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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

15 November 2006

Pagan and Christian Tattoos

Q: I have two demon tattoos on my forearms and 2 on my upper arms. I have never been a trouble maker but since God found me and since getting married and having children, I hate looking at them. I’m thinking about getting them covered up with Christian tattoos because laser surgery is so expensive. Can I show people my new-found faith by getting the evil ones covered up? I know the Bible says that we’re not supposed to mark our bodies but I can’t stand these evil pictures on me anymore. Do I have your blessing to get them covered up with tattoos of my faith?

A: My blessing isn’t what you really need, is it? You need to know from God that you aren’t committing (another?) sin by altering unchristian tattoos to reflect your faith in Christ. Let’s first look at the general Scriptural command and then focus on you specifically.

God said in Leviticus 19:28, “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” This was probably because many pagans marked their skin in various ways. While mindful of this, we need to be careful in applying the Old Testament law to current days. Verses in the same chapter say that we shouldn’t wear clothes made of two types of fabric (no poly-cotton, wool, or linen blends), the hair around the temples shouldn’t be rounded, nor should beards be trimmed. Does the New Testament continue such prohibitions for the Gentiles? Don’t many Christians eat pork and enjoy dishes of beef cooked or served with some sort of cream sauce or gravy? This, also, is prohibited by Levitical law.

Paul’s epistles and the Book of Acts especially speak against piling the weight of God’s Law to Israel upon the Gentiles. Peter spoke at the Jerusalem council, “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. (Acts 15:10-11)” After hearing Paul and Barnabas speak, James replied, “My judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. (Acts 15:19-20)” Obviously, tattooing was part of the yoke of divine Law that Israel had been unable to bear.

If your skin were still unmarked, I’d ask you to focus more on the reason why you wanted any tattoo. Often, the reasoning for getting tattooed is anti-Christian, sometimes an act of rebellion against parents or other authorities. Of course, health concerns are quite serious — especially if you cannot guarantee the cleanliness of the tattoo parlor. Who wants hepatitis or AIDS because of allowing needles into his skin? And as you note, we must consider whether this is something we want to carry about for the rest of our lives, since removal is painful, expensive, and may cause scarring.

Tattoos may not be a sign of Satan or the “mark of the beast.” However, the mark of the Savior (the faith his Spirit gives us) is much more important to carry throughout life. As Paul wrote to Corinth, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. (1 Corinthians 10:23)”

St. Michael and the DevilWith these thoughts in mind, you can see that I don’t believe that God directly forbids tattoos. Content and reasoning are important. Obviously those you have could offend other believers, your family, and even non-Christians. Even more so, since they bother you, you really should do something. Because of the expense and time, I understand your desire to alter rather than remove those you have. I really don’t think this should be a problem for anyone who understands what parts of the Scriptures speak to the Hebrews and what are for all people in all times.

As I considered your question, I wondered about your different possibilities. Since I don’t know exactly the size, colors, and the like of your tattoos, I won’t suggest any particular method. I know that some tattoos can be covered over while others, because of depth of color and size, can only be altered. I did find some options — including the tattoo pictured here, showing the Archangel Michael defeating Satan. Certainly such an image is better than the ones you now portray.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great response. Most pastors I think have knee-jerk reactions to tattooing... This is unfortunate.

ftm:Can a Christian get a Tattoo?

29 December, 2006 09:43  
Blogger Jim said...

I agree - great response. In many ways, a cover-up can be a great testimony... "See? The Cross covers my sin..."

23 May, 2007 17:37  
Anonymous Jar said...

That's a great response. My youth pastor has multiple religious tattoos and some people in the church find them negative. They believe the verse from Leviticus is a command to us not to get tattoos, HOWEVER, it was a letter written to the Levites, and does not apply to us. Especially now-a-days, as the Pastor spoke of the clothing and facial hair.

13 February, 2008 23:02  
Anonymous WotUThink said...

I agree that your response is the best I have heard about the tats debate.

I agree with your comments about people who already have them and that we need to take Lev 19:28 into context.

I think however that certain questions needs to be asked if its a Christian wanting a tat. Why do they want them? Do they understand that while we are free (in a sense) from the Lev law you still cannot do stupid things as the Lev laws are for our own good.

Tats, which I think most people do not understand represent witchcraft practices from pagan cultures like Moaris, African witch docters, Aboriginal, Indian and the list goes on. Just because it is of an Angel does not make it holy.

10 July, 2008 21:14  
Blogger Gunfighter said...

I think that your response to this is as well-measured as any that I have before.


30 April, 2010 09:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you feel about a Pastor's wife getting a tattoo??? She is the music leader so she had musical notes tattoos put on the top of her foot. I lost respect for her.

19 August, 2010 09:16  

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