Sense of Life. Articles in English. “You shall not tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord” (Lev 19:28).
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“You shall not tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord” (Lev 19:28)

The matter is absolutely clear and generally non-negotiable: the Law Giver, manifesting His will on Sinai, pointed to a number of pagan practices, categorically forbidding his people to pursue them. It does not require a great deal of effort to notice that in Leviticus verses 19:26–31 tattooing is forbidden, along with curses and spells (witchcraft), prostitution (harlotry) and the occult (mediums). The power and unconditional tone of these prohibitions is expressed several times by the repeated formula of “I am the Lord!”, meaning that God is holy and cannot tolerate such practices associated with demonic pagan beliefs. These demonic practices are opposed by God with the command: “You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord” (Lev 19:30).

The ban on tattooing cannot be read in any other way. Actually, the Hebrew word ka’aka does not appear anywhere else in the Bible, but Jewish exegetes say clearly: “It’s about indelible characters entered into the body through a needle, which will always remain visible” (Rashi, Vayikra Commentary 19:28). The Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), dating from several hundred years before Christ, uses the word στικτὰ, derived from στιζώ (I puncture). Therefore, there is no doubt that it was tattooing which was absolutely forbidden by God; I am convinced that also piercing (of the lips, tongue, navel, etc.) is not pleasing to God.

“Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. He who does good is of God; he who does evil has not seen God” (3 John 1:11)

Not by accident, next to the prohibition of tattooing, does God mention his temple. St Paul tells us, sanctified by the blood of Christ, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are” (1 Cor 3:16–17). After all, it is clear that puncturing the skin with any types of characters or piercing the body wherever possible is destroying our body, which is the temple of God. It is really about breaking the first commandment: the absolutely holy God wants to dwell in us, and He does not wish us to destroy our body, which has become his temple.

Father Peter R. Scott reminds us: “The commandment not to ‘mutilate one’s body’ is mentioned together with such prohibited acts as consulting sorcerers and fortune tellers, the divination of dreams or the dishonouring one’s daughter by encouraging her to prostitution. It is therefore about an act of rebellion against the supernatural order, because tattooing characterizes a person who insists on their own rights to do whatever they please, without worshiping their Saviour. […] It symbolizes the rejection of the sanctity of the human body” (The Angelus: Journal of Roman Catholic Tradition, Vol. XXXII, No. 2, February 2009). The Catholic Church Catechism clearly states: “Good and clean conscience is enlightened by true faith. For love comes at the same time ‘from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith’ (1 Tim 1:5).” Can you talk about a pure heart and a good conscience if you disfigure your body, which has been created by God with great love and redeemed by the blood of Christ?

The Lord Jesus, the true God, in the mystery of the Incarnation, sanctified the human body, by becoming fully human. It is absolutely unthinkable that there would be any circumstances in which He would have allowed a sign on His human body like a tattoo, or the piercing of it with a stud. Similarly, it is also inconceivable that any of the apostles would have deformed their bodies in that way. In the New Testament, the issue of tattooing or piercing does not appear at all, precisely because it was absolutely obvious that implementing this pagan practice by any of the disciples of Jesus was unthinkable. In this context, the words of St Paul sound very strong: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).

Who are we following when we want to place an irremovable tattoo on our body or pierce our lip, tongue or navel? Isn’t it done by popular “stars”, living in debauchery and choosing sensuality over love? This is a question of morality, purity of heart and faith. Are those “models” in the press and television, in showing off their tattoos, really the type of characters worthy of imitation, and do their tattoos show morality or faith? I doubt it. Therefore, with St John, I appeal to everyone: “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. He who does good is of God; he who does evil has not seen God” (3 John 1:11).

Finally, here are two examples from life. I had a friend who at one point was persuaded to get a tattoo. He enjoyed it for several years, and then he so wanted to get rid of it that he burned out the skin on his hand. He preferred to have a scar than a tattoo of which he was ashamed. A second example I heard from an exorcist priest. The boy, from whom a demon was being expelled, had a tattoo (it was not satanistic, just a regular pattern). During the exorcism, that tattoo burned like fire and the boy would have given a great deal not to have it on his body. So it is really worth considering a hundred times whether we really want to have something lifelong and irremovable on our skin and whether it will not prevent us from meeting with God. “Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Pet 3:14). Similarly, without those spots or blemishes that are irremovable and placed knowingly and voluntarily on our own body.


The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!" in September 2020.

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