The other day I was thinking about a sermon made by Pastor Steve Thuo in one Kkrew Bible Study sessions. He talked of Christian constipation, a scenario where Christians constipate from ‘too much’ content mostly centered on the same genre.
Silomasays mission is to inspire, motivate rebuke and give hope. I am in more than 20 Christian WhatsApp groups and every morning I get an average of 3-5 devotions from the groups. Most of these devotions mostly talk of God’s plan for mankind and center around inspiration and motivation.
I do not imply that this is wrong but if I get an average of 3 devotions in these groups, that means I have a total of 75 devotions every morning that center around the same subject. This becomes monotonous as I dig through the same content every morning hence the constipation Pastor Thuo was talking about.
Pastor Thuo also insisted that we Christians should not wait to be fed by others who have already fed on their devotions but strive to source our own. At Silomasays, I focused on the same genre for the longest time – inspiration. I love asking questions, I have tons of them and this is why I engaged veteran theologians in many of my conversations. An idea struck me and I thought to have these inspired men of God to do topics on modern issues affecting Christians, apologetics, Bible exegesis etc. This is an incredible piece done by one Pastor Sang’ on tattoo. It is worth a read.
The question of tattoos is a hot topic usually discussed especially by those on the defensive divide. In any conversation I have engaged regarding tattoos, I have witnessed vehemence being exuded both by those with soft spot for tattooing and those who reject it. I have also observed that there is less contention when non-Christians tattoo themselves but there’s great agitation among the Christian community when Christians tattoo themselves. The debate on whether it is right or wrong to one tattooing their body is confined within Christian community. Considering the fact Christians get their instructions from one inspired document (Bible), one wonders about the basis for the difference regarding tattoos. Shouldn’t we have one common view about tattoos? Hasn’t the Bible clearly spoken into this matter? This article seeks to interrogate the reason for the differing perspectives among a community that ought to have one common view of issues.
The Tattooed Christians vs. The Un-Tattooed Christians
Perhaps there is a need to hear both sides of the divide first. As stated earlier, there are those who hold the view that there is nothing wrong with tattooing one’s body. But there are also the conservative Christians whose sight of tattoos on a believer’s body raises their eyebrows and reddens their eyes. You will immediately notice that the tattooing culture has divided the Christian community into two. Allow me to identify these two types of Christians as ‘the tattooed’ and ‘the un-tattooed’.
The battle line is already drawn. The tattooed Christians are revolting against the patronizing sentiments of the un-tattooed Christians. Whereas the un-tattooed Christians are yielding to urge of the perceived Biblical mandate of categorically correcting sinful cultures, tattooing being one of them. The un-tattooed Christians are agitated by sight of their brothers and sisters queuing before the tattoo artists to have their bodies decorated with the images of Jesus, scripture and beautiful flowers. Each of this camp dismisses the reasons given by the other.
The ‘tattooed Christians’ usually dismiss the agitation of the ‘un-tattooed Christians’ on the ground of art and personal preference. I could summarize the main reasons given by the ‘tattooed Christians’ to three things; negation of the positions held by the un-tattooed Christians, art expression, identification with sinners so as to win them to Christ and personal preference.
On the negation of the other side’s argument, the heated debate is usually caused when these type of Christians negate the arguments submitted by the un-tattooed Christians. For instance, you will hear these type of Christians arguing that the Leviticus text does not apply to the New Testament believers. Leviticus 19:28 is one of the most widely used arguments against tattoos. This text states that; “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves.” You will hear such Christians stating that Leviticus laws were completely discontinued in the same way temple sacrifices in the temple were discontinued. According to this category of Christians, the usage of text in Leviticus as evidence to discount tattooing is effectively rendered weak and baseless.
In regard to the art expression, the ‘tattooed Christians’ defend that the body tattoos allows one to artistically express himself/herself. In fact, the argument goes that one can even express his/her love for God by tattooing a scripture or a Cross on his body.
‘Who are thou oh un-tattooed Christian to hinder me from expressing my love for God!’ says the un-tattooed Christian.
Actually, I once met a Christian lady who tattooed her chest with a big Cross arguing that it reminds her of the love of God! The chest of a lady with a big Cross! You do not want to imagine beyond that! Neither do I want to betray my conclusion now!
