lifelong servitude to their masters (Exo 21:2-6 and Deut 12:15-18).
Though I am of the opinion that tattoos are amoral (neither intrinsically moral nor immoral) and Christians are free to get tattoos, I would advise Christians to refrain from tattooing their bodies for the sake of the weaker brother/sister (1 Cor 8:4-13).
A weaker brother/sister who does not have a proper understanding of Lev 19:28 may believe that tattooing is a sin and may be emboldened to get a tattoo when he/she sees you with a tattoo. If he/she did it then he/she had sinned because whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom 14:14,23) … and you sinned because you had caused your brother/sister to stumble (1 Cor 8:12). Though the context of 1 Cor 8 and Rom 14 is food offered to idols, I believe the timeless principle of not causing your weaker brother/sister to stumble applies to tattooing.
9 But take care that this liberty of yours
does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
Moreover, because tattoos permanently mark the body, I would advise teens (who desire to get a tattoo) to wait a year or more and "think before you ink". Questions to ponder are:
In Singapore, there is currently no legal age limit to getting a tattoo. Short of locking their teenaged children up, parents cannot stop them from getting tattoos – so it is wise to respond calmly rather than react emotionally should your teen tell you his/her intention to get a tattoo.
- Why do you want to get a tattoo? Are your reasons valid? Are they honouring to God?
- Other than getting a tattoo, what is another way to accomplish your goal?
- Do you know that needles used in tattooing can spread blood-borne diseases when reused or not sterilized properly?
- Do you know that a tattoo is practically permanent?
- Do you know that your skin will not remain taut as you age? The palm tree tattooed on your arms may become a palm bush with drooping leaves when you are 50.
- Do you know what is involved in removing a tattoo and how much it costs?
- Have you told your parents about your intention to get a tattoo? If not, why not?
- How do your parents feel about you getting a tattoo?
If they object, what will you do?
- Will your tattoo be clearly visible to others even when you are fully clothed?
- Do you know what others think of tattoos? To some, tattoos are the visible signs of triads and gangs or a rebellious lifestyle.
- Will your tattoo be a hindrance or an asset to your future goals and plans?
- Are you fully convinced that tattoos are allowable for Christians?
- What image, symbol or words have you selected for your tattoo? Do they have unbiblical connotations? Would God be pleased with them?
A 17-year-old boy told me that his girlfriend is his everything. He feels lost when he has not heard from her for two months. Please advise.
First of all, help him face up to the possibility that his girlfriend may not feel the same way about him i.e., does not treat him like he is her everything or her feelings for him may have faded –-- since he had not heard from her for two months.
Facing reality is part and parcel of growing up. It would be difficult and painful but is necessary in helping him move on with his life and preventing prolonged unhappiness. During this period, his feelings may become more intense and specific (e.g., he feels that she was the one for him, she does not call/write means she does not care) and these issues should be addressed one at a time. Encourage him to talk about his feelings or express them in writing in a personal diary.
As he comes to terms with "losing her’', help him to cultivate interest in other activities such as sports, games and hobbies --- that his life need not revolve around his girlfriend and that there are other people who care about him e.g., his family.
If he is not a believer, share the Gospel with him. If he is a believer, show him 2 Pet 1:3 which tells us that God has given all that we need for life and godliness.
"… His divine power has granted to us everything
pertaining to life and godliness,
through the true knowledge of Him …"