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Catholic Sentinel | Portland, OR Monday, October 24, 2016

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More biblical discussion surrounding tattoos

Deacon Owen Cummings

Q — I read your response about Christian tattoos. It is a good one. But I still wonder if according to the Bible a tattoo is OK. Thanks a lot.

A — The Bible does not say anything about forbidding tattoos in the way that tattoos are understood in contemporary culture. Furthermore, a Catholic approaches moral issues not directly and immediately from the actual text of Holy Scripture, but from the living text of the Scriptures in the Church through tradition, overseen by the magisterium of the Church. So, there are no problems about tattoos from the point of view of the Scriptures or the Church.

Having said all of that, however, it may be that you have in mind a passage from the Book of Leviticus 19:28: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” This passage is not talking about tattoos as we understand them. Rather, “cuttings in the flesh” or “tattoo marks” seem to have been practices that relate to mourning the dead. These practices seem to have been present in Canaanite religion at the time when Israel moved into the land. As with other such practices, for example, the fertility rituals associated with Canaanite religion, the ancient Hebrews were attracted to copying some of these rituals and customs. The passage in Leviticus, understood against this background, insists that the Hebrew worship of Yahweh has nothing whatever to do with the indigenous religious practices of the Canaanites. The Hebrews were not to be contaminated by such practices, and so these practices are frowned upon, condemned, and vetoed throughout the books of the Old Testament.

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