Is the prohibition on tatoos moral law or judicial law?

Discussion in 'The Law of God' started by BayouHuguenot, Jun 6, 2013.

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  1. JimmyH

    JimmyH Puritan Board Junior

    Thank you for the reply. If I had not been in the world of tattooing as a customer, and as a professional, for so many years I too might feel repelled by them. Joan Baez when asked why she got a tattoo said,"How can you explain an impulse." If there are many psychological reasons why people choose to mark their bodies I, from my years in the business, would say the reasons are many and varied. Within myself, going by my own inner soul searching I have come to the conclusion that it is a primal urge coming out of the DNA depending on where in pre history that leads.

    I've never looked at it as idolotry. As in 'worshipping the creature rather than the creator' ? I look at my growing library of Calvin's Commentaries, Institutes, Owen's works, Flavell, Sibbes, Edwards, Murray, Bavinck and Warfield. I will have to live another 20 years to possibly read it all, and wonder if it is not a form of idolatry. We have to be so watchful of our 'old man.'
  2. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Every law was tied back to the Decalogue as the cornerstone. Lev.19:28 requires a discursive reasoning process to get there, which is demonstrative of its greater positive-than-moral nature. There is no explicit mention of idolatry. Consider the context, the v immediately prior: 27 "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard." Seriously, if one is going to appeal to the moral nature of v28, then how does overlooking v27 not seem completely arbitrary? v29 is probably addressing cultic-prostitution, and the moral connection to the 7th commandment is immediate, on the very surface. Appealing to the chapter as a whole just doesn't work.

    As for the applicability in NC terms, I have to ask the obvious question: in most of our own cultural territory, do tattoos represent service to an alien god? I don't think so. I know there are exceptions in certain corners, but outside those corners, even those practitioners recognize that most tattoos they encounter don't represent a rival religion. So, tattoos fail to rise to the level of "meat sacrificed to idols," nor can we find pre-Mosaic, Noaich-style universal commandments like Gen.9:4 prohibiting blood.

    I respect your more rigorous take on this question, but Rom.14:5 seems quite applicable here, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." Which means, dear brother, that some of your judgments--for instance toward Andres--are definitely over the line.
  3. Caroline

    Caroline Puritan Board Sophomore

    I have a tattoo, and I've thought about getting another one, but I don't make impulse decisions about that kind of thing, so I let the idea simmer for a long time before I go through with it. In regard to the one I have, I'm not sorry at all. I totally agree with Andrew that it is more on the level of a cool t-shirt than some deep heart issue. My son wants one. He is autistic and does not get to make many decisions for himself, so I think when he turns 18 next year, we will probably allow him to get a tattoo, as long as it is tasteful.

    People who take one look at someone's skin and make snap judgments are the ones who have issues. If someone told me they were deeply disappointed that I chose to imprint my lovely skin with ink, I'd just say that I did not do it to please them, and they are welcome to look elsewhere. You really can't make everyone happy with your choice of haircut, clothes, etc, as any pastor can tell you (parishioners are notorious for having opinions about how a pastor should dress and what he should eat and where he should live, etc).

    I really prefer everyone just have a little sense of humor about these things. Tattoos can be foolish, they can be pretty, they can be meaningful to the person who has them, whatever. Mostly, it's just ink in your skin. Unless they are promoting evil in some way, it would be good if people stopped taking them so seriously. My husband likes mine. If some random other man doesn't, I don't really care.
  4. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    I realize the context here is responding to a likely (implicit) connection with pagan practices in Leviticus 19:27. One called out people, Israel, in a Gentile pagan world.

    But the fact is many, many tatoos today (not all, and this is anecdotal) are designed to invoke lust, curiosity toward occult or fascination with it, violence, sex immorality, to "show off," to call attention to oneself. Granted there may be an exception of someone who only would mark their body with notorious chemical to portraying effigies of Puritans (though I have never seen that), but in general, what is the purpose?

    Are our bodies really are own to make such a determination?

    Is it really the Christian prerogative to demand that he be able to do what he pleases with "his" own body, is that all there is to it?

    If the purpose is not occult, sex immorality, violence, vainglorious pride, then what?

    Aren't other parts of Scripture getting to that?

