Recently I had decided to get my 4th tattoo (See Left). For some I have had great reflections about what it all means. For others, they were not too impressed. Why? Well because I am a pastor of course. And clearly in Leviticus it says that we should not cut our bodies or tattoo them.
“You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19: 28
I recently came across a blog post linked here that I thought was in alignment with my own experiences. But I was all the more interested in the comments section where the author has conversation with another Christian brother who is questioning the orthodoxy of Christians getting tattoos because of what it says in Leviticus. I have known this for a while, but felt this pastor did a great job capturing it. So let me share the quote here:
“I know that “tattoo” is a Polynesian word that entered the English language long after Levitucus [sic] was written. English for that matter didn’t exist. So marking and cutting would be better translations. And that cutting and marking flesh rituals were pagan activities associated with mourning. And that objections to paganism were the concern of that passage of Leviticus. It is a leap to suggest that modern tattoos were what was going on with cutting and marking.”
If you are so intrigued as I was, the conversation continues between this pastor and fellow christian and certainly is informational as to the cultural understanding of why we now eat meat with blood in it and are so allowed to shave our beards and cut our hair. (All of which Leviticus command us not to).
My synopsis and addition of those comments follow:
As I look to those commandments of the Old Testament, we must understand the context for which they were written. God was more concerned about our actions that were in praise or alignment with other gods/beliefs than the action of tattooing or cutting our hair itself. Today’s context of why we cut our hair, shave our beards, or receive tattoos are not for the purpose of pagan worship or grieving, as they were in the days of the Hebrews in Leviticus. In those days, they would cut the body “presumably to appease the demons from tormenting the corpse when they saw the blood shed.”1 And also too would cut their hair in grieving that the pagan gods would give favor to them. Though even by the time of Jeremiah, they already began permitting the cutting of hair for grieving, but it was not to a pagan god or to procure favor from one. (Jer. 16:6; 41:5). Today, instead of mourning the dead or attempting gain favor from false gods, these changes to our physical appearance are expressions of ourselves that often carry with it a lot of meaning. Well maybe not cutting you hair, but many of the tattoo symbols. If you are piercing your body, cutting your hair, drinking blood because you believe the foreign gods will give you power; then yes, we have a sin problem.
But as this author has suggested, it is really been an awesome experience of speaking to individuals who opened up to me because of both the collar and yes, my tattoo(s).
– Rev. Joshua King
Ordained Elder of the UMC