Tatoos for Christians

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It is quite popular these days to have a tattoo. It is not unusual even for people professing faith in Christ to have tattoos. Some Christians, however, have a problem with this. The issue came up recently at a Bible study my daughter attends, so I decided that a Fact Sheet on the subject was timely. Do the Scriptures prohibit tattoos for Christians?

In a word, "No." I realize that many fundamentalist and legalistic groups professing Christ will disagree with me on this (what else is new?), but the fact is, the Scriptures do not forbid Christians to have tattoos. Those disagreeing with me on this will no doubt cite various Scriptures to support their point of view, so let's have a look at some of the Bible verses they use as proof texts of their position.

You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo [KJV, "print"] any marks upon you: I am the LORD. [Leviticus 19:28, NKJV]

"There it is," brethren opposed to tattooing would say, pointing to this verse as the primary weapon in their arsenal. "A clear cut prohibition of tattooing in the Scriptures." It might seem that way to some, if the verse is just casually read without much attention to what is actually being said here and to whom this command applies.

The reason behind the prohibition in this verse against tattooing had to do with ancient pagan practices in mourning the dead. As the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia puts it, "Here the practice [of tattooing] is associated with mourning rites for the dead and is forbidden as a heathen practice." [ISBE Vol. IV, page739] The ancient occupants of Canaan would make marks in their skin, either by incision or by burning the flesh to appease their "gods," or, as Matthew Henry puts it, "to pacify the infernal deities they dreamt of, and to render them propitious to their deceased friends." The Good News Bible in Today's English Version even renders this verse to show that both cutting the flesh and tattooing here apply to...
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