Question and Answer

Are tattoos sinful?

Question:

Has the OPC made a ruling yet on tattoos? It is so sad to see young Christians in rebellion and seeking to overplay their Christian liberty by getting their bodies all marked up with tattoos. They refuse to apply Leviticus 19:28 and 1 Corinthians 6:19 to their lives. They also set a bad example for the children in the church. Can they be kicked out of the church?

Answer:

Your question, for the most part, has been asked and addressed twice before on OPC.ORG. See here and here. Both questions and the responses to them deal with the Leviticus text and 1 Corinthians 6:19. They make an important point in noting that the context of Leviticus 19 has to do with paganism (idolatry) specifically, and not just tattoos generally. In other words, the prohibition against tattoos in Leviticus 19 seems to be contextualized by the prohibition against idolatry, cutting oneself for the dead, etc. This is clearly sinful, but as the other answerers point out, it leaves open the idea that not all tattoos are done in conjunction with idolatry, and thus are not automatically sinful. Children, for instance, sometimes put on washable butterfly "tattoos" at camp, etc. Are these in and of themselves sinful? I would have a hard time saying yes. The online answers also point out that the OPC has no "official position" on tattoos. That is also my understanding. The point about 1 Corinthians 6:19 is helpful. I personally would refrain from tattooing myself for numerous reasons, including this verse, but only by implication. In other words, I would be reluctant to say that on the basis of this verse, tattoos are sinful. Excessive eating (gluttony) leads to obesity; and this is just as much a violation of 1 Corinthians 6:19 (by implication) as are many other things that we do that are excessive.

You ask if a person having a tattoo can be kicked out of the church for that. I think the answer is no. One of the answerers above notes the particular ceremonial law context of Leviticus 19. I would tend to agree with the observation. Reading the rest of the chapter, we find prohibitions against eating fruit from trees within three years of their planting, as well as not standing up in the presence of an old man. Would we also discipline someone for these things? A plea for consistency would be difficult to bear.

In closing, I might suggest a different approach. Some tattoos are offensive and dishonoring to God simply by their content. Perhaps it would be worth graciously asking the person why they got it, when they got it, and how it brings glory to God. Sometimes questions like this can lead down helpful paths conversationally. I also think that you could raise the question of wisdom and prudence. In other words, even if it is lawful for them to have tattoos, is it wise? Is it profitable? Paul said that many things were permissable that were still not profitable (1 Cor. 6:12). I would want to ask a person, "how are these things profitable for the kingdom, for God's glory, for winning people to Christ, for setting an example of purity to younger Christians?" While this may not have the force you indicate in your question, it could still be a gracious way to "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:25).


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