I’ve just had this email from someone in CBC:
Interesting debate at work about tattoos! Apparently there is something in OT about these not being too good. How is this changed in the light of NT?
So, I sent a reply – which is below:
The bit in the bible is Leviticus 19:28 : “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”
Marking the body was a significant part of the worship of the gods. So The God of Israel was telling the Jews not to do this kind of thing, as it was associated with pagan worship.
Old Testament laws are in three broad categories:
- Ceremonial and religious ( e.g. Don’t eat pork)
- Political and legal (e.g. What to do with a murderer)
- Moral and ethical (e.g. You shall not steal)
Whilst some of these overlap slightly – these 3 categories are a good summary.
When Jesus arrives to “fulfil the law”, he invites people to follow him with their lives and hearts – to live “by the Spirit” and not just “by the Law”.
So, he says it is time to move on from the first two categories of the law – the ceremonial and legal frameworks no longer apply. So the food laws are gone (I can eat bacon!), the ceremonial is gone (you don’t need to go to the temple to worship), the legal and political is gone because the church is not a nation or government as Israel was.
However, Jesus endorses the moral & ethical parts of the law. In fact he even makes the law more demanding in places. So stealing is still wrong, looking after orphans is still good etc. etc.
Tattoos are in the category of ceremonial and religious law. As long as our motivation is good – then whether we have a tattoo or not is neither here or there.
How does this sound?