August 25, 2003 Q & A



Does the OPC have a stated position regarding body-art (tattoos)? If there is no official position, what are your views on the subject? Leviticus 19:28 seems to forbid it, but some have reasoned that this only forbids tattoos done for "religious" reasons or "for the dead." Does the subject matter of the tattoo art determine whether it is right or wrong, or is the practice of getting tattoos in itself sinful? Is there a difference between getting tattoos in the Old Covenant vs. the New Covenant? My own family is split over this issue (and biased because some have tattoos) and I would appreciate a thoughtful answer.


Yours is an interesting question. A short perusal of this and related Scriptures shows me that tattooing is not in view. I don't remember, from my readings through the Bible, that tatooing is even mentioned. Lev. 19:28 refers to cuttings on the body in honor of the dead. And you are quite right that similar things like wearing clothes made of mixed fabrics or cutting the corners of the beard are ceremonial in nature (mixed fabrics symbolized mixture between the clean and unclean; cutting the corners of the beard is in reference to the dead). Today we wear garments made of a mixture of cotton and synthetic fabrics. We also eat pork. Both of these prohibitions have been set aside under the New Covenant (after Calvary and Pentecost). So, on that basis, it is not a sin to wear a tattoo.

However, most believers of my generation resist the temptation of tattooing. Why? One reason is that, once tattooed we're marked for life. (I understand that it is possible to remove tattoos, but it is costly and uncertain of complete success.) Many young people, in their youthful passions, tattoo words or pictures on their bodies that they wish they'd never done. But there is an inference from the fact that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit (if we are Christians; and all of us OUGHT to be!). Our bodies, as much of them as it is proper to display for all to see, "say" something: "[We are] fearfully and wonderfully made" (Ps. 139:13). Their balance, strength, yes, and their beauty "say" how wonderful is our God! What can some tattoo add to that message?

To put it another way: How can disfiguring the only body God gave you add to His glory; and that for life? But declaring it absolutely a sin is more than I am prepared to say. But if it is a sin (because one does it for sinful purposes, or the tattoo mars the appearance of one's body), it's not an unpardonable sin. We're all sinners; and Christians sin, but are assured of complete pardon when they turn to God and put their faith in Jesus' blood. So, that's the best answer I can give you at this time. If, after more research, I come up with a different answer, I'll let you know. And please feel free to come back with further questions.



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