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To Tattoo or Not to Tattoo?

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by Rev. Joda Collins

The Bible mentions tattoos just once and that is found in Leviticus 19:28, which states: “You must not put tattoo marking upon yourselves.” 

Some would challenge this because the word tattoo dates back to the 17th century and Leviticus was written in 1450 BC (give or take a few years).  That means there is more than 3,000 years between the writing of Leviticus 19 and the coining of the word “tattoo.” The (1611) King James Version states, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.”
Some claim that translators of more modern versions use the wrong word when they used “tattoo.”  Let me ask you a question.  Do you really want to spend the rest of your life explaining why hundreds of professional linguists who have studied ancient languages for much of their lifetime, combine to agree that a proper, more current term for “cutting flesh” and “printing marks” on a person is equal to tattooing, are wrong and you are smarter than all of them put together about such things?
Some claim the prohibition is related to tattooing for the dead therefore tattoos are acceptable to God because they are not relating to dead people.   I call your attention to the verse and the word “nor.”  What follows nor is an independent idea.  For example, if I say “Do not eat too much ice cream because it is bad for your weight, nor shall you steal ice cream.  I am saying that the act of stealing ice cream causes one to gain weight?  I am not.  In other words, “Ye shall not…print any marks on you….”  Period. You shall not engrave any marks on you by cutting for the dead, nor shall you print anything on you regardless of the reason. That is the best analysis of this text.  Most translations of this verse make that abundantly clear.  
Do you really want to spend your life justifying your tattoo with the reasoning that you are wiser than professional Bible translators, past and present and smarter than the overwhelming majority of Bible scholars who make it clear in Bible commentary after commentary that human beings are not to put any tattoos on our bodies?
Why not just admit that you made an honest mistake, if the subject comes up and you are questioned about it.  Just say, “I got a tattoo. I was ignorant about God’s Word regarding not getting a tattoo. If I could do it over again, I would not get a tattoo.”   Case closed. You are a hero, not a zero.  Everyone makes mistakes. So what?!  Live and learn. Do not live to justify mistakes.  The fact is you did not get your tattoo in remembrance of a dead person (I hope), so that is a point in your favor. If you did, so be it.  Everyone makes big mistakes.  Live and learn, but do not work to become proficient at justifying mistakes. (No one ever succeeds at that.)  Most people honor those who make a mistake, own it and learn from it — but have no respect for those who make a mistake and try to justify it, thus encouraging others to make the same wrong decision. 
Besides that, most in our culture, including most church membership, thinks little or nothing negative about tattoos that carry a non-offensive message.  So, in the eyes of most people, your tattoo is not a big deal.  Be a man or woman of God and help others not make the same mistake.  You make a big deal about others not getting marked, scarred, printed, cut and/or tattooed.  At the very least, after you tell them you would not do it again, direct them to read Leviticus 19:28 and ask them to pray if they should obey or disobey God. (What a silly question!)
I could go on with verses like, “Your body is not your own….” and “Do all things to the glory of God,” but you get the idea.  Instead of living in as many shadows as we can find, we need to live in the bright light of clear, absolute and unwavering obedience to God.  Just say no to tattoos.
Rev. Joda Collins
I make no claim that anyone else agrees with me.


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