Friday, May 28, 2010


Charles Colson, "Would Jesus Get a Tatoo?" I agree with him.


Michael Stark said...

While I disagree wholeheartedly (obvious if you've seen my arms), I appreciate the sentiment and thought put forth in this article.

Do you think, Dr. Groothuis, that tattoos are still a pagan practice?

Doug Groothuis said...

1. Why do you disagree with Colson?
2. You could have tatoos and change your mind about them.
3. It is not intentionally pagan for a Christian who gets them for what they take to be good reasons (if they think that much about it). However, the intentional scarification of the body does raise questions about one's theology of the body. One should ask why God ever forbade them. That reason may apply today as well.

No need to respond publicly on this. We could talk about it.

James Manuel said...

Great article. I've been thinking about this a lot lately since some of the kids in my youth group have been thinking about getting tattoos.
I've known close friends who have gotten tattoos with the sincerest of intentions: a cross or the names of their children. But I've always wondered why one has to show devotion to such worthy things by such worldly means. Wouldn't it be great, for example, if you didn't NEED a tattoo to tell people how much you loved your children, if they could just tell from your actions?
On a side note, I'm glad I didn't get a tattoo in the same mindset as some of the kids in my youth group when I was their age. Otherwise, I'd be rocking a couple of Petra and DC Talk tattoos! It would be rather embarrassing.

Brian said...

Well when Moby Dick was written in the late 19th century, it was also not acceptable to wear flip flops to church or to say “darn”, etc. Colson is old school and is bringing his “Sunday Best” mentality to bear on the 21st century. Using Moby Dick right up front is a poor analogy anyhow.

As many Christians “stressed the continuing applicability of Old Testament law” many also did not and many today do not (e.g. Douglas Moo). I likewise fall into the camp of the Modified Lutheran View that the OT Law has no say-so in the life of the Christian today as we are no longer under the law but under grace, and furthermore Paul says we are now subject to the “law of Christ” (more on this later), not to the OT law which only brought death and bondage.

The ONE VERSE in Leviticus (“You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.” Lev 19:28) is open to interpretation as tattooing today is far different from the slashing and cutting the pagans did in the names of their gods “for the dead”. See here: If we are going to try and force that verse upon Christians today, why not the verse right before it that says, “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.” (Lev 19:27)? Where is Colson’s argument that all Christians should not trim their beards? It becomes a problem when we play pick and choose with the OT law. It’s either all or nothing.

He makes the argument that “God forbade the Israelites from tattooing their bodies” yet did he? The ONE VERSE in Leviticus is not so cut and dry. The word “tattoo” didn’t even exist back then as we got it from the Polynesians in the 18th century. Our body is a spiritual temple not a physical one. We should of course care for ourselves, etc. but in context with the New Testament the “graffiti” argument holds little weight.

Yet what if a Christian gets Christian tattoos? This would only further enhance their identity would it not? Colson makes an almost Gnostic argument when he says, “the marks of the Christian ought to be spiritual—etched into our souls—not etched onto our bodies.” This is an either/or statement, but it should be a both/and. Why can’t a Christian have both? He fails to make any strong scriptural argument at all. He merely pleads his case using his personal preferences.

Can Christ not redeem pagan practices and use them for his glory? Of course he can! I think he limits Jesus in this respect big time. He even argues against ear piercing as “even worse” than tattoos! Really?! Getting a temporary non permanent piercing is “worse” than tattoos? Show me your Scripture references for that! A good rule of thumb is that where the Bible stops speaking, so should we. Colson disregards this rule and shows a poor hermeneutical understanding of Law. The whole truth behind the truth is that Colson thinks that Christians should be subject to the OT law today. This is where the argument lies...SEE MORE BELOW...

Bill Honsberger said...

Wouldn't you also say that extreme hairdos/piercing, and the like are all screaming out "Look at ME - Look at ME"? Our self demands to be noticed and its interests are never Christ's.

Ryan Phelps said...

