Does Yeshua have a Tatttoo?
Written by: Michael Lueck
N ormally I would leave this topic alone, because there are certain presuppositions necessary to understand the morality of a tattoo. However, Jon over at Stuff Christians Like posted about tattoos. Not wanting to make a big deal about it, I commented with a reference to Leviticus 19:28.
The responses I got from that comment were quite scathing, so I decided I would lay out my argument here to prevent a heated discussion on Stuff Christians Like.
That being said, let me address the disagreements to my referencing Leviticus 19:28.
1. “The verse you are referencing is specifically discussing pagan practice in which you tattoo or mark your body on account of the dead.” and “Have you ever looked into the origion of tattoos? I mean no disrespect, but the forbidden tattoos are not the same thing as modern tattoos. The forbidden tattoos were made by cutting oneself and rubbing ash into the wound. Some believe that this law was more about self mutilation and excessive grieving than about self decoration.”
The verse says “Nathan k-thobeth seret basar nephesh nathan qa’aqa’ YHWH” in the transliterated Hebrew. Meaning “Ye shall not make” [Nathan] “any” [k-thobeth] “cuttings” [seret] “in your flesh” [basar] “for the dead,” [nephesh] “nor print” [nathan] “any marks” [qa'aqa'] “upon you; I [am] the Lord” [YHWH]
This verse refers to two specific things: 1) Cutting oneself for the dead and 2) printing marks on one’s body. Note the comma; every translation conveys this sense of separation in thoughts. It isn’t “Don’t make any cuttings or print any marks for the dead.”
The Hebrew word “qa’aqa” is from the root meaning “to insert or to stick in.” So a “mark that is inserted” or a marking made under the skin. According to Jewish oral tradition, the phrase refers to inserting pigment under the skin.
“In Lev. 19:28 we find two prohibitions of an unnatural disfigurement of the body: ‘Ye shall not make any cutting in your flesh for the dead, nor any print any marks upon you.’ The latter (Heb. qa aqa, incision) refers to tattooing, and has no reference to idolatrous usages, but was intended to inculcate upon the Israelietes a proper reverence for God’s creation.” [Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Bible Dictionary, 1974 ed., p. 696]
“While 'cuttings in the flesh' have reference here to mourning customs [for the dead], the tattooing does not appear to pertain to such practice.” [Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, 1975 ed., p. 1664]
2. “Christians are under no obligation to that verse, Jews are. I hope your not trying to put that verse to Christians. What do you do with the previous verse? ‘You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.’ (Leviticus 19:27)”
“Those that worshipped the hosts of heaven, in honour of them, cut their hair so as that their heads might resemble the celestial globe; but, as the custom was foolish itself, so, being done with respect to their false gods, it was idolatrous.” [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Leviticus 19:27]
“Herodotus tells of the use of this type of haircut, forming what is called a tonsure, as the practice of pagan religious cults of ancient times who did so honoring one of their gods.” [Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament, Leviticus 19:27]
Regardless, I don’t round the hair of my temples or mar the edges of my beard.
3. “Revelations 19:16 Jesus will return with a tattoo.”
I would point out the Greek word for ‘written’ in that verse is ‘grapho’ which means ‘to write’. Nothing about ‘under the skin’ as with the Hebrew word “qa’aqa’.” No translations refer to this Name being tattooed, though ‘tattoo’ is used in Leviticus 19:28.
4. “Even if you think it is ambiguous you have to realize there are a lot of laws in the Old Testament (especially Leviticus) that we no longer have to follow because Jesus created a new covenant when he came.” and “I live under grace, not the law.”
This is really, I think, the basis for the world view that tattooing is morally acceptable: belief that the Torah [Law] was done away with by Yeshua. I have a few big problems with that teaching. First, Yeshua himself says:
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them. I assure you, until heaven and earth disappear, even the smallest detail of God’s law will remain until its purpose is achieved. So if you break the smallest commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven. But I warn you-unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all!” [Matt 5:18-20, NLT]
John also picks up on this in his three letters: “If someone says, ‘I belong to God,’ but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and does not live in the truth. But those who obey God’s word really do love him. That is the way to know whether or not we live in him.” [1 John 2:4-5, NLT] Read this chapter; it’s consistent throughout. The Greek word for commandments is ‘entole’ and refers to the Mosaic Law [or Torah, the first five books of the Bible].
Paul is the only one who even remotely seems to preach abolition of Torah, but look what he says in Acts 24:14: “…I worship the God of our ancestors, and I firmly believe the Jewish law and everything written in the books of prophecy.” [NLT] ‘Jewish law’ there is ‘nomos’ which is the written Word of God, which is manifest in the flesh as Yeshua [cf. John 1:14].
If Torah is made flesh in the form of Yeshua, how is it even conceivable that the physical representation of the Word would contradict or do away with the written representation of the Word?
In the verses before and after Lev. 19:28, a few other things are forbidden:
* Never eat meat that has not been drained of its blood. [cf. Gen 9:4; Lev 3:17; Lev 7:26-27; Lev 17:10-14; Deu 12:16, 23; Deu 15:23]
* Do not practice fortune-telling or witchcraft.
* Do not defile your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will be filled with promiscuity and detestable wickedness.
Therefore, since the Law was done away with, it’s okay for me to prostitute my daughter, ’cause Yeshua is okay with that now. And it’s okay for me to be a warlock, ’cause Yeshua is okay with that too.
How is that even remotely explainable?
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