Once upon a time, I encountered a preacher man on the bus preaching about tattooing. Associating the act to evil spirituality, he condemned the act holistically. Listening to the preacher man that morning, I felt so bad and guilty even though I had none on my body, knowing very well as a Ghanaian that; some individuals have their names and addresses tattooed on their bodies by no fault of them.
Well, maybe I was being compassionate considering the fact that I have a couple of friends who had tattoos on their bodies. As a student of history then, I went back to my civilization notes to consult. In fact, archaeological findings indicate that the first tattoo was found on an Egyptian mummy around 2000BC which is believed to symbolize rejuvenation and fertility in women.
At the time, tattoos served as forms of identification with respect to tribes, families, social status and so on. Considering the level of superstitious beliefs during that era, the practice to a large extent was aimed at creating barrier against various forms of evil and harm that may come their way.
Even in many societies today, some individuals especially children and babies with regular health complications are cut deeply on the skin to create scar tissue, after which herbs and ash are rubbed into the wounds. As the wound heals, it leaves scars in a form of tattoos on the body. This process is known as ‘cicatrization’. As a matter of fact, this process is used as a ritual within various tribes in sub-Saharan Africa today.
What the does the Bible say about tattoos? In Leviticus 19:28, the Lord God said: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord” (KJ21). I felt like the most sensitive part of my soul had been touched after a dear one who had tattoos on her body narrated her ordeal with a preacher during church service.
To me, it is a miracle that this dear one still worships in that congregation I must say. Unlike this dear one of mine, many souls have been lost due to how they received the message of this law (Leviticus 19:28) from some preachers at church. The background of this law backed by archeology and the biblical text was that the Canaanites would customarily slash their bodies for ritualistic purposes specifically to mourn their dead and honor their gods (see 1 Kings 18:28).
Therefore, these events in ancient Egypt and Canaan suggest that God was forbidding scarification, not tattooing as we all know- my candid opinion. ‘Homowo’ for instance today is a festival celebrated by the people of Ga in Ghana. During the festival, ‘Kpokpoi’ (made from corn and palm oil) is sprinkled on the streets by the chief with the belief that the ancestors would be pleased by the offering which is equated to sacrifice.
This does not make the consumption of ‘Kpokpioi’ evil. However, eating it in honor of the gods as a Christian is where the problem lies. On the other hand, tattooing the body in honor of a god or a spirit is where the problem lie as Christian.
It is interesting to know that the purpose of tattoos today is quite obscure to even those who have them on. To some; it is ignorant and to many; it is fashion. My dear ones who have tattoos on your bodies, the bible is not necessarily against your tattoo. The tattoos on your body do not make you a sinful person. Just make sure all that you do is done in love for God.
However, if your tattoo was motivated by ritualistic purposes, do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9). Seek Him, and He will refresh you (Matthew 11:25). For those who intend to wear tattoos; consider the health implication, and spend time to discern before you ink, if you are a Christian. Above all, make sure all that is done is done in love (1 Corinthians 16:14).