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Rite of passage parenting: Tattoos and piercings

Can someone explain to me why this generation has such an infatuation with pain? Why would someone want to take a perfectly good tongue or belly button (or any other part of the body, for that matter) and poke a hole through it? I could understand if we all still lived in caves and pain was a part of everyday life.

And who knows? Maybe after a hard day chasing a brontosaurus and trying to bring home the Big Mac, poking a stick through your tongue would seem like a pleasurable experience. In the Stone Age, the dentist just whacked you on the head with a club to pull your attention away from an achy tooth.

But we don’t live in the Stone Age. We live in an advanced society where scientists have spent years of research and billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to develop drugs to decrease or eliminate pain. Yet droves of students, Christian and non-Christian, are lining up to get their bodies tattooed and pierced.

One summer, I was taking a group of students from California on a mission trip to Panama. We almost missed our plane because the students kept setting off the metal detectors. By the time they unloaded their chains, rings and a host of other paraphernalia, we had enough metal to build a car.

And I have to admit I don’t understand everything about tattoos. Why would you have an eagle tattooed on your chest when, in 20 years, it will look like a vulture perched over a pot roast? I once asked a young man why he chose to push a bolt through his tongue. He explained the piercing this way: “Aye thaugt (click, click) it wooud be koool” (click).

I asked, “Do people ever say you’re hard to understand?”

“Naught rrearry (click). Awe uf by frnds tak rike (click) dis.”

People often ask me about the biblical position on tattoos and body piercing. Lev. 19:28 says, “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.” This refers to the custom among the people of the pagan nations of piercing or tattooing themselves when a family member died in an effort to appease idols. For an Israelite, piercings and tattoos were signs of idolatrous influence. But we can’t necessarily apply this verse to the tattoos or piercings associated with our culture.

Ex. 21:6 and Deut. 15:17 both refer to piercing a servant’s ear to show ownership. In Old Testament times, tattoos and piercings were similar to cattle brands. And the New Testament makes no prohibitions against either one. There’s no 11th commandment that says, “Thou shalt not pierce thy body or tattoo thyself.”

In the absence of direct references, we look at biblical principles for guidance. The first question to ask is, Does it please and honor my parents? (Eph. 6:1-4). God uses the authorities in our lives to guide us in many areas. If your parents or other authorities would prefer you not have tattoos and piercings, you have your answer. Remember, the commandment to obey your parents is “the first commandment with a promise” (Eph. 6:2).

The second question to consider is, Will this affect my witness today or in the future? All things are possible, but not all things are profitable. As people of God, we base our actions not on the here and now, but on eternity. Will this activity enlarge the Kingdom of God?

Third, consider this question: Would Jesus do this to His body? Our bodies are not our own. They’ve been bought with a price and are the living temple, the earthly residence of a holy God. Rom. 12:1 urges us to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to Him.

Fourth, ask yourself, Does this activity bring glory to God or attention to me? I know many Christian college students who have Bible verse tattoos. Most of them tell me their purpose is to let the world know they follow Jesus. But I remind them that Scripture says God and the world will know this by three things: obedience (John 15:14), abiding in His word (John 8:31-32) and love one for another (John 13:34-35). When they tell me Jesus’ body was pierced, I remind them He didn’t do it to look cool. After the resurrection, Scripture says “And Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them” (Luke 24:50). Close your eyes and imagine Jesus lifting his hands to pray—hands pierced on the cross.

Do you want to show others your body piercings? Go ahead. Just make sure they come from a crucified life.


Walker Moore

Author: Walker Moore

View more articles by Walker Moore.

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  • Bob

    Lev 19:28

    (KJV) Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.

    (AMP) You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead nor print or tattoo any marks upon you; I am the Lord.

    (HCSB) You are not to make gashes on your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves; I am the LORD.

    (NLT) “Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the LORD.

  • Landon Coleman

    I couldn’t be more dissapointed that this article was printed in the Baptist Messenger. Of all the topics to discuss, our CP resources are going to fund an article written to mock those with tattoos and piercings … I read the article, and I realize that the author didn’t condemn tattoos or piercings … But he did a great job mocking those who have them. How does this article apply to those who had tattoos or piercings before becoming a follower of Jesus? How is this helpful in our attempt as Oklahoma Baptists to reach an emerging generation, MANY of whom have tattoos and piercings? As a young pastor, this reminds me of what frustrates me most about “Baptist life” … An attempt to sound accepting, while the overall tone is hostile and deragatory. In addition to the negative tone, the logic of this article and it’s biblical basis is pathetic.

    1) Does it honor my parents? The command is honor your father and mother, AND, children obey your parents. There is no support for this article’s assumption that grown children must continue to obey thier parents, especially with regard to a matter of conscience. Grown in our society for tattoos and piercings apart from parental consent is 18. That means if it’s a “gray” area in Scripture, grown children are not required to submit to their parents (any more than parents should be allowed to dictate where their grown children live, or who they marry, or what they do for a living).

    2) Will it affect my witness? Well, it might hurt your ability to witness to Walker Moore and his generation, but it might help you witness to a younger generation.

    3) Would Jesus do this to his body / We are the temple of the Holy Spirit? First, interesting the author didn’t mention Revelation 19:16 which seems to indicate that Jesus has something written on his leg. Also interesting that the author didn’t include fatty foods and caffeine as things that destroy the body, ie, the temple of the Holy Spirit.

    All in all, the most disspointing thing I’ve read in a long time.

  • Eric

    Do you ask women in churches why they have “an infatuation with pain ” for piercing their ears?
    I must say I’m really surprised you have worked with young people so long yet, seem to have such disdain for youth culture.

    How are you supposed to reach out to those you look down on ? It’s no wonder young persons are leaving the church with attitudes like this.

    Senior women have for decades dyed their hair to bluish and purple hues, to me that is weird, however they are not looked down on for fitting in to the culture of their age group for doing so.

    Lottie Moon dyed her skin to fit in with the culture she was reaching out to. Christ hung out with those who were looked down on by religious leaders why are we not doing the same?

    I don’t have any tattoos or piercings. I’m the music leader at our church in Norman, If someone came to our church with tattoo or piercing I wouldn’t think anything of it.

    Why can’t we just accept people for who they are and not worry about what they look like ?

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