Is the prohibition on tatoos moral law or judicial law?

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

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Several questions:

    1) Is the OT prohibition on tatoos part of the judicial law or the moral law?
    2) If judicial, and if we aren't theonomists, then getting a tatoo is free game today, right?
    3) If moral law, then are not allowing that within the judicial law there are subsets, one of which is moral--which would be binding today?
    4) If (3), how is that not a form of theonomy?
    5) I want to get a really ferocious looking tatooe. I am thinking of getting a huge tatoo of john knox on my back or arm, though I am open to suggestions.
  2. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I am not sure that tatoos are forbidden (or were originally intended by the prohibition). It seems, rather, that "cutting the flesh for the dead" might be something different than a body decoration for beautification purposes.

    For instance, the Dani tribe cuts off a knuckle of the finger as a form of grieving. Other tribes/peoples cut themselves to bleed as a sign of mourning.

    I would say that there is a difference between efforts to mutilate the body and efforts to beautify the body.
  3. Vladimir

    Vladimir Puritan Board Freshman

    No offence, brother, but I suggest you drop the idea. I have no idea why you would feel the need to do something to your body to display any sort of appreciation or allegiance.
    I don't think John Knox would appreciate it, either.
  4. Vladimir

    Vladimir Puritan Board Freshman

    Actually, they are. The Hebrew states that you should not "cut your flesh for the dead or print marks on you", not "cut your flesh or print marks on you for the dead".
    [BIBLE]Leviticus 19:28[/BIBLE]
  5. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I am not going to get a tatoo. I am using it as a foil to raise a question about how the OT law applies to believers today.
  6. Andres

    Andres Puritan Board Doctor

    I don't find any prohibition from Scripture against getting a tattoo. Now, you might rather question whether this is the wisest way to glorify God. Take it from a guy who got a couple of religious-themed tattoos when he was younger - they aren't nearly as "cool" as they were when you were younger.
  7. Mushroom

    Mushroom Puritan Board Doctor

    I'm very disappointed, Jacob. I was looking forward to having pics posted of your knarley Knox tat. :D
  8. Vladimir

    Vladimir Puritan Board Freshman

    Seconding this. God does use mine to humble me every now and then.
    Wow. Reformed trolling?
  9. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    Biblical law may be classified in three ways:

    1) ceremonial- prefiguring Christ's perfect sacrifice
    2) civil- given Israel as a unique, Old Testament theocracy
    3) moral- perpetual commands binding on all men in all generations

    The ceremonial law is fulfilled in the perfect life and sacrificial death of our Lord to whom it pointed.
    The civil law was given the Old Testament nation of Israel as a "church under age." It expired when God ended that nation (about 70 A.D.). Yet, some general principles contained in those laws can still apply to God's people going forward.
    The moral law binds all men, in all ages, it is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.

    Marking the flesh (tattoo), piercing the body were prohibited under the civil law given Israel.

    The question is are there principles that carry forward that still apply.

    Clearly, there are several.

    Mutilating and defacing the body desecrates the body God gave.
    It is a form of self ownership rather than God ownership of the body He gave.
    It is done as a prideful ostentatious display of self whereas Scripture calls for us to approach this life with humility and modesty in dress.
    It causes others to stumble.
    It creates the appearance of evil.
    One way to put this in biblical perspective....

    Tattoos create permanent scarring of the skin, age the skin, release toxins into the body by absorptions and increase the risk of cancer and infectious diseases.

    Powerful though the health and hygienic reasons are, they are not the basis of obedience. But the principles clearly are. Yes, God's blessings, even in health and well being tend to flow from obedience, but such practical benefits are not the basis for it.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2013
  10. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Yes. This is the heart of the issue, whether we're talking about a binding moral law or about the wisdom contained in every part of the law.
  11. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member


    There is a lot of moral Law in that section of scripture explained in diverse situations. Idolatry might fall under that portion. If you attribute all of that to Theonomy then a lot of Theonomists are in trouble for not adhering to the standards.
  12. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    The Bible puts no prohibition against ear-rings or nose-rings for beauty even though these things scar or put holes in the skin. We are not to disfigure our bodies, but there does seem to be leeway for beautification.

    Though most tatoos do not seem wise, I fail to see a general principle that would condemn all body modification, piercing or tatoos.
  13. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    There is no prohibition for burning your skin also Pergy, per se. What some people would consider beautification is prohibited by God.LOL. Tribal markings are a form of Idolatry in my estimation.
  14. reformedminister

