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the good news in a tattoo

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LEVITICUS 19:28. These large black letters and numbers are inked into my left forearm. It’s the only tattoo I’ve been inspired to get. (Besides a completely failed attempt to have my wedding ring tattooed on my finger—it faded away within months. Bad omen? Let’s move on.)

I wanted a Bible verse that summed up the good news message of Jesus in a tattoo, and Leviticus 19:28 seemed like the obvious choice.

So what does Leviticus 19:28 say? Thanks for asking. That’s the Bible verse that says, “Thou shall not get a tattoo.”

I know. Now I have some explaining to do.

SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT 
When I was a kid, I had a Sunday school teacher who was, well, less than joyful: Mrs. Grumpy Pants, as we liked to call her. I remember the time a man with tattoos on his arm came to church. “I hope he gets saved,” I heard Mrs. G. mutter, and I wondered what she meant by that. “You can tell this man doesn’t love God because he has a bunch of tattoos,” Mrs. G. explained to me, “and the Bible clearly says it’s an abomination to get a tattoo.” (Abomination always sounds like a serious sin upgrade from just a regular trespass or transgression.)

This was very disappointing news, since I wanted to get a tattoo when I grew up. I asked Mrs. G., “What if I got a tattoo of Jesus? Or maybe a Bible verse?” Her look of disapproval did not soften.

Later in life I learned that the one Bible verse that discourages tattoos appears in Leviticus 19. This is the same chapter that teaches other important things: Men must never cut their hair or trim their beards. (Three cheers for hippies!) Farmers must never plant two kinds of crops in the same fields or harvest their fields right to the edges. (Not a farmer? Me neither. So we’re good here.) And everyone must avoid wearing clothing that is woven with two different kinds of material. (Pure wool? Check. Pure cotton? Check. Polyester blend? We’ll stone you.)

Obviously, Christians don’t feel the need to obey every verse of the Bible. But this chapter also includes rich teaching such as respect your parents, don’t curse people who are deaf or put stumbling blocks in front of people who are blind (how practical), and even one of Jesus’ favourites—love your neighbour as yourself. So how do we get to pick and choose what to follow and what to forget, what to obey and what to ignore?

The urgency for Bible-believing people to figure out how to actually apply the teaching from their own Bibles only increases the more you read. Should we go to war against nations who don’t embrace our God? Should we burn witches and stone to death our rebellious children? And what about the list of personal defects that disqualify priests from serving God in Leviticus 21? Bad skin, bad posture, bad eyesight, a broken bone, or just too short to ride the ride: it’s easy to be disqualified from approaching the altar of God.

Trying to figure out how to be a good Christian while obeying the Bible’s rules is exhausting, even soul crushing. I can understand why the writings of the New Testament contrast the old way of the letter of the law with the new way of the Spirit by saying, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

THE END OF THE OLD 
If you open any Christian Bible, you’ll notice it is divided into two sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Testament is another word for covenant, which in this case refers to a way of living in relationship with God. So the Bible is divided into the old way of living and the new way of living. And although there is continuity, the two ways are radically different.

The old way of living, the Old Testament, is pre-Jesus. It describes God’s covenant of promise and trust with humankind (as with Adam and Abraham) that then became a covenant of law-keeping and sacrifice-making (through Moses). Because people grew hardhearted and hurtful toward others and themselves, God intervened with laws to keep them in line, rituals to help them focus on what is important, and sacrifices to help them see the gravity of their sin and turn to God for forgiveness.

Then, when Jesus came, God inaugurated the new covenant— which is to say, he changed everything.

A first-century Christ-follower wrote about the contrast between the old way of religion and the new way of Jesus. “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear” (Hebrews 8:13). Obsolete? Outdated? On its way out? Now them’s fightin’ words. (I’m considering getting HEBREWS 8:13 on my other arm.)

Here we have a verse from the New Testament saying that the Old Testament is over. This is astounding: one part of the Bible calling another part of the Bible “obsolete.”

This isn’t a contradiction; the old covenant contains prophecies about the coming of a new covenant that would supersede the old (e.g., Jeremiah 31:31-34). This is an intentional change, a planned and purposed development in human spiritual history. If you believe that God is behind all of this, it’s a cosmic shift in how our world works.

In English, we can use the word old in two different ways: (1) aged, or (2) former. If your friend tells you, “I really like my old boss,” she might mean she is enjoying working for her current boss, who happens to be older. But she probably means she misses working for her former boss.

The Greek word for “obsolete” in Hebrews 8:13 is the word for “old,” as in something that is former, over, worn out, in the past. It’s like an old boyfriend or girlfriend: we’ve moved on.

At the same time, although Jesus taught that he had come to bring about the end of the way of law and sacrifice, he also claimed that the teaching of the Scriptures would somehow endure (see Matthew 5:17-19 and Luke 16:16-17). So we don’t throw out the first half of our Bibles, but we read the Old Testament as “the story of what doesn’t work.” The Old Testament endures as God’s way of reminding us that we don’t need more rules and rituals; in fact, rules and rituals can often get in the way of what we really need, which is God himself.

When we pursue the rules instead of the Ruler, the laws instead of Spirit, the sacrifices instead of the One who became the last sacrifice, we’re not getting closer to God; we’re reaching for an obsolete system that God has long since abandoned. Jesus came to clear the way for a more direct intimacy with the Almighty.

So why did I get LEVITICUS 19:28 tattooed on my arm? As a reminder that Jesus claimed to fulfill the system and make the old obsolete (Matthew 5:17). This clears the way for something better.

