Tattoos: Rethinking the Inking

Tim Patrick is a Christian with a tattoo. And he’s been wondering about that

Eternity has published articles and videos of Christians with tattoos. In this piece, Tim Patrick says that, just maybe, people should think again.

Since my late teens, I have been entertaining the idea of getting a tattoo. I finally did in 2003 while holidaying in New Zealand, perhaps the tattoo capital of the world. But in the years since then, I’ve changed my personal views on tattoos.

In light of Eternity’s video series Ink Plots (see above), it might be worth sharing a counter view – from a Christian who does have a tattoo. For while I am by no means absolutely opposed to tattoos, I have five reasons to rethink the ink.

  1. Although I continue to appreciate lots of the incredible tattoo art, I’m not sure we should feel a need to adorn our God-given bodies in this way. We live in an image-obsessed culture, and I feel I am plenty vain enough without giving myself more reasons for self-admiration. I need to keep remembering that God looks on the heart, and that should be my first concern too.
  2. Further, I think much tattooing is done to show off our bodies to others. One of the reasons I don’t like looking at tattoo art as much as I used to is because often when any of us do that, we see a whole lot of skin! Of course, some tattoos are in places that no one would consider to be private, but even these call others to look at and admire our bodies. We may not be wanting people to think we are more sexy, but we might be hoping they will think we are cool. I am unsure that this is a helpful desire.
  3. Tattooed people often see their tattoos as part of their identity. At some level, they might help us feel a certain independence or rebellious streak (although far less so these days). Or perhaps they inspire a certain bravery or toughness, or maybe something else altogether. Over time, I have realised I do not want my identity to be bound up with the fact that I have a tattoo.
  4. On a totally different front, there’s the question of cost. Tattoos are not especially cheap! More and more I have been thinking about how I can be a good steward of the resources God has entrusted to me. While I still spend too much money on unnecessary things and am far less generous than I should be, forking out hundreds of dollars for a tattoo is no longer a priority for me.
  5. Finally, I have wondered if it is unhelpful having a tattoo today given that the prohibition in Leviticus 19 comes just after the prohibition against various sexual practices which much of our culture is currently embracing. While my understanding of the Old Testament allows me to see Leviticus 18 as absolute and enduring – and parts of Leviticus 19 as only cultural and cultic – that can seem like a very ‘convenient’ reading of the Bible to those who want to relativise sexual norms. It may make a charge of hypocrisy very simple, and even if I might want to argue against it, I’m not sure it is always a great starting place for an evangelistic conversation.

Again, I am not outright opposed to tattoos, but these might be some useful reflections as Christians continue to explore and celebrate tattoo art.

Tim Patrick is Principal of the Bible College of SA.

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