Tattoo and God
I’m a city boy whom God has exiled to the countryside. If ever there was a question about God’s sense of humour, my being out here – three miles from the town of Royston in Herefordshire – should confirm that the Almighty’s enjoys a laugh.
The full hilarity of my predicament was revealed recently when I got a tattoo at the local parlour. It was just a small tattoo – a minimalist hourglass where I would normally wear my watch. I got it as reminder to ‘number my days’ as Psalm 90 calls us to do. But within hours of getting this tiny tat, a newspaper journalist rang me on the phone to ask me why – as a new local pastor – I would be getting a tattoo. I was surprised but responded to her questions. How big a deal was this? My picture ended up on the front page. Yes – apparently a pastor getting inked is news out here.
Some have asked what the Bible says about tattoos. Here’s the scoop…
Leviticus on Having a Tattoo
First of all, Leviticus 19.26-28 is said by some to forbid tattoos. Others quickly dismiss this because ‘it’s in Leviticus’. But none of God’s words in the Bible should be dismissed. In the same chapter we also read that ‘you should love your neighbour as yourself’ – a verse that Jesus quoted. Would we also dismiss that because ‘it’s in Leviticus’? Read all three verses closely. The prohibition against tattoos is in reference to necromancy. Apparently back in Canaan that was a thing. Baal – a local divinity who supposedly died and rose again – liked it when his followers got inked for his glory. So if you’re getting a tattoo to connect you with a false god or with the dead – don’t.
Isaiah on Having a Tattoo
Secondly, Isaiah references God’s people having holy tattoos. In Isaiah 44 the prophet speaks of a day when God pours out his Spirit on dry ground. In the midst of this revival many people will declare that they belong to God and some will even ‘write on their hands “the LORD’s”’ (v5). The word ‘write’ in Hebrew is kathab and can be translated as ‘write’, ‘engrave’, ‘inscribe’, ‘record’, etc. It’s a wide word that could imply anything from writing something on your hand with a pen to something more permanent. It’s not commanded to get a tattoo – but Isaiah says that some will get one as an acceptable mark of devotion to the God of Israel.
Lastly – and most importantly – is God’s tattoo. Isaiah goes on to speak for God and comfort Israel. Israel feels that God has forgotten her as a nation, but God reaffirms his love saying, ‘I have engraved you on the palms of my hands’ (Isaiah 49:16). Unlike the Hebrew word we discussed above, this one is chaqaq and is stronger. It means ‘to hack’ or ‘to engrave’. It’s a permanent job.
What’s the point? God has a hand tat – and it’s your name. That’s how much he loves you. Now a cynical person may dismiss such talk mere poetry: ‘an invisible tattoo on an invisible hand’. But to make plain how real God’s love is, Jesus had his hands marked – not with an artist’s needle, but with a soldier’s spike. He bled love to forgive us of our very real sins – so that our names can be inked in eternity.
And THAT is newsworthy – in village and city alike.