It’s the good news in a tattoo: Jesus came to save us not only from our sin, but also from our religion.

 

Tags : BruxyBruxy Cavey

18 Comments

  1. Thank you again Bruxy for explaining things so clearly. I have not only learned more from you than any other pastor I have had but as a result I have digged deeper into the true meanings of so many scriptures instead of just being a follower of the “religion” that I was taught.

    You are the best!

  2. I have seen this same argument to try to validate gay relationships yet this is still forbidden from most churches? How do we distinguish law that should still be applied today?

    1. My initial comment would be that even in the NT, Jesus clearly upholds that marriage is between a man and a woman (Matthew 19) as well as other passages (Revelation 22:15; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5) speak about sexual immorality and what will become of those that place their sexuality in a position higher than God. But my primary focus would be on the words of Jesus where he defines what God designed marriage really is.

  3. Thanks for the chuckle Bruxy! This clarify’s a lot! I was trying to explain this to my daughter who is stuck trying to understand the God of the Old Testament as a loving God. You said it much better than me. I will have her read this! Even though you are struggling writing this blog, you are doing it brilliantly!

  4. Bruxy I LOVE you and RESPECT you and have been watching you for a long time. But I respectfully disagree with you on this issue. Jesus said very explicitly that he did NOT come to abolish the law, he did NOT come to make it obsolete, or to do away with it, or however you want to say it. Those are HIS words, regardless of whatever the author of Hebrews said. Fulfill cannot and does not mean abolish (since Jesus juxtaposes these words against each other for contrast) therefore it cannot mean make obsolete. Jesus came so that the law could be written supernaturally on the hearts of his new spiritual children who trust and obey in HIm, not made obsolete. As He said, until heavens and earth are no more, the law will continue and not disappear, not even the least of the commandments. We may be free from the “curse” of death (which is the penalty of the law) through faith in Christ Jesus (HalleluYah!) … but that doesn’t mean that God’s standards of mercy and justice that the law established are passed away. The Holy Spirit is always remaking us in Jesus’ image, removing idolatry and lust and other things which the law pointed out as sin (missing God’s mark). Of course, the way that God asked the ancient civilizations to follow that standard may seem outdated and even barbaric to us now, but there were legitimate reasons for every rule. But now the Holy Spirit is the one who interprets the law for us, showing us how to apply those standards to our modern lives (but for sanctification, not salvation, which is ONLY through grace & faith in Christ). The “what” we do may look different but the spirit is the same. So that mark/standard that we see in the law is representing a REAL thing, a glimpse into God’s holiness, a line in the sand if you will. Yes God’s grace and mercy have overcome our failure, praise God, but that doesn’t mean the line vanishes.

  5. Wonderful. Your blog answers the difference between old and new perfectly for me. I am new to the faith but understand
    it quite clearly. I think jesus loves me lol 🙂

  6. I found this tatto posting very interesting because it affects many of our interpretations in the Old Testament, and have been checking people’s comments ever since. I am watching for a reply from Bruxy for the comments written by Karen Hanes and MELRG2012.

  7. I agree VL, I await those responses as well. I enjoyed the post until the end when Matthew 5:17 was used as I needed a little more clarity on that. I struggle between what Bruxy is saying and what is being countered by MELRG2012. Jesus seems to specifically say I came NOT to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. (I’ve always understood that as to fulfill the penalty of breaking it on our behalf – our penalty was death, but that has now been fulfilled as Jesus came to die but maybe that is a wrong understanding???)

    Anyways, as a tattooed man who Loves Jesus. I have no doubts where my heart is. I’ve always understood that those laws (specifically civic and ceremonial laws) were made to a specific group of people for a specific time for a specific reason (unlike moral law which transcends culture and time), and applying them (civic and ceremonial) across the board to both Jew and Gentile thorough generations is a misuse of scripture,

    good article, some expansion on history, culture, civics, and ceremony would be useful here to understand the actual purpose of that scripture.

    good conversation either way.

    1. Thanks Bruxy I can’t wait to see your blog discuss this further 🙂 Also I don’t doubt that God knows the heart of people and knows how much they love him, tattoos or not. I think that we are all only responsible for what we know and are all at different places in our walk so we shouldn’t judge others. I also think it’s awesome that we can dialog with other believers even we have different interpretations of scripture and that since these are not salvation issues they are not worth dividing over. 🙂

  8. Hello Blog Friends!
    I’m grateful so many of you are reading AND commenting. Thank you for your encouragement. And thanks for your questions too! I’ll be covering the answers to these great questions in upcoming blog posts rather than in the comments section. So glad you’ve raised these issues. Stay tuned!

    Peace,
    Bruxy

  9. I was just introduced to you through Woodland Hills podcast. Gest message, and I gotta say you’re my hero! I’ve always wanted that verse in tatoo form. Awesome. God bless!

  10. Great article. Rightly dividing the word of God is so important. Without a clear understanding of which parts of the bible we need to keep, we can end up hopelessly lost. I kept the “Sabbath” for many years because I thought God wanted me to. Now I follow Jesus. If your readers want to take this subject a little further there’s a great book, “The Sabbath in Christ” by Dale Ratzlaff. It explains in scholarly detail the difference between being a Christian (think New Covenant) and being a Jew (think Old Testament, law keeping oriented). I can honestly say that book, second to the bible, changed my life. Bruxy, I’m thinking Matthew 5:17 on the other arm, but hey, I’ve been wrong before.

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