    Anecdotal evidence only, Christians I meet with tattoos generally did so in a past life pattern of disobedience, not in a recent fit of obedience. It is a source of regret, and removing tattoos, while not impossible, can be painful and damage skin further.

    I can't quite see this as only in the realm of Paul's admonishment for each "to be persuaded in his own mind about the practice." It is first a visible, very public attribution- and is often intended to be such. It involves other people.:2cents:

    The very public nature of tattoos creates greater duty and care for the Christian.

    Just think for a moment, a very large tattoo across the breast strap of a woman of a motorcycle, a cross and an image of the sun sitting in the pew in front during worship. Setting aside the possible second command violations, it creates a distraction. And what effect upon young people?

    Last edited: Jun 6, 2013
  5. Caroline

    Caroline Puritan Board Sophomore

    Scott, if we are going to stop everything that can be interpreted as evoking lust or calling attention to oneself, then there is never an end to that. I've been in churches where women were not allowed to wear sandals because they evoke lust in some men. Women were not allowed to wear their hair down because it called attention to themselves. Men were not allowed to wear the color red because it was attention-seeking, etc, etc. Tattoos are not always, or even mostly, visible and public. The ones that you see are, and that is why you see them. People frequently have them on their feet or their back or upper arm or some other location that they could either show or not show, depending on the situation.

    We do have stewardship over our own bodies, and we decorate them constantly. I assume you get haircuts. Is this not public and vainglorious? If you care nothing for what people think, then why not grab a pair of scissors and just hack it off that way? If you spend money on a nice suit for church, is that not prideful? Do you have the right to do as you please that way with your money, which ultimately belongs to the Lord? I say this tongue-in-cheek obviously, but you get my point. Walk into any church and you will see people who spent money to look what they perceive to be better. You will see girls in decorative high heels and guys wearing ties (what exactly is the point of a tie? what function does it serve beyond decoration?) There is no case for those things that you couldn't also make for a tattoo. High heels are damaging to women's feet. There is only one reason to wear them--to look nice. One might say that they even attract attention sometimes, but no one condemns those things as much as some would condemn a tattoo that no one in church can even see.
  6. Caroline

    Caroline Puritan Board Sophomore

    No one suggested that haircuts were wrong. But just that if you really are not vainglorious, you could always hack it off yourself with a pair of scissors. I am not even suggesting that you do that. The point is merely that everyone, EVERYONE takes measures to decorate themselves--takes care in how they look and seeks to change it for the better. And they spend money doing it. And most of those things are more public than tattoos. Most people who have tattoos (including myself) have them in locations that we can easily cover (feet, upper arms, etc) and thus it provides no distraction to anyone at all in most situations.

    A pair of high heels or a tie is far more public and visible vainglory than most tattoos.
  7. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    getting haircuts is probably not the best example you could use to support an ad vocation of Christian liberty. There is a utilitarian nature to them as we are all aware, but there is even scripture that might support the practice.
    (1 Corinthians 11:14)

    It's not a matter, logically or biblically of everything that can (subjectively) be perceived as being harmful to self or neighbor.
    It is a matter of the purpose, what our bodies are for (it's not natural to permanently mark them with chemicals), whose they are, and how they affect our neighbor.
    Yes, a sexual inciting tattoo is harmful. So is one that provokes fascination or curiosity with occult. Both are distracting during worship, studying, and often in public.

    The Christian life is not a hypothetical, subject "island unto itself."
    That's really where a discussion about this public, personification of body, ought focus for the believer.
  8. BobVigneault

    BobVigneault Bawberator

    Andres, you are not the "beautiful woman" that I had in mind but tell you what, I'll withhold my judgment until I see you in an evening gown. :p

  9. sevenzedek

    sevenzedek Puritan Board Junior

    I love Presbyterianism, when it is expressed correctly. Glory to God for the freedoms we have in Christ. Our freedoms often come very close to the line of sin. For example, eating food offered to idols. Another example would be pipe smoking. It comes close to sin, but is it? No. Not necessarily. The prohibition of tattoos in the bible are not there because of how the body becomes altered by the ink. Rather, the prohibition of tattoos are there because of peripheral issues that make it sinful. Altering the body with ink is one thing. Marks for the dead are another thing. So are the images being tattooed another thing besides. Tattoos are not the thing forbidden. The onus is on "for the dead". Therefore, it is legalism that makes the ink unrighteous. God never said that. We may infer many things from God's word that God has not declared to be sinful. Are women's piercing sinful? How about a man's piercings? Did God say? I am not asking whether it seems like God said this or that. Legalists infer many things from God's word. That is what they known for. Did God say altering the body was sinful? There are, however, peripheral issues that must be dealt with. There are things in the bible that must be inferred, but only by good and necessary consequence. If we go beyond that, we will be inventing portions of our religion and become Pharisees. Uncharitable ones too.
  10. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Lev.19:27 You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.

