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Piercings, Tattoos, and Jewelry

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What does the Bible say about these things?


Steve Answers:

Yes, the Bible does have a few things to say about piercings, tattoos, and jewelry. We’ll start with piercings, and then we’ll integrate tattoos and include jewelry.

Let’s start with Jesus! You may have seen the T-shirt or bumper sticker that says, “Body piercing saved my life.” It’s followed by artwork of a hand and wrist nailed to a cross.

In John 19:34 you can read, “One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” And then a few verses later it says, “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken,’ and, as another scripture says, ‘They will look on the one they have pierced’” (36, 37). The first scripture referred to is Psalm 34:20, and the second one—the one about being pierced—refers to Zechariah 12:10.

By the way, the ones who pierced Jesus—all who actively participated in His crucifixion—will see Him coming in power and glory (see Revelation 1:7). I expect to be elated to see Jesus, don’t you? But those who pierced Him 2,000 years ago, and those in every nation who are figurativelykilling Him again (see Hebrews 6:6), will not be so happy to see the One they’ve pierced.

I don’t think my response so far is answering the question intended when you asked about piercings, but this is the primary piercing thatthe Bible talks about.

When Mary, Jesus’ mother, presented Him in the Temple as a baby, Simeon told Mary that one day “a sword will pierce your own soul” because of Jesus (see Luke 2:35). This wasn’t a physical piercing, but a piercing of the soul, which can be far more painful than a physical piercing.

Sometimes people do physical piercings as an expression of inner pain. And some people feel inner pain when someone they care about gets abody part pierced! But what does the Bible say about getting your body pierced for cosmetic reasons, like getting your ears or some other body part pierced?

The text most often used against piercings, cutting one’s self and getting tattoos is Leviticus 19:28. In the New King James Version itreads, “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord.”

That’s all some people need to know in order to refrain from piercings or tattoos. Others would like it repeated a few times in other places in the Bible, or just not in the context of Leviticus 19.

Leviticus 19:27, the verse right before it, says not to cut the hair on the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. Mostpeople don’t make a big deal out of that today, since they figure that was a cultural issue when it was written. It was, and it doesn’t apply to our culture today.

But Leviticus 19:29, the verse right after it, says not to degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute, and we certainly wouldn’t say that verse is just cultural for that time and doesn’t apply today! Making a daughter a prostitute is a very bad thing at any time in any culture!

So, is Leviticus 19:28 saying something only for that culture, or does it apply to us today in our culture?

Leviticus 19:28 gives a clue. Notice the reason it gives for cutting—for the dead. The New Living Translation reads, “Never cut your bodiesin mourning for the dead or mark your skin with tattoos, for I am the Lord.” Another rendering of the verse talks about cutting one’s self as part of a funeral rite. I’m not very clear about what was done at that time at funerals. This cutting probably has more to do with self-mutilation, either as a release of personal pain, or a human attempt to try to get the attention or earn thefavor of some unpredictable supernatural powers. Remember the story in 1 Kings 18 about the prophets of Baal doing a similar thing on Mount Carmel in an attempt to get Baal’s attention (see verse 28)?

Yesterday, when I picked up some pizzas for our youth group meeting, the person at the cash register had several ear piercings with jewelry, plus various piercings on her face with metal attached to the holes. She had difficulty talking to me because her tongue was pierced, and another piece of metal kept the hole from naturally closing up.

I felt pity for her. I wondered why she was going to all that trouble to be cool or to fit in, or what got into her mind to make her think it was a good idea for her to do this to herself. But I realized that my opinion of her didn’t matter to her at all. She had done this for other reasons than to get the approval of a middle-aged man.

My mind went to Romans 12:2 in the New Living Translation, which reads, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let Godtransform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.”

I place piercings, tattoos, and jewelry into the category of the behavior and customs of this world that followers of Jesus don’t need to follow. But others would put things I’ve done, like buying an expensive sound system, having a hairstyle I think is cool, trying to accumulate more and more for myself instead of giving things away to others, going to church so others think I’m a good person, etc., into the category of copying the behavior and customs of this world. And they would be right.

