By Willem Jan A. Pijnacker Hordijk

Update 27-6-2017       vlag


1. Ready to get a tattoo
2. The history of tattoos
3. Tattoo goals
4. The technique of tattooing
5. The dangers of tattoos
6. The regret of getting a tattoo
7. The view of Judaism toward tattoos
8. Statement of position toward tattoos from a Christian point of view

9. Conclusion



1. Ready to get a tattoo

Especially with warm weather you can see who has had his or her skin adorned with a tattoo, while others would rather call it bruised. More people than just tough seamen, motorcyclists, prisoners, tramps and pop stars, have had their bodies to be used as a canvas, as it appears. This behavior is eagerly copied and therefore tattooing occurs in all kinds of social environments. Between five and ten percent of the adult Dutch population has a tattoo. High school students are apparently the easiest who are willing to get one. The new generational tattoo bearers are young, highly educated and self-conscious. The ‘taboo for tattoo’ seems to be disappearing. And because of the developments in the United States, the number of tattoos will continue to increase. As well as their removals ...Today, people do not get just one or two tattoos, but they can also take a so-called ‘sleeve’ of ink, valued at 2,500 euros. The Dutch economy is doing well.

The costs of a removal of full arm sleeve includes certainly eight treatments of 2000 euros each... 1 Therefore, ‘Think before you ink!’, but not only because of the expenses. People may have started as children with the sticking of transparent stickers of chewing gum on their hands. The so-called ‘Body Painting’ is also not permanent. After ‘bodies have been sculptured with paint’, this peculiar art can possibly be erased directly. In addition, there are so- called ‘henna paintings’ that have been done in the Islamic and Hindustani cultures for centuries. ‘Mehndi’ (which is Hindi for henna or shrub Lawsonia Inermis) is an ancient tradition in North India for future brides. The detailed adornments on their feet and hands are applied as signs of prosperity or fertility. These tattoos can disappear painlessly after a few weeks. But a henna scar may take two years to disappear. Beware of fake tattoos that have been prepared with ‘black henna’. In order to make the natural brown-green color of henna darker, they sometimes add para-phenylene-diamine. In the worst case, one may contract a serious allergy.

If you have a sensitive skin, you run the risk toget itching, permanent skin coloring or scars. 2 But how do you react when your own child wants to have its skin to be permanently ‘adorned’ with a tattoo for the rest of its life? What is your own point of view? More distaste or admiration? 'To tattoo or not to tattoo? - that is the question'. In some countries (such as Indonesia) tattoo seem to be forbidden. But why? The answer to that question can be given at the informing of especially school children. In the Netherlands, tattooing has also been restricted. The Commodities Act has been changed in such a way, that tattoo and piercing shops are absolutely prohibited from tattooing or applying body piercing to children under12 years. Children between twelve and 16 have to take their father or mother with them, otherwise a tattoo or body piercing is not allowed. 3

The Dutch Unity of Tattooists calls that regulation a ‘total flop’ and demands a legal prohibition for tattooing children under 17 years, for ‘sometimes children are not only to be protected against themselves, but also against their parents. 4 A law without inspection and sanctions is meaningless. ‘Young people of 12 to 16 years are only allowed to get a tattoo with the approval of the parents (or custodian). The parents are to be present when the tattoo or body piercing is being done. Young people of 12 to 16 years are not allowed to have tattoos on their head, neck, wrists or hands. And they are not allowed to take genital piercings either. With regard to girls, there is a prohibition of nipple piercing.’ Meanwhile, this has apparently been achieved. See the website of the central government. 5 What about the police themselves? The former LPF (=Lijst Pim Fortuyn) member of the parliament, Mr. Eerdmans pleaded for a civilization offensive at the police and referred to the corps Amsterdam-Amstelland, where the chief of police Mr Welting, has banned piercings, earrings for men and visible tattoos. The cause of the growing violence against police officers is according to the former LPF member not only the increasing aggression of civils, but also the radiation of Dutch police officers.6 The policy of the Dutch police forces is, that all visible expressions of a religious conviction such as crosses, skullcaps, head coverings, but also piercings and tattoos, are forbidden for police officers.


