[Letter to the Editor of The Clinton Journal - 10/01/2011]
Dr. Weinberg wrote a piece recently for The Clinton Journal entitled "Religion and Tattoos" and quoted Leviticus 19:28 as proof that "Jews, Christians, and Muslims" are prohibited from getting tattoos today. There are a number of reasons why getting a tattoo is foolish and in many cases wrong, but appealing to an Old Testament law proves nothing for mankind today.
Dr. Weinberg, the Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures, if you prefer) was given exclusively to the Hebrew people (cf. Deut. 5:1-3), not Gentiles. Furthermore, a Hebrew prophet predicted that the Old Covenant would be replaced by a New Covenant (cf. Jer. 31:31-34). Jeremiah's prophecy is fulfilled in Christianity and the New Testament! The Old Law has been done away, having been nailed to the cross of Christ (cf. Col. 2:14ff). The Old Law was a tutor to bring the Jewish people to Christ, but now all people (whether Jew or Gentile) are to live under the authority of the New Testament (cf. Gal. 3:24ff).
The Mosaic law has been superseded by the law of Christ. To point to an old law that is no longer in force and appeal to it for authority is vain. Furthermore, I wonder about your consistency in your argumentation. There are a number of things prohibited in the Hebrew Scriptures that are commonly practiced in our culture that I suspect you would not attempt to bind today on "Jews, Christians, and Muslims." Even in the immediate context of Leviticus 19 there are examples of this. For instance, do you also prohibit farmers today from reaping the corners of their field? If not, why not (cf. Lev. 19:9)? Do you also prohibit the wearing of garments with mixed linens? If not, why not (cf. Lev. 19:19)? Do you also prohibit a person from shaving around the sides of his head? If not, why not (cf. Lev. 19:27)? If you prohibit tattoos because of Leviticus 19:28, you must also prohibit these matters to be consistent.
The prohibitions against cutting one's flesh and being tattooed in Leviticus are there for a simple reason--these were idolatrous practices of the pagans and God wanted His people to remain pure from corrupting influences. When we study God's word (all 66 books), we must not appeal to any passage of Scripture merely because it goes along with our prejudices. Rather, we must only appeal to that which is binding and authoritative today, and that is the New Testament for all who are now alive. It is the standard by which we will be judged by, not the Hebrew Scriptures (cf. John 12:48), although they are profitable for our learning (cf. Rom. 15:4).
Let me close by briefly outlining some relevant New Testament principles regarding tattoos today. Since there is no explicit "Thou shalt not get a tattoo" recorded in the New Testament, we must be guided by principles and use good judgment. Will getting a tattoo glorify God and help further my influence for good? If not, then it should be avoided. We must always be mindful of our behavior and how it will reflect upon Jesus and His church. We need to avoid anything that may give "opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully" (I Tim. 5:14). Also, Christians should dress modestly (cf. I Tim. 2:9,10) in order to focus attention on Christ and not upon themselves. Since it is wrong for a woman to overdress (or underdress) to gain the attention of others, then how would getting a tattoo to draw attention to oneself (or a certain part of the body) be wise? We are to be servants of the Lord, trying to get the world to focus upon Him. Anything that distracts from that goal should be avoided (tattoos, tobacco, alcohol, etc.; cf. I Cor. 10:31).