Body Piercing, Tattoos and Cosmetic Surgery
We belong to God by reason of creation; we also now belong to God by reason of redemption. In effect, we are “twice God’s,” for we can claim nothing of our own. The implications are clear: We do not have the right to say, “This is my body, I can do what I want with it.” I have no more a right to do what I want with my own body than I have the right to do what I want with the money loaned to me by a friend who is expecting a return on his investment. The money is not mine to do with as I please; nor is my body mine to do with as I please.
All of us know that we are aging, for we are en route to the grave. Today’s obsession with perpetual youth and beauty is modern man’s attempt to deny the aging process. Yet, we believe that cosmetic surgery is not inherently sinful: we can applaud doctors who have taken deformed children and improved their features; we can understand changes made to improve one’s appearance, but we cannot condone those who have makeovers of whatever sort in order to be more sexually provocative. Nor can we, as Christians, approve of changes made for the sake of vanity, or based on the assumption that, “This is my body, I can do with it as I please.” The creature dare not usurp the ownership of the Creator.
What about body piercing, tattoos, and the like? Throughout the Old Testament, the people of Israel were commanded to abstain from the behavior of the pagan world. Piercings, cuts, marks, and tattoos were prohibited (Leviticus 19:28). These practices almost uniformly signified a whole-hearted allegiance to false worship or, at least, syncretistic practices. In some cultures, a similar relationship still exists between idolatry and bodily marks.
On this basis, some have argued that God abhors all “mutilation” of the body, the only exception being circumcision. As for today, while tattoos were at one time symbols of rebellion found on the bodies of prison inmates and motorcycle gangs, these skin markings have now gone mainstream. The present mantra is that the human body is a canvas on which can be painted anything one pleases. We live in a sadistic, rebellious culture that wants to show that it can despoil the body.
The early church saw tattoos and body piercings as desecrations of the body, and we believe that they were wise in doing so. Let those who already have permanent tattoos accept them as a reminder of their past, but let us plead with our modern generation that these markings, that are so often intended to draw unholy attention to the body, be discouraged.
Although the New Testament never openly condemns tattoos or piercings, women are expressly warned about an emphasis on outer beauty (jewelry, hairdos, etc.) to the neglect of inward character. Whether or not a Christian woman should have her ears pierced is best left as a matter of conscience, but the biblical standard of modesty that is so lacking in our culture, must always be upheld.
So, although it is not our intention to make a definitive yes or no statement about these modern trends, we deeply believe that today’s emphasis on appearance, and the lengths to which people are willing to go to be noticed, is a sign that our culture’s values have drifted far from the security that comes from knowing God and submitting to His ownership.
The implications of the fact that our bodies belong to God extend far beyond the matter of tattoos or piercings. We must think through what this means regarding our eating habits, exercise, and in general, the way we treat our bodies. And Jesus would remind us that our hearts are more important than the fading beauty that in today’s confused culture is so highly prized.