    There it is: the verse right next to the one that sparked this thread.

    I don't want to see any goatees on a "Christian." Pure vanity. Worship distraction.

    And while we're at it, let's get those temple-tufts sprouting.

  11. Rich Koster

    Rich Koster Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Personally, I don't want any needles stuck in me. I have no desire for tats. I have no desire to mark myself to identify with anything. God has invisibly, spiritually, marked (placed a signet seal) me, so that's enough.
  12. Caroline

    Caroline Puritan Board Sophomore

    How did my response to Scott end up ahead of Scott's comment? I suddenly feel like maybe I have the gift of prophecy like my Pentecostal mama always said. :wow:

  13. BobVigneault

    BobVigneault Bawberator

    Here is a more complete description of my take on the relationship between tats and character.

    Andres, I readily admit that my response to tattoos is shallow and unfair. I have these character flaws. I'm not going to tattoo my character flaws on my body, I'll just keep my mouth shut until the topic comes up and then voice my shallow opinion and let others point it out. I'm fine with that.

    In our church there is a new guy named Dusty. Dusty has tats on both his arms, legs, back and taking up the entire back of his shaved head. This guy is frightening looking. My neighbor and dear friend also has tats all over his body as does his wife - whole sleaves. Joe has the entire alphabet in gothic letters tattoo'd on his feet and the numbers 1 through 10 on each toe. I love Joe, he comes to my church. Why does he come? Because Dusty was his roommate in prison and it was Dusty who turned Joe back to the Lord.

    Dusty is the scariest looking dude I have ever seen and one of the sweetest men I've been privileged to know. I will not let ANYONE impugn his sanctified character but those tats send a thousand wrong messages to people. The Lord is using him, in spite of his Manson like appearance.

    But if I can, I will strongly suggest that people stay away from getting permanent messages in their skin or at least take a long SOBER season to think about it.

    I am from a different generation, Andres. Tats were for prisoners and sailors and rebels. The next generation of Christians will all have tats because culture is strong. I accept that. Personally, and I mean personally, I can't stand the look of them.
  14. Vladimir

    Vladimir Puritan Board Freshman

    It is very important what people think of us. In the morning, before I get out, I contemplate that I am a son of the the one true God. Is it not going to influence how I dress? Of course it is. I did not wear suits before, but I am a born again, blood washed follower of Jesus Christ, I have outmost respect for my brothers and sisters in Christ and I am a representative of our High Lord to the lost world around. So I wear a suit and a tie. And when I buy a suit, I choose one that looks good enough and does not cost more than it should.

    I know I will one day be stoned to death by a group of ladies, but I do not see wearing high heels as coming out of respect for others or out of representation of the Lord's people. They promote the frame of a woman's body. Pants also do that, by the way.
  15. sevenzedek

    sevenzedek Puritan Board Junior

    In addition to what I already said, I add this: If Timothy can be righteously circumcised because of righteous motives, another form of body modification that comes very close to sin, then it is quite possible for someone to get tattoos for righteous reasons.
  16. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    And we will agree to disagree and I am glad you are not my kids Elder over this situation also. I also believe you are raking too much of Leviticus under the rug with your explanation. I could say more but will let it pass.
  17. reformedminister

    reformedminister Puritan Board Sophomore

    "Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness. Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I [am] the LORD. Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I [am] the LORD your God." Leviticus 19:29-31

    I guess we should just ignore these passages as well? As has been mentioned, some of these judicial commandments are based on moral principles. I don't think that Leviticus 19:28 should be a proof text to prohibit tattoos. However, given the nature of their prominence in our society and the history of tattooing in general being pagan, we must ask ourselves does it promote godliness? Or, is it just a way for people to justify their carnal desires to fit in with the world? By the way the passage is not clear that the marks printed on a person was "for the dead." The cuttings in the flesh was for the dead. We must ask why God did not want people putting ink on their bodies? Let us at least be affirmative that this was a PAGAN practice. What makes it different today? It's history and popularity is pagan all the same. Let's not Christianize it for the sake of fitting in and justifying it on the grounds of Christian liberty.

