Tattoos and a Consistent Hermeneutic

We had a good Pastors' Prayer Meeting this afternoon.

Anne, the COC pastor who recently went to Florida to see what's happening at the Lakeland meetings, mentioned that she found Todd Bentley's tattoos confronting. I've seen him on TV and I didn't find that a problem, but she said it was something about the religious spirit in her that didn't like it. She went on to say that Todd has got these tattoos since becoming a Christian.

One of the other pastors started talking about how that couldn't be godly because tattoos are usually done from a rebellious spirit. I said that it was possible that God wanted Todd to do it, that he did it to reach a particular bunch of people or perhaps God specifically told him to get the tats.

The other guy wasn't having that. It says in Leviticus that you must not get tattoos. I pointed out that it also says you must not wear clothes made from blended fabrics. "Is that directed to the priests of the ordinary people?" he asked. I said it was directed to everybody and is in Leviticus (it turns out it's in the same chapter as the verse about tattoos!). I raised the issue of circumcision and that was an Old Testament practice we gladly do away with.

How can we get away from this issue of proof texting (that is plucking verses out at random and using them to back up our favourite doctrine) and instead work to find out what the Bible is really saying? (The process of interpreting Scripture accurately is called hermeneutics)

I'm not a supporter of tattoos, but I'm not going to use that as a basis for judging the ministry of a brother- unless it's an issue for God.

I really want to find out what the Bible says about issues so i need to have principles that will guide me.


The first principle is that Jesus has effectively done away with the Law as a basis for justification. Jesus' death satisfied ALL the demands of the Law for all people for all time. God does not judge anyone on the basis of the Old Testament Law any more- and neither should we. Read any of Paul's letters carefully, especially Romans and you will see this argued at great length by Paul. Interestingly, although Paul wrote the letter of Galatians specifically to refute those who argued that Christian men must be circumcised to be part of the people of God, Paul himself circumcised Timothy in order to forward the mission of the gospel. (Acts 16:1-3)

The second principle is the law of love. Jesus reduces the whole of the law to love God with all your heart and love your neighbour as you love yourself. That is why it is still wrong to commit murder, adultery, theft and fraud. These are not acts of love despite the fact that God no longer measures our behaviour by the Law.

The third principle is the rule of context. Who is a particular verse directed to and why? The verse about tattoos is particularly interesting:

" 'Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:28

At face value it's fairly definitive. But let's look at the context of the verse before and after:

Leviticus 19:27-29 (New International Version)
27 " 'Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. 
28 " 'Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD. 
29 " 'Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will turn to prostitution and be filled with wickedness.

It seems to me that just on this basis, clean shaven and short-haired men have no basis to judge those with tattoos!
Apart from anything else it is inconsistent for any Christian to condemn tattoos on the basis of this verse (the only one in the whole bible that mentions tattoos) while not condemning those who cut their hair or trim their beards.

Does getting a tattoo contravene the law of love? I don't think so, although if a teenager does it defiantly against the wishes of her parent then she is obviously contravening the New Testament commandments for children to honour their parents. It is also wise to consider the fact that tattoos often have an occultic character to them.

So why does Leviticus prohibit Jewish people from having tattoos? The whole chapter is a part of the "Holiness code" of Israel. There is a series of commandments that are given specifically to make Israel not just live in a way that is different to the nations but also to make them appear different. They weren't to allow their cattle to cross-breed nor were they to wear clothes made of blended fabrics.

The verse suggests that other nations may have had tattoos as a part of their worship of ancestors or of spirits. Israel was to honour the Lord only so this was not to be permitted.

There might be any number of comments that one could make about Todd Bentley. I don't think that we should criticise him for having tattoos.

More importantly we need to move past simplistically grabbing verses so that we honour the scriptures enough to find out what they really mean to the best of our ability.