    reformedminister Puritan Board Sophomore

    I agree with my brother. Also, study the history of tattooing. It is pagan. We are called to be holy and separate from the world. The problem with the modern church is that we have tried too hard to fit in with the world. When I was in my twenties I considered getting a "Christian" tattoo (?) because I thought it would be cool and hip. I made myself a deal so I would not make a rash and regretful decision, to wait six months and see if it was fleeting or something I really wanted. Six months later I could care less. Now that I am a pastor and in my forties I am glad that I chose wisely. However, now I believe it would have been a blunder if I still wanted one in six months, and gave in to my wishes. Who cares what my flesh and faulty mind desires. If it isn't godly then I shouldn't do it. Tattoos are worldly and carnal. For those who regretfully already have them, let them be a reminder to follow the spirit of God and not the spirit of the world. You have more than your skin to think about. I am not talking about losing one's salvation, which is impossible. I am talking about making some bad choices by polluting the soul and habitually living a carnal life. I am talking about sin against a most holy God, and setting a bad example to those who are looking for a Savior and those who look up to you. God has called his chosen to be witnesses. Thank God for our Redeemer, for his holy book, and his Spirit to give us wisdom and guidance in this world. :pilgrim:
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2013
  15. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Wouldn't burning your skin fall under disfigurement?

    Putting a hole in your ear or nose is a necessary body modification for the purpose of beautification which does not seem prohibited. So I see no general rule against tatoos used to beautify the skin in like manner. I grant there is subjectivity in what is beautification and what is disfigurement.
  16. BobVigneault

    BobVigneault Bawberator

    Tats are a big turn off for me. When I see a beautiful woman with a tat I just want to cry over the spoiled canvas that God has given her. Tats on men and women tell me that there is a short coming in their character, something that they are compensating for. It also seems to be a glorying in one's own flesh and a desecration of it.

    HOWEVER, I don't see a Biblical prohibition against tattoos. I want to see one, I wish there was a clear extrinsic teaching but it's just not there.

    Here is another perspective, tell me what you think:

    Sin is a motivation that drives us to the cross. Each time we sin we must confess it and remember the gift of God's grace and mercy and our utter need for a Savior.
    Our bodies, with or without tattoos, are offensive to God. In the Fall, all things became corrupted and polluted. Nature itself is groaning for a day of reconciliation and restoration of what was lost in the Fall.

    Our bodies MUST undergo a resurrection in order to be worthy to stand in the presence of the Holy Father. Our present flesh is offensive to God SO, is one more ugly tattoo going to make any difference. These ugly tats remind me that there is a resurrection coming and that these wretched bodies will be redeemed and remade in the image that man first held in the Garden.
  17. Andres

    Andres Puritan Board Doctor

    While we may debate the sinfulness of tattoos, I think we'd all agree that judging someone's character based solely on their appearance is quite uncharitable. I'm disappointed to read that you've automatically deemed me a "spoiled canvas" with a "shortcoming in [my] character" because I chose to get some tattoos a few years back.
  18. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I agree. Recon Theonomy was very weak on 2nd and 4th commandments. No argument here.
  19. Vladimir

    Vladimir Puritan Board Freshman

    Scott, thank you, your post is a pleasure.

    Actually, there is truth to that. I have heard this before: if someone wants a tattoo, he/she really wants stability in their life; they're trying to say that, if everything else about me changes, at least this won't. I don't know about you, but looking back on my tattoing days, I can say that it was definitely the case for me.
  20. Andres

    Andres Puritan Board Doctor

    Not the case for me. I honestly got all my tattoos solely for the purpose that I thought they looked cool. Now if someone wants to contend that they are lame looking, then that's fine, but to make snap judgments about my character because of my appearance seems pretty shallow of them.
  21. Micah Everett

    Micah Everett Puritan Board Freshman

  22. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Not sure looking cool is a good reason either. And you were trying to enhance something that you must have thought was lacking or you wouldn't have done it. When I buy pictures for my wall they enhance the barren walls. So could you have possibly thought something was lacking or that enhancement was beneficial? Personally, I am glad you aren't my kids example as an Elder in this area.
  23. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    The Leviticus prohibition of tattoos falls into a subclass of separation-laws, which was an element of the ceremonial laws-of-distinction dividing the OT Israelites from every other nation on earth. They were not to devote their bodies to God in this way, after the custom of many surrounding societies. Their "unmarked" flesh was itself a "brand" that stood out in the menagerie of competing invention.

    As a ceremonial law, this word for the holy people is abrogated by the same God who originally instituted it.

    There are health reasons to consider, if one were contemplating a tattoo. There is the semi-permanent nature of the act--it cannot be undone without considerable difficulty and more pain. There are questions of wisdom and propriety and the due evaluation of motive in taking a tattoo. There may be cultural considerations.

    At the same time, it is as wrong to label this practice per se as a sin, as it is to condemn all smoking. I myself have no pleasure whatever in the cigarette habit (while strangely, a whiff of cigar smoke--someone else'--brings back some pleasant memories). But my many rational reasons against the practice does not a sin make it. And more importantly, not to inveigh against it is an important affirmation both of Christian liberty, and our freedom from OT ceremonial restriction.

    The same must be said about tattoos. Unless the purpose for the tattoo is ungodly, unless the tattoo is a celebration of sin, if tattooing is a particular idolatry or a plain hating of the body of God's creation (a rational conclusion, I think, of the "uglification" of the body by swarming it with symbols, and by pockmarking it with piercings and insertions all over), I cannot agree that the mere addition of a tattoo is sinful, as such. It may be unwise (or not at all), but it has ceased to be an offense to God--which it was merely by positive commandment.