Colson's final argument comes close to committing a false dilemma fallacy. "God would prefer us to carry the true and visible marks of a Christian: faith, hope, and love" Is there really no way to have tatoos and also display the visible marks of a Christian?

Brian said...


The NT however argues strongly against this. God instituted His supreme OT law for the primary purpose of keeping and governing His people until a better, greater, and newer law would be instituted: the “Law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21, Galatians 6:2). When Jesus spoke of “the law” he spoke of it being synonymous with “the prophets.” Jesus combined them as one unit, the law and the prophets as inseparable, and made no moral/ceremonial distinctions between them. He called the Mosaic Law (as Paul and the rest of the biblical authors do), “the law”.

Christ would not have us keep any form of the Mosaic Law as New Covenant believers which would be for us to (as Paul said) “submit again to a yoke of slavery.” The Mosaic Law only brought death, condemnation, slavery and bondage. Jesus came to surpass the Mosaic Law (all of it) and open up for us a “new and living way.” Paul writes that we are “discharged from the law [not just a part of the law], dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code [the entire Mosaic Law including Leviticus 19:28] but in the new life of the Spirit.”

Lastly, to answer the original question posed by Colson, “Would Jesus get a tattoo?” the answer is a resounding yes. Jesus HAS a tattoo: “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Rev 19:16). So in the Spirit of WWJD, I say, its okay for Christians to get tattooed.

RkBall said...

"when Moby Dick was written in the late 19th century, it was also not acceptable to wear flip flops to church"

The Levitical prohibitions against wearing flip-flops were abrogated under the new covenant. The Reformers dealt with this subject extensively...

Papa Giorgio said...

Alright Doug, I will give this a try:

Leviticus 19:28 states: “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead, nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves…” (NASB). Is this a forbiddance of getting a tattoo? Or was this written for a specific people, in a specific time, with a specific example in mind (God’s mind). Lets see what some commentators have to say on what this example would be that caused God to forbid marking or engraving on one’s body.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary: v. 28“They shall make cuts or prints in their flesh for the dead; for the heathen did so to pacify the infernal deities…”

New Bible Commentary: vv. 29-31 “The main focus of this section is to exclude rites and practices associated with pagan, Canaanite religion, particularly those which were physically or morally disfiguring. Abuse of the body in the name of religion is a wide spread human aberration…”

The International Bible Commentary: v. 28 “Cutting the flesh was a feature of the worship of Melqart (Baal in Old Testament)…. There are various explanations of this self-disfigurement which have been advanced: to provide blood for a departed spirit, to render mourners unrecognizable to departed spirits, to drive away the spirits by the life-force resident in the blood, and so on…”

The point here is that if one were to interpret this in a wooden literal sense that applies to today’s tattooing of the body for non-religious purposes, then one would apply verse 27 to getting “bowl-cuts.” For we read: “You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads, nor harm the edges of your beard” (NASB).

Matthew Henry Commentary: “Those that worshipped the hosts of heaven, in honor of them, cut their hair so that their heads might resemble the celestial globe; but, as the custom was foolish in itself, so being done with respect to their false gods, it was idolatrous.”

Yes, Matthew Henry just called the bowl-cut “foolish,” but when done for religious purposes, it is wrong. As with the tattoo, if done for spiritual purposes, it is forbidden. If done for personal reasons, I see no harm. If I am wrong, I suspect that when one receives their glorified body, it will be washed clean with the blood of Christ. Because only then will we be perfect, the creation God originally intended.

I see no clear precedence in the Bible for not getting a tattoo if done for non-religious purposes. If one were to interpret this as following the law, and a maelstrom would soon follow; not to mention the book of Romans being thrown out the window.

Mike said...

The way I see it today, is that tattoos are indicative of man's obsession to brand his flesh as belonging to and indentifying with an idol or false god that he can't live without.

David said...

Does Romans 14:1-9 have any bearing on the idea of Christians getting tattoos?