Friday, 20 April 2012
[This is reposted as part of our Best-Of Revelife Week. It was originally posted on February 24, 2011.]
Two of the first things to know about me are that I am a Christian and I have tattoos. Both are incredibly difficult to hide. Several good people have approached me in the last 8 years of my life (the amount of time in which I've been a Christian and collecting tattoos) and discussed with me the moral issues revolving around tattoos. I've heard every argument against tattoos. I've wrestled the issue out with great intensity for many years. I've concluded that tattoos are permissible for Christians but they aren't always wise.
Knowing that, I am intentional about not displaying my tattoos in the midst of certain people and I am careful about how I discuss the issue of tattoos (especially with those young in their faith). The most popular argument I've heard against Christians collecting tattoos is one of the most poorly supported theologically and scripturally. The argument: The human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and tattoos defile that temple.
At first hearing it seems like a logical and scriptural argument. But it isn't. The main problem with this argument is the misunderstanding of the nature of God's temple in the New Covenant and how it is defiled. Jesus refers to the temple he will raise up in Mark 14:58 and says that it will be a temple not built by human hands. So far we are all still on the same page. In John 2:19 Jesus refers to himself as the temple that will be destroyed and he will raise again. Now we have some progression.
Paul writes in 1Corinthians 3:16-17, "Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple." Now we have been told that Jesus is the temple and so are those who have been raised with him. Paul argues that the people of God are the temple of God and they are the temple because the Holy Spirit dwells among them. In this passage Paul doesn't teach that the physical body of the individual human is the temple of God but rather the baptized people of God are the temple and the temple is marked by the presence of the Holy Spirit in that community. The apostle then informs the Corinthians that anyone who destroys the temple (people) of God will be destroyed (most commentators believe Paul is speaking eschatologically here). Then Paul once again confirms that it is the united people of God that are his temple proving that a mere physical body is not the temple of God.
However, Paul revisits the temple language in the same letter in chapter 6 verses 12-20 to discuss sexual immorality. Verses 19-20 state, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." That's pretty cut and dry. He's definitely talking about the physical body this time. However, Paul does not classify defaming or destroying of the temple as any activity that brings intentional physical harm or alteration to the body. In fact, Paul doesn't even focus on the exterior of the body but rather the interior for he states, "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body" (v. 18).
There is a specific type of activity that defames the body in terms of it being God's temple and it is sexual immorality because sexual immorality is not merely a physical activity. Paul speaks to the nature of sexual immorality and how it affects the person and not just the physical body when he writes, "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit" (vv. 15-17). Again, Paul speaks of the spirit. Sexual immorality is a uniting of what is Christ's with that which is contrary to him. It is activity that creates division between God and the person by creating a union that is unholy. The temple is not merely a physical body but a unity between persons. The temple is damaged when the unity is damaged. When Christ and his members are divided the temple is damaged.
Paul also speaks of God's people as his temple in his letter to the Ephesians. He writes, "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" (2:19-22). The parallels to the first passage examined in this post are clear.
Nothing in scripture that mentions the temple ad it being damaged is concerned with mere physical bodies or mere physical activities such as tattooing one's body. If one wants to honor the temple of God then they ought to edify the saints and the community of saints and flee from sexual immorality so that they may honor God with all of who they are and have unity with the Sprit. To do otherwise would be to defile God's temple. Therefore, the argument that the human body is God's temple and we must honor it by not tattooing the body misuses the temple language used by Paul and the gospel authors. Besides, who really believes painting the walls defiles a house? The Sistine Chapel looks a lot better with Michelangelo's work on the ceiling in my opinion.
If there is a valid argument against Christians having tattoos it certainly is not this argument.
Do you think there is a valid argument against tattoos? If so, what argument is it? Do you have tattoos? If so, what are they, and why did you get them?