Has anyone ever asked you, “What are your thoughts on Christians and tattoos?”
I often get asked this question because I’m a worship pastor with a full sleeve and a big old tattoo on my neck…
It is usually preceded by a “no offense” or a, “this might be a weird thing to bring up” and often has another part to the question that goes something like this,
“I know there is grace and that we are forgiven, but that doesn’t mean we can sin ahead of time knowing that we will be forgiven, right?”
Of course that is assuming tattoos are sinful…I’m not saying they are or that they aren’t…you can decide at the end of this post.
The verse that many site when they are concerned about my tattoos is this one from Leviticus 19:28
You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.
It is definitely in the scriptures and it is definitely law. But we need a greater understanding of the Old Testament law. A great post that helped me is this one by The Resurgence. I’ve included part of it here so you don’t have to read the whole thing but you certainly can by clicking right here.
For Christians, the interpretation and application of the Old Testament law doesn’t begin with the law—it begins with Jesus. The law points us to him (Luke 24:44). The law is fulfilled in him (Matt. 5:17). And the law takes on a new meaning for us today in him (e.g., “You have heard that it was aid…but I say to you…”). For us to interpret the law rightly, we need to understand it in light of Jesus.
Easy enough, right?
Well, not necessarily.
This is where things start to get hairy.
There are a ton of Old Testament laws—613 to be exact—and some of them have been abolished and have no bearing on our lives today (see Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:23–25; Eph. 2:15).
So, exactly which laws, or category of law, have been abolished?
There’s no one perfect way to answer this question, but there is one really helpful way found within the history of the church.
3 CATEGORIES OF LAW
For hundreds of years, the Reformed tradition taught that the Old Testament law was comprised of three different categories: ceremonial, moral, and civil. Though this view is far from comprehensive, it helps us to understand, interpret, and apply the law to our lives.
God gave the ceremonial laws to the people of Israel as a means of guiding them in their worship of him. These laws include the various sacrifices for sin, circumcision (Gen. 17:10), priestly duties (Lev. 7:1–37), rejection of certain foods (e.g., pork (Lev. 11:7–8) and shellfish (Lev. 11:9–12)), and the cleanliness code (i.e., on cleansing lepers (Lev. 14:1–32), and the like.
The ceremonial laws served a temporary purpose and foreshadowed the coming of Jesus (Dan. 9:27; Col: 2:17; Heb. 10:1) until they were fulfilled and abolished in him.
Today, we are no longer required to follow them and are free to eat bacon wraps and wear clothes made with multiple fabrics. In other words, we don’t have to ceremonially purify ourselves for God; he does that for us through faith in Christ.
God gave the nation and theocracy of Israel civil laws to guide their daily living, political affairs, and judicial system (Exod. 21–23:9; Lev. 19:35; 24:17–23). Today, these civil laws and their punishments are no longer applicable. They expired when the people of God were no longer determined by their ethnicity or geographic location, but rather through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:7–9, 29).
Today, God’s people assemble together as a church from every nation, tribe, and language (Rev. 7:9). His church is not a nation-state like Israel or identified by a particular political party.
Today the church does not deal with sins the same way as Israel once did. The penalties have changed. The church deals with sin “by exhortation and, at worst, exclusion from membership” (e.g., 1 Cor. 5), not stones and fire.
God not only gave us moral laws like the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1–17), but he wrote them on our heart (Rom. 2:14–16). And these laws have not been abolished in Christ (Matt. 5:17–19).
While the moral law of God does not provide salvation (Rom. 3:20; 6:14; Gal. 5:23), it does continue to be used as a mirror reflecting the perfect righteousness of God, a means of restraining evil, and a way to reveal what’s pleasing to God.
Today the moral law of God is still in force and it has much to say about loving our neighbor (Lev: 19:18; cf. Matt. 19:19), taking care of the poor (Deut. 15:4; cf. Acts 4:34), and staying sexually pure (Exod. 20:14; cf. 1 Cor. 6:9).
— Taken from the article, “THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO INTERPRETING OLD TESTAMENT LAW“ by The Resurgence
After reading that, you’ll now see that many of the prohibitions found in the pages of Leviticus are ceremonial and civil laws meant to purify us and present us pure to God and keep order within His people. Now we move on to the New Testament. When Jesus fulfilled the law, the civil and ceremonial laws are no longer needed to save us. The moral laws are still in effect and meant to show our sinfulness, not to save us, but to aid in the spreading of the good news that saves us and others.
This is the short answer of course. Many other questions often arise, the most popular has to do with how old this idea is of doing away with two of the three types of OT law.
Truthfully it is hard to find an exact place where that is spelled out but It is definitely an implication from scripture much like our very hard to articulate doctrine of the trinity. It’s not fully explained in scripture but is implied through many passages.
The book of Hebrews has much to say about priesthood and the law. As well as Paul’s teaching to the Ephesians, Galatians, and Colossians about the New Covenant. (It is seen more plainly in those letters than others.)
My favorite idea of this comes from a good understanding of what Jesus was saying in the Sermon on the mount. He taught a lot this idea of, “you heard it was said, but…” kind of thing. A great example of it being an inward heart matter under the New Covenant versus an outward external matter like under the Old Covenant, is Jesus’ observance of the sabbath. He encourages His followers to sabbath and He even observed the sabbath but we also see Him and His followers not observing a literal sabbath but working instead to help and heal someone (which made the religious leaders mad). What Jesus is implying here is that He is our sabbath and our rest and that if we abide in Him (John 15) we will bear much fruit for the kingdom.
So… under the New Covenant some of the intentions of the law have been cleared up and we follow them differently now. Once you begin to chronicle the distinctions in the law and the reason for them, you will notice the patterns that we now call ceremonial, civil, and moral. Obliviously some laws are meant to be kept still literally and others more figuratively.
We are to be holy and clean, but what does that look like inwardly and outwardly?
We should sabbath or rest, what does that look like to rest in Christ instead of do nothing on a certain day?
We shouldn’t kill anyone, that one is pretty literal.
That is what I mean when I say it is an implication of the New Covenant. Jesus fulfiled the Old Testament law, He didn’t do away with it!
You’ll plainly see that following all of the ceremonial laws is impossible and was set up that way intentionally to show our need for a savior, not so we could not be saved by it. We are saved only by Jesus!
I’m thankful that we don’t have to follow those laws anymore. If we did have to follow it…Christians couldn’t wear cotton/poly blend clothes, men would have longer hair and beards (which is pretty sweet), women wouldn’t wear make up (yikes!), and the ladies would have to leave town once a month for about a week…um…and I can’t forget this—no bacon!!!!
Thankfully we are saved by grace and put forth a grace driven effort to live, love, and lead like Christ everyday!
How does that line up with or differ from what you believe?