What does the Bible have to say about tattoos?

When I saw this question I was dismayed. It meant that somewhere there was a preacher or “Bible-believer” that was making tattoos a sin. People are suffering because of human arrogance, greed, rage and apathy. People are suffering because of violence, natural disasters, diseases and unjust institutions. Yet someone chooses to heap guilt and shame on others because of tattoos?

Really? Sadly, yes. (I had to Google it.)

There is exactly one verse (Lev. 19:28) that deals with scarring the flesh for the dead and marking the skin. In the context it is referring to a form of worship or ritual forced upon women. Remnants of some practices survive even today in which women are made to bear visible marks to indicate if they are “of age,” married or widowed, if they are set aside as
temple prostitutes or marked as adulteresses. While the Israelites in the time Leviticus was written were still quite oppressive of women, they at least banned some of the crueler practices of the culture around them.

The art and even the word tattoo came thousands of years later and from a different part of the world. Tattoos, as we know them today, are not discussed in the Bible. To say that it does is to abuse the Bible by treating it anachronistically and out of context.

One more thought: The only times Jesus gets angry in the Bible are when someone is standing between a person and God’s grace. When people try to make you feel unlovable or unacceptable to God, they are making Jesus angry. They make me angry, too, but thankfully no one has sent me to judge the world.

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