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What does the Church teach about Tattoos? by Matt Fradd

 

What does the Church teach about Tattoos?

June 12, 2013  by Matt Fradd

 

I was recently asked:

Could you please explain to me rationally without using [complex] words, and yet using theology, and convince me why I shouldn’t get a tattoo? There’s too much mumbo jumbo on the internet and I would truly appreciate finding something concrete and understandable.

I’m afraid that I cannot explain—either with simple, or complex words—why you shouldn’t get a tattoo.

The reason being that, in principle, the Church does not oppose tattoos.

Ceremonial Law vs. Moral Law

Sometimes people point to the passage in Leviticus which says, ”Do not . . . put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord” (19:28).

But this verse is not binding upon Christians for the same reason that the verse, “nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff” (Lev. 19:19), is not binding upon Christians. Namely, it is a part of the ceremonial law which was binding upon the Jewish people, but which is not binding upon Christians (except for when it coincides with the moral law).

The author of Hebrews writes:

Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levit’ical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchiz’edek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well (11-12).

Similarly, St. Irenaeus of Lyon wrote, “The laws of bondage, however, were one by one promulgated to the people by Moses, suited for their instruction or for their punishment, as Moses himself declared: “And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments.” (Deut. 4:14) These things, therefore, which were given for bondage, and for a sign to them, He cancelled by the new covenant of liberty (Against Heresies IV.16.5).

To Tattoo, or not to Tattoo

So, is the prohibition against tattoos in Leviticus a part of the moral law?

My colleague, Jimmy Akin writes:

“There is no reason why one cannot color one’s skin, which is what tattooing amounts to.

One can apply color to one’s skin by make-up (as is common among women), magic markers (as is common among children), press-on tattoos (as are common in Crackerjack boxes), or with real tattoos.

The mere fact that the ink goes into the skin in the latter case does not create a fundamental moral difference.

Of course, in doing this there are moral considerations to be factored in:

(1) One should not use the tattoo to transmit an immoral message,

(2) one should not use an unsafe process to get the tattoo (e.g., dirty tattoo needles that might be carrying who knows what diseases),

(3) and one should be generally prudent about getting a tattoo (e.g., what effects will getting this tattoo have on your relationships with others? if you break up with your girlfriend, do you really want her name still on your arm? do you really want a permanent tattoo when they have temporary ones now?). However, the Church doesn’t have a problem with tattooing in principle.”
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