Most students around campus know the name Jeff Bethke. His spoken word is raw and inspiring, so much so that he even appeared at APU last year to share his gospel for the Lord. His latest video on YouTube about tattoos has had over 80,000 hits within the past four days.
Our generation is no stranger to the topic of tattoos. Everyone everywhere seems to have one. According to collegecrunch.org, there was an almost nine percent increase in tattooed adults from 2003 to 2006. It is a current new fad that has many Christians asking “Are tattoos sinful?” Would Jesus ever define our redemption by how much ink is on our body?
The search began for an answer. The classic argument comes from Leviticus 19:28 which says, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor any print upon you, I am the Lord.” It would seem clear that Jesus is definitely condemning ink art on our bodies. Leviticus 19:26 states: “Ye shall not eat anything with blood.” So is Jesus calling us to be vegetarians as well?
It seems clear that when this tattoo verse is taken out of context it would seem that God does not want us to have them. According to Old Testament experts, we must also think about the time this was written when Pagan worshipers were looked down upon for worshiping the dead. God wanted his chosen people to be distinctly different than all others who worshiped different gods. These people would cut themselves, carve sayings onto their bodies and worship the dead as gods.
“The Maori people of New Zealand are known for having such tribal tattoos,” adjunct mass communications professor and Pastor Phil Reed said.
In the book of Leviticus, God is giving his people rules to follow in order to remain healthy. The book goes on to to say that no believer of God shall eat any planted fruit until three years after it was cultivated. These commandants to God’s people were clearly to help them remain living different lifestyles than surrounding people during that time.
Most students who have tattoos have them for a similar reason: telling their story, or symbolizing what they stand for. Not one student said that they get ink to show it off or to look cool.
“I would never get a tattoo just for attention,” freshman biology major Crissy Shevlin said.
Another Bible verse that is used to defame tattoos is Revelation 19:16 which states: “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” Nowhere in that verse does it say Jesus will return with an erasable ink marking on his thigh. It seems that Jesus also thought of tattoos as a way to express oneself, but this scripture should not be taken literally either.
After talking with Reed, who has been a pastor and professor for many years, it was interesting to see why he had such a firm stance on tattoos.
“I got my first tattoo when I was 17,” said Reed.
He feels that today there are few health issues involved with getting tattoos, and they are meant to say who you are as a person. His second tattoo is on his right ankle that he got with four other friends. Reed believes that as long as a person’s ink is not their sole point of focus, and God is, then there is nothing wrong with expressing oneself through such art.
Another controversial bible verse found in I Corinthians 6:19, states “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, who you have received from God? You are not your own.” Some critics of tattoos argue that if our body is a temple then tattoos are an act of defacing our temple.
“Both my tattoos relate back to my creator, and praise him,” Shevlin said.
Most other students who have tattoos have a significant reason for them which Reed says are the right reasons to get a tattoo. Others do not necessarily think they are sinful, but they definitely would regret it in the future.
“I personally would never get one, but my brother has one,” sophomore communications major Stephanie Lussier said. Other APU students have agreed that they did not really think of the consequences of a tattoo, such as it jeopardizing a job.
“Important questions need to be asked before getting a tattoo, like how will this tattoo affect the way I interact with the world? Will it or could it have a negative impact on a potential employer? Would someone assume something about me because of the tattoo that isn’t necessarily true?’” Theology professor Robin Dugall said.
He believes that although tattoos are not necessarily sinful, they should in no way affect a person’s character or commitment to faith. Our body is a temple, according to Dugall, and he believes that our bodies, since they are a visible testimony to the world of who we are, should be Christ honoring.
It seems that this topic is still very controversial, but Scripture cannot declare that tattoos are sinful. As long as a person’s body is treated as a temple, which includes many aspects like our mental and physical health, then God is not judgmental.
According to Shevlin, as Christians we are all redeemed by Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. As Christians it should be more important to worry about spreading the gospel than ostracizing those who express themselves with some ink.