Does the Bible say anything about tattoos and body piercing?

Q. My son asked me if he could get a tattoo and a body piercing. I am very concerned about this issue. I told him “NO” but he is persistent. I told him it was against the teaching of the Bible. Somewhere in the Bible I read that it was wrong. Can you help me find the passage?

I think there are several things involved. First, the obedience of the child involved. Children should be taught to respect and obey their parents.

Eph 6:1-4
1* Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
2* Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise),
3 so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.
4* Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

There may be NUMEROUS reasons why a parent is concerned about a tattoo or a body piercing. The most significant in my mind are the health concerns. There are horror stories about infections and serious concerns about A.I.D.S. through contaminated tattoo needles.

A parent may also be concerned about the cultural and social implications of a child’s tattoo. Some gangs require certain kinds of tattoos to show affiliation with the group. Most adults reflect very negatively on tattoos. Some believe it is a form of abuse of the body. I believe that “this too will pass.” It’s more likely a passing fad. I was in the Navy when I was a teen. I never saw a tattoo that I thought I could live with for the rest of my life… I am “tattoo free.” Many of my Navy buddies were tattooed…..and almost ALL of them regret it today.

Children need to be taught to obey and respect their parents.

Fathers need to learn how to deal with their children in such a way as not to provoke them. This takes wisdom. If you push your children too hard you will push them in the direction of disobedience. Every father must find the appropriate balance.

My advise (for what it is worth) is not to become too hysterical about this subject when it comes up. Teens often use “shock” treatment to assess how their parents feel about issues. If they get a knee-jerk response they are much more likely to go in the direction of disobedience.

There are a few passages in the Scriptures that talk about tattoos and piercing.

Lev. 19:28
“You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.”

This verse has reference to the custom among the pagan nations to pierce themselves, or tattoo themselves when a member of the family died. Such tattooing or piercing was an effort to appease the Idols they worshiped into accepting their departed relative. For an Israelite to pierce himself or tattoo himself was a sign that he was influenced by Idolatry. This was a serious sin.

This verse, however, cannot be applied to the kinds of tattoos or piercings that are associated with our culture except among the pagan worshipers. It is ALWAYS wrong to apply the Old Testament Law, which was given only to the Jews, to New Testament times. We DO NOT live under the Old Testament Law. To take a verse out of the Old Testament and attempt to apply it today is to practice legalism. This was the error of Judiazers of the first Century who were trying to teach that Christians had to obey certain aspects of the Old Testament. They were condemned for their error (c.f. Galatians).

Exodus 21:6
“then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.”

Deut 15:17
“then you shall take an awl and pierce it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also you shall do likewise to your maidservant.”

In Old Testament times tattoos and piercings were used in a way similar to the way we “brand” cattle today. It demonstrated ownership. Slaves were “marked” indicating that they were an indentured servant to another. These verses would not find application to the current situation of tattoos and piercings.

In the New Testament there are no prohibitions against tattoos or piercings. Some would say that the “mark” in the book of Revelation indicates God’s displeasure with tattoos. This cannot be demonstrated by the context of the book of Revelation. In Revelation the “mark” on the hands and the forehead are representative of what a person does with his hands and his head. God is concerned about the things that we do with our hands (whether good or evil). He is concerned with the way we use our minds (whether for good or evil). The “mark” in Revelation has absolutely nothing to do with a literal mark.

There is a consistent teaching throughout the Bible that we do not belong to ourselves. For the Christian this concept is clearly taught in 1 Cor. 6:19-20.

1 Cor. 6:19-20
19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

The Christian must ask, “will this be harmful to my body?” If the answer is yes…….it is wrong. The Christian must ask, “can I glorify God by this action?” If the answer is no… is wrong.

The time to teach our children about these issues is when they are young, not when they are on their way to the tattoo parlor. It is probably too late to attempt to discuss this issue when the teen comes home with a tattoo or piercing.

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