Tattoos are still a controversial topic among Christians. We are all equal and have different approaches on this issue, different beliefs, and under different conditions we were brought up. And although Christianity is based on one teaching of Jesus, so approaches to the interpretation, and understanding of the Bible, as well as church rituals, are many. In this article, we will try to look at the issue of having a tattoo in the approach of the Catholic Church.
Catholicism is based on several diverse foundations that underpin its teachings and its practices. The main one – the Old and New Testaments – and it is there in particular that we will look for the answer to the question related to tattooing the body, which is not so unambiguous.
Catholicism and the Bible
Catholics believe that the Bible is inspired by God and is a revelation, God’s commands to people. It is a collection of books consisting of two parts – the Old Testament and the New. The Old Testament contains books that are also present in the Hebrew Tanakh and also includes the Deuterocanonical books, which are not part of the Hebrew canon but are considered part of the Scriptures.
The New Testament, on the other hand, contains books depicting the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as the letters of the apostles. The Catholic interpretation of Scripture is based on Tradition and Church teaching, as well as the theological and scientific study of the biblical text. Thus, the understanding of the Bible for Catholics is not something and should not present the teachings acquired from God as out-of-context passages.
What passages regarding tattoos do we find in the Bible?
There are several contained in the Bible regarding actions related to interfering with our bodies. Some of them, it can be said, speak quite strongly in favor of not affecting the body, such as “You shall not incise the body as a sign of mourning for the dead. You shall not tattoo yourselves. I am the Lord!” (Lev. 19.28) or “Do you not know that your bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you and whom you have from God, and that you do not belong to yourselves?”
How to understand these words? Is it so obvious? Like many Christians, Catholics are unable to answer clearly. And that’s because, as I mentioned earlier, true reading and interpretation of the Bible are not based on single sentences challenged from Scripture. The passage in Leviticus, from the Old Testament, talks about tattoos, but what kind of tattoos were being thought of then?
Are the ones we think of now also the ones we see every day? Theological studies have shown that at the time these words were presented, there was a big problem with pagans and their occult practices. Ancient pagans incised their bodies and tattooed them as part of the worship of idols or ancient ancestors, which it is obvious was not with the will of God, who in the Old Testament forbade such acts.
The second verse, on the other hand, refers to respect for the body as a gift from God. This passage, although not as direct as the previous one, is also perceived by many believers as a prohibition against interference with the body. They explain that tattoos are a form of inappropriate treatment of the body, a violation of its integrity, and unnecessary exposure of oneself.
The passage from Matthew 6:1-4 reminds us of excessive exposure: “Beware of doing pious deeds before men, that they may see you. Otherwise, you will have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. When, therefore, you give alms, do not trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and the streets, that the people may praise them. Verily I say unto you, they have already received their reward. But you, when you give alms, let not your left hand know what your right-hand does. Let your almsgiving remain in secret, and your Father, who sees in secret, will repay you.”
What decision to make?
If we are still unsure about getting a tattoo because of faith, it means that we are not ready for it. The Bible clearly states “…but whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). If we are believers, we want to follow Jesus and we want to avoid sin – the above passage speaks to the fundamental principle of functioning in harmony with God and ourselves.
If, on the other hand, we feel that we would like to have a tattoo, we have prayed over the matter, our beliefs on the subject do not cause dissonance with reality and, for example, our environment, the tradition of the Church or family negates such behavior – it may then be worth considering the need and usefulness of a tattoo on our body and in our lives. It may turn out that “I have the right to do anything,” you say-but not everything is beneficial.
“I have the right to do anything”-but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24). The second passage supporting this is Motivation “…for bodily exercise is of little use; but godliness is useful for everything, having the assurance of the life now and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy:8).
What is still important in making a decision, de facto for life, is our motivation – the attitude of the heart about why we decide to get a tattoo. It may even be a tattoo depicting the glory of God, and it may turn out to be something vain at the same time. If the content and symbolism of the tattoo are not blasphemous, obscene, or offensive, and in addition is a sign coming from the heart, through faith and love then Catholics may find them acceptable.