    "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." 1 Cor. 10:23
  18. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    You're a parent, and your children have a duty to revere you, so long as you exercise veto authority over their decisions.

    Not that it matters, but based on everything I've said, exactly what advice do you think I'd be giving to your kids if I was their elder?

    Assuming your present leadership agrees wholeheartedly with you on the subject, do you want them meting out a Lord-Supper suspension to your 25yr old grown-man son for getting inked?
  19. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Come on Bruce. The surrounding texts to that are also pertinent to Idolatry.
    Lev 19:26    Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment, nor observe times.
    Lev 19:27    Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.
    Lev 19:28    Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.
    Lev 19:29    Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness.
    Lev 19:30    Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.

    We are His Temple. I think you are sweeping stuff under the rug as you might think I am overstating them.
  20. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    As long as I exercise veto authority over their decisions? After that what? Do as you think appropriate? I have one child (21 years old) who went against all of the adults in my family and got a big cross tatted on his back with Joshua 1:9 printed in it. He quit going to Church before that. He doesn't even go to Church now. I grew up in the Biker World. I was in the Navy. I still knew better as he did. I didn't, he did. I don't know of anyone who has gotten one in my congregation. I do know of an RP Elder who has them but I haven't entered into a discussion with him as I don't personally know him. Just noticed it looked like he got them BC. And yes, I would expect and hope someone would admonish the practice stop as I have with my son.
  21. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member


    Why leave off v27? You're invoking special pleading at this point to include v28 as obviously fraught with moral connotation, and stopping with that.

    The form most of these arguments are taking that impugn the simple act of tattooing as SIN are exactly what is used to prohibit alcohol, or indict various forms of fashion in dress or hairstyle. Shall we break out the burkhas? How about ditching the makeup, ladies? Let the beards flow, dudes.

    It is possible to sin in dress (mainly because it ceases to be covering), and even in hairstyle due to associated intent. It's possible to sin in tattooing. But we are not OT Israel, and we have been freed from the simple positive prohibition of Lev.19:28.

    Christians come from and belong to countless cultures, and our "clean-shaven" western appearance, our undecorated skin--maybe these things don't sit well with people from another place, who attached negative connotations to such a presentation? No matter where we come from, we need to get over superficial value judgments.

    I really think that many of the presumed "godless" tie-ins here to tattoos are the result of culture-clash, and don't really have anything to do with morality or religion at all. The "source" argument is simply fallacious.

    I like what BobV had to say, because I think he totally "gets" this point. He knows that he has an especial revulsion for tats. And he realizes where it comes from.

    Maybe heaven will be culturally homogeneous. Or maybe not.
  22. Andres

    Andres Puritan Board Doctor

    Well, I guess I appreciate your honesty!

    The way you feel about tattoos is pretty similar to the way I feel about men with long hair. The difference though is that, while I personally don't care for long hair on men, I don't think it's my place to judge their character by it or immediately assume negative reasons why they must wear their hair that way. In fact, I've come to know a few men over the years who have (or had) long hair that I have come to respect as brothers in Christ. ;)
  23. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    The argument is THE SAME as the one you're making. The very same. The hair-deal is as much about idols and pagan-religious/cultural practice as the rest of the verses in the passage. It just *sounds* extreme to our ears, when the topic is hair, not skin. Which is my basic point of contention--that we're comfortable glossing right over that verse, in order to "hold the line" at tattoos.

    If we are going to invoke the necessity to look like OT Israel in the one case (tattoos) in order to promote holiness, then it is ARBITRARY to choose v28, and ignore the same duty to look like OT Israel in the case of facial hair and corner-locks, v27.