    We do a great disservice to those believers today who wear tattoos, whether they took them before or after conversion, by pointing to the ink and identifying it as sinful. Should they cover it up at all times, because it is a shame to them? It's meaning may be innocuous, or it may represent an important and non-sinful memory. What right does another Christian (or anyone else) have to condemn the very thing? None. And if Moses be pointed to, then he who condemns "is a debtor to do the whole law," Gal.5:3.

    Finally, let's bring out the Tattooer's favorite text, though it is pretty clearly a misunderstanding and misapplication of Scripture--really, no more an abuse of Scripture than the invocation of Lev.19:28--

    Rev.19:16 "And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS."​

    Yes, it misses the point of the text, and probably misunderstands John's very language.
    But that's also the problem with those who attack the practice (and the practitioners) by appealing to the separation-law of the OT.
  24. Andres

    Andres Puritan Board Doctor

    Nope, sorry but again, just got them because I thought they were cool. I'd liken it more to why a person chose to buy the tshirt they did. I assume they thought it was a nice shirt and looked good, not because they had multiple deep-seeded issues they were working through.
  25. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    T. Shirts cover the skin. They are not permanent. Your skin and a T-shirt are not even comparable in my estimation. As i noted, "Not sure looking cool is a good reason either." You evidently thought you wanted to look cool. Something was missing...
  26. JimmyH

    JimmyH Puritan Board Junior

    I am a professional tattooer and have been for 20+ years. i mean in walk in 'street' shops. My current boss is a deacon in a Baptist Church and when the question of Leviticus 19:28 comes up he tells the parishioner asking about it to read the whole book of Leviticus and then we will discuss the issue. He tells me that once they read the whole book no one ever comes back for the discussion.

    I am what most people would consider heavily tattooed, on my arms, chest and full back. This over a period of 40 years of being around that world. God chose me for election in spite of these marks and has used me as a witness to others who might hear the gospel from me, because of my physical appearance, who would not hear it from someone not so marked. He does work in strange ways His wonders to perform, and may use our weakness to His purpose in some situations.
  27. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I don't care to enter the discussion on tattoos, but I want to address these statements about the judicial law. The judicial laws have varying degrees of common/general equity (the moral principle) and particular equity (the positive part of them that addresses Israel's specific situation). Some judicials have so much common equity in them that there is little particular equity to be found and they are almost fully moral. The death penalty for murder (at least) falls into this category. So does the requirement that a man marry an unbetrothed woman with whom he has committed fornication. And the list could go on. These judicials have so much common equity that there is little that is particular to Israel in them.

    There are other judicials that are so particular to Israel's circumstances, it is hard to find the general/common equity in them. Examples might include the seventh-year sabbath or the Jubilee year. Finally, there are plenty of judicials that fall somewhere in between. It is simplistic and far from the intention of the Confession to say, "It's judicial, so we don't have to worry about it."

    It also needs to be borne in mind that the laws do not always neatly divide. Sometimes a judicial law is judicial because it is a moral principle applied to Israel's ceremonial circumstances. One must tread carefully when discerning how the laws pertain to us or do not.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2013
  28. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    I agree for the most part about the separation laws Rev. Buchanan. But some of them are attached to the decalogue. This one seems to have some moral issues attached to it also, Idolatry. There are also separation issues laid out in the New Covenant such as no eating things with blood in it. There are a lot of New Covenant issues in this very chapter because they are moral issues and not just separation issues for the Israelites necessarily. I have seen the passage in Corinthians used to justify things that violate God's will, All things are lawful, but..." No one here is condemning anyone. We are trying to discern between what is correct or not correct. We use the Law daily to discern between what is correct and what is wrong. And if it is wrong, what is so bad about being ashamed of it? I know Christians who do cover them up. Knew a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy who painfully had his removed. I don't think I would do that. I am allergic to pain.


    If I may call you that, I have read Levitcus many times and I would be willing to come back and discuss it as I am here. I do the same thing about Calvinism and other issues. Whether or not they listen is up to them. I am not a dispensationalist either. I discuss all kinds of issues with people who have read the whole Bible. Antinomianism being one of them. We can agree to disagree. I am easy to live with for the most part. One of my best friends who is a Lawyer thinks the Bible is a perverse book because it says homosexuality is sin. He isn't a homosexual either. We just disagree. I believe Idolatry is an issue here.
  29. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Very well put Austin!

  30. littlepeople

    littlepeople Puritan Board Freshman

    I think getting a tattoo of a puritan would be a brilliant form of irony since this thread's discussion would be considered by the watching world to be puritanical. I appreciate Rev. Buchanan's wise words here. I have a hole in my eyebrow that has been used by God many times in my younger days as a bridge to approach people who's only exposure to Christianity was “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page