Christian Tattooing

If you pursue the topic of tattooing and the Bible, you usually wind up in Leviticus 19:28, which reads “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” (Gideons) Other Bible editions sometimes actually include “or tattoo” as part of that phrase. It is this phrase that fuels all the religious backlash against tattooing. Despite this, however, there is a history of religious tattooing both in ancient and modern times.

jay's tattoo healed One of the oldest instances of Christian tattooing occurred during the Crusades. European knights were thousands of miles from home, fighting in a religious conflict. Supposedly, in order to ensure that they would be given a Christian burial if they fell in battle, many of these knights had small crosses tattooed on their arms so that they could be easily identified by both their countrymen and their enemies.

A strong theme of religious imagery can be found in prison tattoos. Many incarcerated individuals working to change the course of their lives work to include religion or a spiritual practice. Tattoos of Jesus are very popular. They are used as a symbol of his role as a savior, and they are also tattooed as a symbol associated with suffering and sacrifice.

jay's tattoo healedSailors and soldiers have also worn religious imagery among their tattoos for generations. Religious back piece designs were thought of as being helpful in avoiding harsh discipline for 19th century sailors, the theory being that the first mate would be more hesitant to severely flog an image of Jesus on a sailor’s back. For men going into battle, a religious tattoo can help bolster faith, been seen as a protective design, or a symbol to help stay connected to life off the battlefield.

Many modern Christians have chosen to engage in the practice of body modification, pointing out that the Bible has passages that can be interpreted as saying men should never shave or cut their hair, or that the eating of meat is punishable, and yet those practices are commonplace in the present day. Some feel that if the intention is to come closer to God, then tattooing is acceptable if it is done in that context. On the web, you can even find the Christian Tattoo Association, working to promote not only a personal relationship with Jesus, but acceptance for those who have welcomed Him and ink into their lives.

There are even some Christian images that are standards among tattoos. There are many variations on the Sacred Heart design, the Rock of Ages was a very popular back piece with sailors in the 1940s, and renditions of the Last Supper can be found across both chests and backs. Crosses can be simple and small, big and bold, or anything in between. Portraits of Jesus, Mary, and various saints are also seen. Your favorite Bible passage or quote can also become a tattoo.

In the end, the decision of whether to pursue getting a Christian tattoo or not becomes very personal. It’s as personal as one’s relationship with God. Some are going to interpret the Bible very literally, and some are going to listen to their hearts and their spirits and choose to be inked. The choice is yours.

Check out this body art!

Content © 1998-2009 ReLâCHE/Rachel Schwarz
Neither images nor written content may be reproduced elsewhere without express written permission.