Question:

Recently I heard a denominational preacher talk in favor of tattoos stating that those who opposed them used Old Testament scripture from Leviticus which has to do with the priests keeping themselves pure and unspotted (Leviticus 17:21-23). He went on to say that tattoos should define who you are and should be "spiritual" in nature.

However, I read in the New Testament from I Corinthians 6:19-20, that we are the temple of God. So, from this, I see tattoos as a defacing of God's temple. Am I reading too much into this?

Answer:

"Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body" (I Corinthians 6:18-20).

Most of I Corinthians 6 deals with an argument that Christians must not be associated with sin. "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:9-11). Starting with verse 12, Paul selects the first sin from this list (fornication) and shows that the ways people might justify this sin are poor arguments. While Paul is focusing on fornication, many of these arguments could be applied to other sins.

It is not the physical coupling that takes place during sexual intercourse that Paul is condemning. After all, sex within marriage is undefiled (Hebrews 13:4). It is the fact that the person is involved in sin while claiming to be a Christian that makes the physical act wrong. As Jesus noted, people have a strong tendency to focus on things that they can see instead of realizing the spiritual implications of what they do. "And He said to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man" " (Mark 7:18-23).

Paul's argument is that your body is the temple of God. It is the place where God's presence dwells and others should see God in you. The temple is to be kept holy (set apart for a special purpose). It must not be used to commit sin.

Your use of this passage completely misses Paul's point and turns the spiritual nature of the argument back to a physical one.

Under the Old Law, the Israelites were forbidden to imitate the idolatrous religions around them. One practice was to make marks on the body, either by tattoos or by scaring, to show which god (or ancestor) you served. So God told the Israelites, "You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:28).

Today, tattoos are used mostly for decorative purposes, but they can still be used wrongly. To use them to make statements that should not be associated with Christians would be obviously wrong. "But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks" (Ephesians 5:3-4). But we should also be careful about subtle associations. We don't want to tie ourselves to organizations or people who do not represent proper Christian attitudes. "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?" (II Corinthians 6:14). While vows of fellowship may not be involved, a tattoo is basically a permanent mark and people will make conclusions when they see it.

Even though tattoos are more accepted than in the past, you have to remember that they can impact your job prospects. Employers don't want noticeable tattoos detracting from the nature of their business.

Apply the same principles of modesty used for selecting clothing (I Timothy 2:9-10). You don't want to call attention to yourself because of a tattoo you have on you. If people notice you, it should be because of your Christ-like behavior.

Response:

Thank you for this! I appreciate it.

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