Saturday, February 02, 2013


     At To Tattoo or Not Tattoo? A Levitical Question a visitor to that blog asked a very thoughtful question, one in which the reader actually answered the question with a very well reasoned answer that flowed from faith.

     Sadly, the answer given by the responding pastor was not well reasoned nor from faith. Rather, it was typical of modern Lutheran permissive practice. As I consider this pastor’s response and reasoning I find myself wondering whether I would have recognized the weakness of the response as late as even ten years ago.

     Here is the “layperson’s” comment:

Thoughts on tattoos? A lot of opposition uses Leviticus 19:28, but reading it in context seems to talk more about cultic practices than an outright prohibition of tattoos. There’s also the issue of the body as a temple; does this factor in and if so how? Is there anything else to be said in this conversation? Have you ever dealt with tattoos? Is it even worth one’s time, or chalk it up to Christian freedom, and thinking carefully about what you decide to permanently add to your body?

     This truly is a thoughtful comment, one that shows that the person was reflecting upon the intent of people’s choices and how this either involves or excludes true faith.

     In the pastor’s response after addressing various Scriptures, he says in conclusion:

Yes, Christian freedom does apply here. But as with all things under “Christian freedom.” We ought to remember that Christ didn’t free us to do whatever we want with ourselves or others. He freed us to be his Children and heirs to His kingdom, and he freed us to love and serve one another. If a Tattoo is desired, and can be gotten by someone without violating that understanding of Christian freedom, than by all means, go for it.

     This is very disturbing, for it truly shows the underlying and prevailing motivation of the pastor’s contemplations. His theology is on display through the response: “then by all means, go for it.”

     The inquirer concluded with the very careful consideration: “and thinking carefully about what you decide to permanently add to your body?”

     This is quite a striking contrast of thought and theological grounding. The difference is that the inquirer is truly considering the greater context both of the Leviticus 19 passage as well as of the whole counsel of God declared in the Scriptures. While the inquirer may not have succeeded in identifying clearly what was perceived in the conscience, it is nevertheless demonstrated in the final question.

     What indeed is being asked by the inquirer regarding careful consideration about what choices a person makes regarding changes to one’s body? What is causing this person to feel uncomfortable with the choice of changing one’s bodily appearance through tattoos?

     Dr. Luther addresses this with his commentary in his Preface to the Old Testament in volume 35 of Luther’s Works.

     Notice with what power Moses conducts and performs this office of his. For in order to put human nature to the utmost shame, he not only gives laws like the Ten Commandments that speak of natural and true sins, but he also makes sins of things that are in their nature not sins. Moses thus forces and presses sins upon them in heaps. For unbelief and evil desire are in their nature sins, and worthy of death. But to eat leavened bread at the Passover [Exodus 12–13] and to eat an unclean animal [Leviticus 11, Deuteronomy 14] or make a mark on the body [Lev. 19:28, Deut. 14:1], and all those things that the Levitical priesthood deals with as sin—these are not in their nature sinful and evil. Rather they became sins only because they are forbidden by the law. This law can be done away. The Ten Commandments, however, cannot be done away, for here there really is sin, even if there were no commandments, or if they were not known—just as the unbelief of the heathen is sin, even though they do not know or think that it is sin.

     Therefore we see that these many laws of Moses were given not only to prevent anyone from choosing ways of his own for doing good and living aright, as was said above, but rather that sins might simply become numerous and be heaped up beyond measure. The purpose was to burden the conscience so that the hardened blindness would have to recognize itself, and feel its own inability and nothingness in the achieving of good. Such blindness must be thus compelled and forced by the law to seek something beyond the law and its own ability, namely, the grace of God promised in the Christ who was to come. Every law of God is good and right [Rom. 7:7–16], even if it only bids men to carry dung or to gather straw. Accordingly, whoever does not keep this good law—or keeps it unwillingly—cannot be righteous or good in his heart. But human nature cannot keep it otherwise than unwillingly. It must therefore, through this good law of God, recognize and feel its wickedness, and sigh and long for the aid of divine grace in Christ.

     For this reason then, when Christ comes the law ceases, especially the Levitical law which, as has been said, makes sins of things that in their nature are not sins. The Ten Commandments also cease, not in the sense that they are no longer to be kept or fulfilled, but in the sense that the office of Moses in them ceases; it no longer increases sin [Rom. 5:20] by the Ten Commandments, and sin is no longer the sting of death [I Cor. 15:56]. For through Christ sin is forgiven, God is reconciled, and man’s heart has begun to feel kindly toward the law. The office of Moses can no longer rebuke the heart and make it to be sin for not having kept the commandments and for being guilty of death, as it did prior to grace, before Christ came.

     Is it then permissible for a person to alter one’s appearance with tattoos? Is this really the question? Is not the real question one that asks why a person desires to do such a thing?

     Why will a person observe the marvel of one’s own body and desire to change its design? What is one saying by this concerning God’s work of creation? Does such a desire come from fear, love, and trust in God above all things? Does such a desire flow from the desire that God’s name be hallowed among us? Does such a desire match the sanctifying of the Sabbath or Holy Day with which the Lord marked the fullness of His creative work? Does such a desire demonstrate the contentment of resting in the peace of God in Christ? What is the motivation of the desire to mark one’s body in the way that is done with tattoos?

     It seems clear to me that if one asks these questions that a heart filled with the faith generated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit will be moved to fall to one’s knees in the awareness that true acknowledgment of God’s goodness is not the motivation of such desires.

     It seems worthy of consideration that the only outward mark that the Lord puts upon His children of the New Testament Church is the mark of the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Through Baptism the Lord calls His people to the outward marks of the Church, namely, the preaching and administration of the pure Word and Sacraments. If these are the marks that a person desires by the motivation of the Holy Spirit’s urging, what other marks would a person seek except the marks of a life of faith and true worship of the Lord?

     When a person chooses to put other marks upon one’s body, what is this person telling the world by this action? What does this tell the world regarding the holy mark of Baptism and the marks of the means of grace? If one is marked with God’s own mark of Baptism and of the means of grace, if these are the marks by which one knows oneself, will that person have any desire to be identified by other markings?

     It seems to me that the inquirer’s contemplative remark is much more valuable than the pastor’s permissive response. After all, does the new man born of water and Spirit ask, “What is permissible for me?” Or does the child of faith ask, “What is best in keeping with the holy and gracious will of our God and Father?” Will the Christian who desires that all who observe the person will observe the grace, mercy, and peace of God at work in the person mark onself with tattoos that leave people with the immediate response of “Why? What does this mean?”

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