The exploding popularity of tattoos these days is difficult to fathom. It used to be that such things stood out in public, but now you stand out if you don’t have a tattoo, a ring or a bar attached somewhere on your body. The closest thing I ever got to a tattoo was the little water colored decals that came in hot dog packages when I was a kid.
Tattoos, once a rarity, are now a cultural phenomenon. They were popular with military men, although my dad and older brother were in the Navy in the 1940s and ‘50s and neither came home with tattoos. In the public eye, tattoos were often associated with back alley hoodlums, gangs and freaks. The general public in America (especially in the churches) is being subjected to the tattooed generation, and not all of us are accepting of it. It is hard to take the reality some sweet young ladies and mild mannered women now want them. Tattoos range from small and discreet images in the most private and unseemly places to massive depictions of devils, gang symbols, naked women, dirty words, you name it. Many young people would go for optimum shock value simply because their parents object to their getting a tattoo. One cannot escape the worldly image these things present. How is a Christian to view the modern craze of tattooing?
In the Old Testament, flesh “cuttings” (Heb. incise, scratch) invokes the idea of tattooing. As a pagan practice it was associated with veneration of the dead, or ancestor worship, and was prohibited in Israel (Lev. 19:28; 21:5). In New Testament times certain bodily markings were worn in honor of certain idols such as indicated in Revelation 13:16-17. About the only religious identity that tattoos might have in Western culture today would be in the choice of images used, such as a cross, image of Jesus, etc. A butterfly tattooed on one’s shoulder would not mark him as an unbeliever.
There is a potential health risk in getting tattoos. If you donate blood or platelets at the American Red Cross they will ask you about tattoos and body piercings. They require that you wait 12 months if there is any question of whether the instruments used were sterile and free of blood contamination. This requirement is related to concerns about hepatitis. State regulated entities require sterile needles and ink that is not reused.
Aside from the health risk there is the average cost of $75-$150 an hour to get a tattoo. Even in “hard” economic times it is apparent that many people have money to spend on just about whatever they want. These days with the cost of living at a premium it is amazing that tattoo parlors stay open. Good stewardship would demand better priorities.
Some will justify getting a tattoo on the premise that the Bible doesn’t condemn it. That approach can lend sanction to almost anything one wants to do in life. In relation to tattoos, one must be guided by the Biblical principles of wisdom, prudence, discretion, judgment, association, and influence (2 Cor. 6:14-18; Jas. 4:4; 1 Pet. 3:3-4; 1 Jn. 2:15-17). In my judgment a Christian is better served to never get a tattoo.