Identification with sinners so as to win them to Christ is another reason given by the tattooed Christians. Honestly, who would want to win souls to Christ? Didn’t Paul said that ‘I become all things to all men, so that I may win some to the kingdom?’ This may seem little, but I have engaged with a Christian whose main motivation for tattooing is to win souls. With testimonies upon testimonies, the Christian built her case. And as you know, it is not easy contrasting someone’s personal experiences and encounters. The argument here is that the tattoos on a Christian’s body has a salvivic or redemptive agenda! What an interesting thought.
The last reason (as I have so far heard) is that of personal preference. This is usually straightforward and does not need much debate. ‘I just prefer tattooing myself’, says the tattooed Christian. In the same I prefer ‘mursik’ over ‘mala’; these Christians prefer having tattoo-decorated-body skins over plain body skins! How can one disapprove that? He or she does this for leisure or because he/she just loves it.
As for the un-tattooed Christians, the main reasons for the rejection of tattoos are; explicit forbiddance by God’s Word as captured in Leviticus 19:28; implicit forbiddance by God’s Word as indicated in the need to take care of the temple of the Holy Spirit (body) as seen in 1 Cor. 6:19, undermining natural beauty as God originally wills.
The explicit forbiddance by God’s word captured in Leviticus 19:28 is perhaps the most quoted during tattoos debate. Before going further, permit me to challenge the un-tattooed Christians over the interpretation and application of this text. It is my submission that using this text as a proof against tattoos is overstretching its meaning. The interpretation given to this text is usually taken out of context. Those using never considers the fact that this text is given in the context of idolatry where those who tattooed themselves was basically on religious basis. Therefore, applying this out of context increases the intensity of fight between the two opposing camps.
As for the implicit forbiddance by God’s Word, un-tattooed Christians argues that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and should not be subjected to any intentional damage. This assumes that tattooing damages the body skin. Indeed, in my research, I have found out that tattooing does damage the skin. Actually, tattooing is usually discussed alongside piercing of one’s body. Nevertheless, there are people who have tattooed their bodies and have not experienced skin damage. This also gives room for more unnecessary debate. The text that is usually applied here is 1 Cor. 6:19. Again, this text is talking about sexual immorality and not necessarily tattooing the body.
On the point of low view of the natural beauty as God originally intended, seems to suggest that one need not to enhance the beauty that God has given to us. Again, this looks like a good point but is defeated by the fact that even un-tattooed Christians enhance their beauty by grooming themselves through shaving, make ups etc. There is no Scripture that explicitly forbids one from enhancing their beauty through grooming. On this argument, the tattooed Christian wins the debate, with my support!
Refocusing the Debate: Fighting the real battle
Indeed the above differing positions usually create heated debates and sometimes lead to bitter exchange of words! Notice that the heated debates are among Christians and the common denominator is the morality of tattoos by Christians. I must admit that the fact I am addressing the morality of tattoo in this article testifies to the thorniness of the matter hence I refuse to take it lightly. Nevertheless, there is a need to call the warring camps for a re-strategizing and refocusing. We need to ask questions relating to the reasons and results for the battle. Could it be we are fighting the wrong battle on the wrong battle ground? Since, the tattooed Christians and the un-tattooed ones are CHRIST-IANS, who believe in the CHRIST of the Bible, I believe bouncing from the text ought to be the basis of our refocusing the debate.
It is evident that that there is no black and white argument against the issue of tattoo. This is because we do not have explicit scripture against the issue. This does not mean there is nothing immoral about tattooing one’s body. I submit that a critical analysis of tattooing culture in light of the spirit of the law (in this case the Scripture), tends to reveal an existence of something sinister about the culture that needs to be addressed. Indeed the satanic and sensual images drawn on the bodies of people communicate a message beyond just art expression. The disfigurement seen due to tattooing and piercing is not to be seen as neutral but an expression of internal problem that needs fixing.
Having said that, it is important to note that the tattooed Christians would object such ideas of satanic symbols etc. by claiming they do not tattoo these symbols but only tattoo the images of Jesus, the Cross of Jesus, the Scripture, especially that of John 3:16! And I would argue that according to the letter of the law, the tattooed Christians are right but on the sphere of the spirit of the law, they are absolutely wrong. This is because of the biblical principle called ‘stumbling block’ that is clearly captured in Romans 14, 1 Corinthian 8 and 10.
