Monday, July 21, 2008

Is it Really Body Art? To Ink Up or Not? Pt. 2

Ink opponents typically ignore the verse that says God “inscribed” a picture of his people on his palms (Isaiah 49:16, NASB; the AMPLIFIED BIBLE says “tattooed”), and instead ominously quote another Old Testament verse: “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:28, ESV). Understanding the context of the Leviticus verse, however, is imperative.

God gave this command to the Israelites around 1444 B.C. (right after the parting of the Red Sea) to forbid them from practicing the idolatrous customs they’d picked up in Egyptian captivity. Their captors had a nasty habit of slashing themselves to express grief and to appease their pantheon of imaginary gods. Example, ”So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.” 1Ki 18:28 NIV

The Egyptians also tattooed their bodies with symbols of pagan gods. So Jehovah, the only true God, essentially said to the Israelites, I don’t want you to practice those silly superstitions anymore. You’re my people, and I love you. The heart of God’s message isn’t about body art, but about reminding the Israelites they belong to him.

These prohibitions seem to relate to pagan religious customs which should be avoided, including pagan mourning rites (vv. 27-28) Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R.B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983–c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary: An exposition of the scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

“Make any cuttings in your flesh” (v:28): the reference here is to the practice of making deep gashes in the skin while mourning the death of a relative. This was done to provide life blood for the spirit of the dead person rather than to express sorrow. On account of the dead: as indicated above, this describes the purpose of all the actions in verse 27 as well as verse 28. Péter-Contesse, R., & Ellington. (1992). A handbook on Leviticus. UBS handbooks; Helps for translating (Page 296). New York: United Bible Societies.

Do we today follow God’s original intent for Leviticus? Because if Christians today adhered to the literal application of every moral and ceremonial rule handed down to the Israelites, no one could eat shrimp or cheeseburgers (Leviticus 11); moms would be “unclean” after childbirth (40 days of separation from society after a boy, twice as long after a girl), so new mothers couldn’t go to Beth Moore Bible studies or Curves or book clubs for more than a month (Leviticus 12); menstruating women would have to separate from friends and family for seven days during that time of month (Leviticus 15); no one could wear clothes woven from both linen and wool (Leviticus 19); and everyone who went out to eat after church could merit a possible stoning (Exodus 31).

The great news of the gospel is that Old Testament law no longer binds Christians. Avoiding tattoo parlors or Red Lobster doesn’t make you righteous - Jesus’ death and resurrection do! While you need to remember your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16), you don’t have to let other people’s sense of religious propriety constrain you. However, if our bodies belong to God, we should make sure we have His clear “permission” before we “mark it up” with tattoos or body piercing. An important Scriptural principle on issues of this nature that the Bible does not specifically address is that if there is room for doubt as to whether it pleases God, then it is best to not engage in that activity.

Next post- The Implications

1 comment:

Lara Moore said...

Bro. David, thanks for the clarification. I've never had a tattoo, but I'm sure it's because I'm not a big fan of pain. Ear piercing (once) is enough for me. It has nothing to do with Old Testament laws. Thankfully He regards our hearts more than our skin!