But this doesn’t mean that you can or should get piercings, just because I’m as guilty in copying the world. Instead, both of us would befar better off to let God transform us into new people by changing the way we think! Are you open to that? I am. Are you also willing to talk openly with those who are concerned with you about piercings, tattoos, and jewelry; praytogether out loud about it; and truly ask God to transform you—all of you?

Tattoos are pretty much in the same category as piercings—we found them in the same verse in Leviticus. These days tattoos are seen as something negative by some and positive by others. From a practical standpoint, they aremore permanent than something printed on a T-shirt, which, I suppose, is the point. But I’m amazed at how little thought some people give to the tattoos that they get. Sometimes I just want to hug them and tell them that God loves them, and that they don’t need to go to those extremes to be noticed, accepted, admired, or to “fit in.” But then I’m reminded that they usually aren’t trying to get me to notice, accept, or admire them, nor are they trying to “fit in” to my world.

Several months ago I read about a bicycle racer (no, not Lance Armstrong) who was denied joining a team because he had so many tattoos.There simply was a rule on that team that you couldn’t have tattoos. It wasn’t based on anything religious; it was just the rule for that bicycle racing team. So he had to decide which was more important to him—joining the bicycle racing team, or going through the long, painful, and expensive process of having allhis tattoos removed. The last I heard, he opted to keep his tattoos and not join the team.

I mention this simply to point out that sometimes the questions we raise in the spiritual realm are dealt with by people outside of the spiritual realm for reasons that have nothing to do with God.

Now, when it comes to jewelry, we can certainly misrepresent God’s message when we take a verse out of context and twist it to say something that was never intended. A good example of this is taking part of Ezekiel 16 and using it however you want in an argument about jewelry.

If you want to wear jewelry, just pull out verses 11 to 13, “I gave you lovely jewelry, bracelets, and beautiful necklaces, a ring for your nose and earrings for your ears, and a lovely crown for your head. And so you were made beautiful with gold and silver” (NLT). You can even act as though you’re taking this in context by pointing out that God is the one who gives youthis jewelry (note verses 18 and 19).

If you are opposed to the wearing of jewelry, focus on portions of verses 37 and 39 to point out that God will “strip you naked in front of them [your enemies] so they can stare at you,” and “They [your enemies] will strip you and take your beautiful jewels, leaving you completelynaked and ashamed“ (NLT).

By the way, jewelry isn’t the issue at all in Ezekiel 16. The issue is that God saved His people, entered into a covenant with them, andtook care of them, and they broke the covenant and used what God provided for them to follow pagan gods. Amazingly, God still forgives His people (see how Ezekiel 16 ends, verses 59-63). This isn’t to give us a green light to wear jewelry or a red light to not wear it; it has to do with being committed to God in all we do, not just symbolically, but in reality.

Why can’t you get your body pierced, tattooed, or wear jewelry? Up to some point in your life, others make that decision for you. You will need to listen to them and inquire regarding their reasons for those rules. Sometimes it may be just because they don’t want you to do it. Sometimesthey haven’t thought it through themselves. Sometimes they have reasons, but can’t articulate them well. Sometimes you don’t listen very well, because you already want to do what you want to do.

I suggest that you come up with the reason(s) that you want to get piercings, tattoos, or wear jewelry. See if your reason(s) have anything to do with God or not. Then pray openly and ask God to bring you conviction.

You need to get your own connection with God going strong, because one day when you’re outside of your parents’ house, you’re going to do what you think is best. If you don’t have your connection with God clear at that time, you’ll end up doing some pretty stupid things instead of doing God’s will for your life. Would God really tell you to get pierce, tattooed, or wear jewelry?

Because of all that God has done for you (see Romans 12:1), live by what God tells you in verse 2: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is” (NLT).

 



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