“You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:28 ESV
Why did the Lord command His people in the desert not to tattoo themselves?
Understandably, many commandments in the Levitical law, such as those pertaining to food, sanitation, clothing, etc. applied to the Israelites during their 40 years in the desert for their health, protection, and good during that period. Some of those commands no longer apply to God's people in the New Covenant after Jesus brought the Old Covenant to fulfillment. C.f. Mark 7:19; Matthew 5:17-20; Hebrews 8:6-13. However, many Levitical laws are just as applicable today for God's people in the New Covenant as they were in the Old Covenant. C.f. 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
Consider Leviticus 19:28’s immediate context:
"You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord . "Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity. You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord . "Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:26-31 ESV
Occult involvement (witchcraft, fortune telling, consulting the dead, etc.) is just as forbidden by God in the New Covenant (or Testament) as it was in the Old Covenant (or Testament). c.f. Galatians 5:19-21; Rev. 9:20-21; 21:8. (1)
Biblically then, one wouldn't question that dabbling in the occult and making one’s daughter into a prostitute are unrighteous, evil, and dangerous still today. Thus, do tattoos fit under the same category as occult involvement or prostitution, which are demonic in both Old and New Covenants? Or was the tattoo prohibition merely for the Israelites 40 years in the desert for health or holiness reasons--such as to distinguish them from pagan neighbors who tattooed themselves? That is, in the New Covenant, is tattooing now as permissible as having the freedom to eat pork or to mar the edges of one's beard?
To answer these questions, I want us to consider some things about demons and blood that may be helpful. I would like us to consider the case that by getting tattoos, one unwittingly makes a blood covenant with demons. When I first heard such a claim, it sounded a bit outlandish--even judgmental. However, before passing a verdict, let us first examine whether such a claim has explanatory power and explanatory scope.
Here are some other cases to consider:
When a new gang member is welcomed into a gang, his initiation often involves being beaten and kicked on the ground repeatedly by the entire gang all at once. Consequently he is quite bruised in the process. Bruises arise from a form of bleeding that occurs beneath the skin rather than out through it. The new gang member is consequently more firmly entrenched in the gang after such a ritual. He is more bound and yoked to the gang and the demons operating within it, and it will be more difficult for him to escape the gang life, if he even wants to. Such is one case for how demons may gain footholds in a life through shed blood from which they feed.
The practice of cutting makes a similar case. To repeat Leviticus 19:28 (ESV),“You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.” Why are some people addicted to cutting themselves? Could it be that a particular kind of demon entered such a person, demanding shed blood from its host? (2) Cutters may not think that a demon is drawing them to cut themselves. They may think that they are just doing it because it feels good, numbs pain, and/or helps them feel or prove that they are alive. But that is how demons prefer to operate--undetected. They can get away with more stealing, killing, and destroying if they get their hosts to think that they (the hosts) themselves, society, or somebody else are the sole reason for their misery. Demons (or indwelling sin) are then out of the picture.
What is often characteristic after one gets a tattoo? In many cases, it won't be long before a person wants another tattoo. The person may even ponder about or make future plans to get an entire tattoo sleeve. Why wasn't the one tattoo enough? Could it be possible something else is going on? Could it be that demon(s) persuasively cry out for more shed blood (which occurs in the tattooing process)? Might that have some explanatory power?
In making such a case that getting a tattoo unwittingly makes one a participant in demonic covenants, I am not seeking to condemn those who have tattoos. I desire to love and accept people whether they have zero or 1,000 tattoos. Rather, I make this case to cause those who are thinking about getting [more] tattoos to consider some things they hadn't, in order that they can make a more informed decision. God loves you and wants you to experience life to the fullest (John 3:16; 10:10; 17:3). As a good Father, he wants you to receive His forgiveness for your mistakes, and He also wants you to make wise choices in order to avoid partaking with your enemy whose intention for you is to steal, kill, and destroy (Col. 1:11-14; John 10:10).
One such demon that may suggest one needs to get a tattoo may be a spirit of self-hatred. Why get a tattoo in the first place? What is wrong with one’s skin or the way one is that one should change it permanently with a tattoo? Why get one if you truly believed you were fearfully and wonderfully made? Could I encourage you to meditate upon Psalm 139:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 before making any potentially hasty decisions? For if you are not your own, but your body belongs to the Lord, are you sure you have permission from Your Master to re-mark His property, which he fashioned and purchased from the kingdom of darkness? (3)
Again, if you already have tattoos, then God's love, forgiveness, and deliverance from all demons is still yours. Jesus told a woman caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more" (John 8:11b ESV). Just tell God, "I'm sorry, I didn't know any better. Please forgive me," and your loving Father will not condemn you and be eager to grant you freedom from your spiritual enemies. But there needs to be repentance, a commitment to "from now on sin no more," (in this case, not getting any more tattoos). (4)
Complete your prayer of repentance by activating God's power in your life that He provided for you by His Spirit: "Thank you, Father for forgiving me for all my mistakes through Jesus' blood shed on the cross. Now I thank You for healing the wounds in my soul connected with my sins (and even the tattoos) by filling my soul with Your power that raised Jesus from the dead. Thank you for healing my soul with your dunamis--excellence of soul, moral power to obey all your commandments, and miracle-working power to heal my physical body so that I may prosper and be in good health to the degree that my soul prospers. (5)
In Jesus' name,
(1) Many have lost their lives or the lives of loved ones by making the mistake of going to a fortune teller. The fortune teller may capture one’s attention with a hook of true information about oneself. c.f. Acts 16:16f. However, he/she may then talk about seeing the person or a loved one dying soon. Such may then swiftly come to pass in real life if there is no repentance. c.f. Isaiah 47:9. Such repentance involves confessing to God that it was wrong to visit the fortune teller, breaking contact with all occult involvement, asking God for forgiveness and mercy, and calling upon Jesus to break the curse of the spoken words on the basis of Jesus’ shed blood on the cross. [Likely I read such information about the occult from Derek Prince’s books They Shall Expel Demons and/or from Blessing or Curse: You Can Choose. Kindle.]
(2) Likely a demonic spirit of heaviness (that is, depression), suicide, and/or death. Lev. 19:28 says “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves.” Thus, one may start cutting or tattooing as a way to grieve the loss of a loved one. However, this may be a foolish and unrighteous method to grieve such a loss, since it may unwittingly invite more demons to come steal, kill, and destroy in one’s life.
(3) What about tattoos of crosses, Bible verses, etc., that are gotten with the motive for using them as an evangelism tool for God’s glory? Ask the Holy Spirit whether such a tattoo is His desire or one’s own. As you meditate on His word, ask Him if the things argued in this article are true or not. Then again, you can always go for a fake, temporary tattoo from a “permanent” marker if you’re antsy or uncertain about a tattoo. Then if you change your mind, the tattoo will fade and you’ll have no regrets.
(4) Recently, after the original publication of this post, I saw a YouTube video by Benny Hinn where he came to the same conclusion about tattoos (and marks on the body) as one of the ways demons may enter people. c.f. Ephesians 4:27.The final paragraph with the teaching from John 8:11b and the prayer of repentance came from his video.
(5) Credit to Katie Souza for teaching me more about healing the soul through the Holy Spirit's dunamis that readily resides in our spirits. c.f. Acts 1:8; Romans 1:4; 8:11; Ephesians 3:16; 3 John 2
Above picture: Me and my friend, Croix, in Thailand, 2013. SPOILER: My tattoo sleeve is fake.