    We're his Temple, so let's start making our hair look like it? No goatees? No lambchops? Not even a full trimmed beard?
  24. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Look like Israel? I am not advocating a look alike. The cutting of hair had to do with Idolatry according historical commentary. It was an avoidance of appearance and practice. As I noted there is no condemnation laid out here on my part but a judgment that the practice is not a good practice and highly probable to be wrong.
  25. BobVigneault

    BobVigneault Bawberator

    Andrew, I love you, you big ol' teddy bear. Let's never argue again. :hug:
  26. arapahoepark

    arapahoepark Puritan Board Graduate

    I have long hair and am repulsed by tattoos lol
  27. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    For the record, I would probably say, "I wouldn't get a tattoo, on account of these risks and considerations..." just as I would opine against smoking.

    But someone here needs to be stoutly defending a degree of liberty-of-conscience and freedom from Moses, rather than looking for as many ways as we can find to bring him back in, while also proudly shining up those cultural-agreements we have (or have adopted) as somehow evidence of our cultural-conformity. And sanitizing those aspects that we think "self-evidently" DON'T MATTER any more (like the facial hair).

    Aren't there enough plainly moral-duties to which we come short?
  28. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Graduate

    Now this one should be a requirement :warfield:
  29. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    1Cor.11:14 "Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him?"

    Hopefully, you are comfortable that the length of your hair is in fact within "nature's" instruction. What defines "long" is reasonably subjective--we don't pull out measuring tape. In the text, Paul seems to be comparing hairstyles (men and women), apparently saying that men's hair should be shorter than women's, and that no one needs the Bible to tell him that. Nature is a sufficient teacher. At the very least men should not look like women, and vice versa.

    But regardless, I would think characterizing one's hair as "long," might call for some qualification, given the direction of this thread and Paul's explicit NT statement.
  30. Caroline

    Caroline Puritan Board Sophomore

    What this boils down to, though, is, "My body decorations are sanctified, and those of others are not." There is nothing in the Bible that says men should wear ties. Jesus did not. Some women consider wearing heels to be respectful. In fact, if you look at pictures of church camps in the 1930's and 1940's here in the USA, all women wore heels even while hiking because that was considered appropriate and respectful for church events of all kinds, including camps.

    I used to be in a church that claimed that pants on a woman made men lust and should not be allowed. In practice, I wondered whether some of the men in the church actually preferred skirts on women because they allowed more immodesty. They really seemed to enjoy work days when the women in their skirts had to be up on ladders cleaning the windows. There were also lots of displays on windy days when skirts blew over women's heads at the Sunday school picnic.

    My point here is that arguments can be made both ways. I always encourage my daughters to wear pants in order to be more modest. Ever since I stopped wearing skirts, I stopped accidentally flashing people, and I prefer it that way.

    But I don't judge women who wear skirts or think that they are intentionally causing men to lust.

    These kinds of arguments about what is "respectful" can go on forever. My husband is a painting and wallpaper contractor. He'd look pretty silly doing that in a suit. There's a lot of context to things. I don't know how it is in Russia, but here in the USA, tattoos are pretty well main-streamed in a lot of places. Nobody thinks twice about a tattoo or thinks it means much of anything unless it is in some way extreme.

    PS Lest anyone here misunderstand (if you leave a gate open on Puritanboard, people WILL go through it), I'm not against ties at all. My pastor has never appeared in the pulpit without one, and I'm okay with that. In certain cases, it is considered culturally respectful. I just don't think it is a "sin" line. If a pastor is Scottish and wears a skirt (what do they call those things? Kilts?), I guess that is okay in the right context, if that was considered an appropriate thing to wear. If my pastor appeared in one next Sunday, I'd be concerned about his mental health. If a woman is in a situation in which pants are the sign of harlotry, I think she'd best wear a skirt. But in a culture in which pants on women are widely accepted and skirts can even be considered provocative, I think women are well-advised to wear pants generally speaking (but skirts are okay, especially in certain acceptable situations in which women are not likely to be on ladders or otherwise exposed). In some parts of Africa, women routinely appear topless, but I wouldn't advise that here in the USA. There's a lot of context to these things, and any time we try to draw rigid lines about it, we run into trouble. Ultimately, if people want to be purely "biblical" about clothes, men need to wear robes and sandals. The fact that no one here does that is a sign that we all know on some level that the rules on appearance are open to cultural interpretation.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2013
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