Pretty provocative title isn’t it? Yes, even if you’re a high powered women’s liberation type your body isn’t yours. Oh you may have a legal right to put anything into it, or etch or mark anything on it but God says your body belongs to him.
In Leviticus 19:28, God clearly says that we shouldn’t mar or tattoo our bodies.
That’s because such things were done by the pagan societies that occupied the Middle East before he guided the Hebrew people there. The heathens, in times of bereavement, or even in communicating with their gods would use ink or paint, even hot irons on themselves! Some Jews took up such practices while captive in Egypt. God didn’t want his first chosen people to take up even the slightest of these practices. He considered them sinful then and even now no matter how cool or hip “the world” says they are.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19, it states: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”
Now, keep in mind that this question comes near the end of Chapter Six, one dedicated to teaching us to avoid sexual immorality. It says we are not to violate our bodies by sex before marriage, or adultery, idolatry, or gay sex (think of AIDS and other AIDS complicated deaths, and sexually transmitted diseases). It’s telling us that if we’re true Christians we will recognize and accept that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, that we are not our own.
Yes, even an atheist’s or pagan’s body belongs to God. None of us in or out of the faith should misuse the body we’ve been given. That means we shouldn’t smoke cigarettes, overeat, use hard drugs, or misuse alcohol. Nor should we do things to them to draw attention to ourselves like, ta-dah!- tattooing!
What about people who were “born again” after getting a tattoo? They should take heart if they have repented of it and accepted Christ as their personal savior. They should be symbolically marked for Christ, on the inside, in their hearts and not worry about their tattoo(s) they’re stuck with. He knows he made our bodies porous. Just don’t get another one.
Marring Our Bodies
When the pagan prophets who squared off against Elijah on Mount Carmel couldn’t get their gods, Baal and Asherah, to appear and light the sacrificial fire they had prepared, they started cutting themselves. Their blood gushed out as they danced and cried toward the sky but all to no avail. Intentionally harming ourselves is something the Christian god would never call on us to do under any circumstances.
Slaves & Body Piercings
Psalm 40, predicts the coming of the Christ. In verse 6 it says: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened, burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.”
That “My ears You have opened,” part refers to when a Jewish slave didn’t want to leave his master.
Under God’s rules slaves had to be released after serving a master every seventh year. It wasn’t uncommon for a slave to want to continue working under a Jewish master because they fared so much better in treatment and respect than those who didn’t. (See my article titled “Slavery on God’s Terms”). The slave who wanted to stay would voluntarily endure having an ear pierced. Sounds okay but remember this was before ice or Novocain.
The slave would place his head up against something sturdy like a door. Then someone would drive a slender, ice pick like spike through the lobe of the slave’s ear against the door creating a hole for an ear ring. Naturally it hurt and probably bled a lot but it would eventually heal and a type of ornament could then be worn in it. This was the slave’s outward sign of an inward willingness to serve his master for life. Why a slave didn’t just wear a sign or some other notice of his voluntary service beats me but it’s a God approved type of piercing and was voluntary.
Either way, in verse 6, God is saying: “Look, I really don’t want sacrifices or offerings. I want to open your ear (symbolically). I want you to submit yourself to a life of service to me.”
While we’re on the topic of bond servants Christ gave the best example of the open heart. He came as foretold. He humbled Himself in the likeness of man; not a wealthy or powerful man but as a servant.
Other God Approved Marring of Bodies
There are circumstances where God allowed the marring of the body.
One was circumcision. It was commanded by God as early as Genesis 17. Good Jews obeyed it. Yet it was God’s intention that this practice would be temporary.
The prophet Ezekiel, who was carried into Babylonian captivity, wrote in the book named after him how Jerusalem was once a beautiful bride before she sinned forcing God to send the Babylonians to overtake it and all of Judah:
“I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. 12“I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13“Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty.… Ezekiel 16:12-13.
Check out Deuteronomy 10:16, where Moses said that we must have instead a circumcision of our hearts. He wasn’t talking about open heart surgery either. No, we were to have a change of heart towards him. Go forward in time to Galatians 6:15, where it further stresses that circumcised or not isn’t important for salvation.
Colossians 2:11, calls for a changed heart to an even higher level. It’s talking to us about a circumcision done without the use of hands by “…putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.” It means that when we are really born again we have a new, tender heart to know, obey and follow Him.
Here are other legitimate body piercing references found in the bible: Psalm 22:16, “…they pierced my hands and feet…;” Zachariah 12:10, “then they will look on me who they have pierced…;” John 19:36-37, “For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, ‘Not one of His bones shall be broken.’”
Notice how these legitimate calls for piercings were all in context to the beauty of the sacrifice Christ made on the cross?
We belong to God. Men shouldn’t have tattoos or piercings. Women “of the world” will be disturbed that biblical exceptions for women are ear piercings and nose rings only. Personally, I’m grateful that God allows earrings (nose rings- not so much) cause I’ve love ’em myself (of course I’m a guy and it isn’t my ear being drilled) but ladies we either do things our way or God’s way, right? He’s either our true lord and master or he isn’t. God disapproves of piercings in the lips, eye brows, cheeks, tongue, etc.
God forbids them because the pagans did those type things. However, He understands if we have one or our whole body is covered with tattoos that we’re probably stuck with them. The same goes for body piercings. Of course a truly saved person will regret them and as a sign of obedience won’t wear any ornament in the opening (or would wear only clip-on earrings) or have any more skin markings.
All of us in the faith have visible and invisible signs of the former lives we once lived. He knows we can’t change some of them that can be seen. What he wants though is a change of our hearts towards him. He wants that change to be reflected in our daily walk with Him.
The key term here is “Sanctification.” It is a term unique to the Christian faith. It’s that crucial phase of our relationship with the Christ that so often isn’t talked about in the pulpit. It’s where we actually stop doing, thinking and saying the things he calls sinful. We strive to give up our old, sinful lives. It’s like taking a bath not only on the outside but inside our bodies too. Hebrews 12:14, tells us that without achieving holiness we cannot be admitted into heaven. With the help of the Holy Spirit it is a personal, daily commitment to gradually become holy and reverent, almost but never totally like Christ, for the rest of our earthly walk. Thanks be to our Lord who is merciful and forgiving, the god of second chances!