The stumbling block principle is a principle of Christian life and conduct that whatever we do or say should not become hindrance to the faith and life of fellow Christians. The questions that the tattooed Christians need to ask are; why are we having two camps of Christians who are bitterly confronting each other about tattoos? Why are they insisting on their positions, concerning a matter that brings such divisions? What exactly is the motive behind their need for tattoo? What if they do not tattoo themselves? What is the worst that could happen to them if they do not?
On the other hand, the un-tattooed Christians need to critique their basis of rejecting tattooing culture; what postures of attitude are they exhibiting during the rejection of the culture? Is it attitude of genuine love/ concern for the tattooed Christians or spiritual pride? Could it be that they are winning battle and losing the War? In other words, what motivates their rebukes on those tattooing themselves?
Is it possible that the un-tattooed Christians are trying to force the Scriptures to say what they are not saying? And as I said, unhealthy conflicts come when we claim that the Bible categorically term an issue sin when it has not. Contextually reading the Scripture shows that it does not categorize tattooing as sin in the same way it does with stealing, murder, lying etc. Nevertheless, the Scripture shows that though some things are neutral, their application could lead to sin. For instance Romans 14: 15 states that ‘do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died for’. This means that any believer who cares less about the implication of his actions on the eternal destiny of another person is displeasing God hence sinning.
In my view, the tattooed Christians have no biblically justifiable reason to tattoo themselves. This is because tattooing does not add any eternal value. If anything it has the potential of injuring another man’s faith leading to ultimate destruction. Tattoos can also be a disadvantage to the person. I actually read an article that argued that ‘many adults find themselves ineligible for some jobs, because businesses will not employ them with their hands covered in tattoos, impossible to conceal years after their youthful folly’. As I was concluding on this article, a friend of mine told of a ‘ruracio’ (Kikuyu’s name for dowry negotiation) that was cut short since the lady had a tattoo on her thigh! Though I am yet to verify the story, I honestly believe that most communities in Kenya are yet to come in to term with tattooing culture. I would encourage young people not to get excited with the passing tattooing culture for it might cost your future spouse! Free advice right there!
In my view, the tattooed Christians have no biblically justifiable reason to tattoo themselves. This is because tattooing does not add any eternal value. If anything it has the potential of injuring another man’s faith leading to ultimate destruction.
I also believe that most un-tattooed Christians reject tattoo on a wrong premise (by misquoting the Bible, especially Leviticus 19:28). I propose that the two categories of Christians are fighting the wrong battle. You see, when believers tear one another on a cultural issue such as tattoo, then we must ask ourselves whether we are still fighting the good fight of faith and challenging the real enemy of our lives; Or we are allowing the enemy to keep us busy fighting over tattoo hence abdicating our responsibility of aligning our cultures with God’s word.
Paul lays down some principles that should govern Christian conduct in Romans 14, 1 Corinthian 8 and 10. He advises believers ‘not to do anything that causes fellow believers to come to ruin’ (1 Cor. 8:13; 10:32); ‘rather build them up in love’ (1 Cor. 8:1); ‘seek the good of others’ (1 Cor. 10:24, 33). As you can see, the main thought that needs to govern our decisions which include to tattoo or not tattoo is love. Love is an outward looking rather than inward looking. This, therefore, discount the tattooed Christian’s premise of personal preference. It arrests any don’t care attitude. It also governs the rebukes done by the un-tattooed Christian to the tattooed ones. Love (agape) is the highest virtues among the Christian community. In 2 Peter 1: 3-7, love is captured as the zenith of Christian virtues of faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness and brotherly kindness. Love will stick to the ‘stumbling block’ principle by considering the weak conscience of a brother or sister before it allows you to do any action or say any word. Love will not fight for personal preference at the cost of the soul who Christ died for.
You will notice that Paul does not tell us how to specifically discern when our conduct will bring injury to another believer’s faith. He, however, teaches that ‘when life is lived in fellowship with Christ, driven by his love, seeking to imitate his life, then we will have the kind of sensitivity to each other which will prevent us from harmful acts or words’. So for you insisting to tattoo your body, are you really sensitive of those who have issues with Christian being tattooed? And for those rebuking the tattooed Christians, are you doing so for the sake of it or motivated by genuine love?
Loved this post? Watch out for more every Thursday as Gilbert Sang’ exposes on contentious issues facing modern Christians, Bible exegesis, apologetics and much more.