2. The history of tattoos

In 1774, the explorer James Cook showed a tattooed Polynesian off to people in London. He introduced the term ‘tattoo’, which is derived from the Tahitian word for ‘mark’: tatau. The roots of tattoo go back to a 4,000 years old mummy of an Egyptian king’s child. In the skin of the young man, a sun god was drawn with a bone needle. Then, this tattoo had been made permanent by rubbing a mixture of animal fat and soot into the wound. At least as old as the mummified corpse is, which have been found in the ice of a glacier in Austria. This person had tattoos which were found on rather hidden spots on his body, covered with clothes. Roman writers such as Virgil and Galen had reported that many slaves and criminals were tattooed. The Christian Emperor Constantin, prohibited tattoos in the faces, which were just common among victims, soldiers and gladiators.


3. The goals of tattoos

There seem to be at least fifteen reasons why people have themselves tattooed.

1. The earliest function of tattooing, was probably the concealment of the unclothed body during hunting.

2. It is further presumed that the first tattoos had been applied for medical reasons. This could be derived from the form and place of the tattoos on old mummies7, thus because of some kind of superstition.

3. The adornments were originally used for identification, for example to emphasize the distinction between tribes. In some cultures, people believe that the spirit that escapes from the body after death, will become an exact replica of that body. Therefore they use tattoos as an identification for the next world. Bangladeshi Hindus believe that parents would not recognize their children in the hereafter without tattoos. Additionally, in the infamous concentration camps, the prisoners were literally hot-branded by identification marks or numbers like animals.
The branding was applied to a visible spot of the slave’s body as a sign of property or crime. During an expedition of the Foreign Legion in Africa, a military physician applied several tattoos to spots on the bodies of soldiers as an indication where they were supposed to put pressure, in case of an arterial bleeding. The physician thought that it might be practical in case a soldier got an arterial bleeding in a fight and there would be no physician around. A fellow-soldier would then know where to 
put pressure, in order to save his colleague.8

4. A tattoo was considered a status symbol or a kind of amulet. Primitive cultures (?!) tattooed animals on their bodies, so that they would experience the protection and power of those animals.



5. Tattoos were used as a sign of mourning and for an initiation ceremony. Dr. Peter Hammond, the director of Frontline Fellowship, a missionary society in south Africa, states that tattoos have their origins in Animism and Spiritism of primitive tribes. Those are painful rites which are carried out in order to enter into the tribe or clan. This initiation often happens with becoming an adult.9


6. It can also indicate a sign of resistance: three dots between thumb and forefinger is the sign of hating the government.

7. A tattoo may have a psychological impact: the projected image of a tiger for example, symbolizes and inspires one’s inner strength. Others receive magical powers, for example by a texts with unknown characters in white ink. A tattoo can also be a way of expressing emotions such as patriotism, love, friendship and brotherhood. One must love his partner, people, friend or brothers a lot, for bearing their names on his body during his whole life. Top athletes sometimes take off their shirt, so that their horrifying tattoos become visible. The ‘Sak Yant’ tattoos for example from Thailand are considered to bring real happiness. Such a tattoo has become famous due to the tattoo on the back of the actress Angelina Jolie. A Sak Yant (Yantra tattoo) is a tattoo which is applied by monks and is considered a kind of initiation into Buddhism. The Maori tattoo is the most popular Polynesian tattoo. Polynesia is an archipelago in the east of Australia.

The Maori are the original inhabitants of New Zealand. However, the Maori are not happy when a westerner copies their tattoos. One of the reasons to take tattoos, is the desire to be noted, wanting to be different than others. Body Modification may even lead to having a tattoo which runs over ten bodies. People are trying to push their boundaries more and more by piercings, stretching the ear lobes, scarification (whereby a piece of the skin is taken away in a shape which makes a decorative sign), hot-branding, splitting the tongue, having one’s ears operated (so that they look like the pointed ears of elves) or having silicone implants, and for one having even his ring finger to be amputated. 10 Nothing is too weird.

8. Tattoos can make the human body look more beautiful, and it does not have to be a problem for anyone to spend a lot of money to this vanity. For decades, tattoos are applied in the Netherlands in the dermatological practice. After an operation, a disfiguring scar can be removed almost invisible, by coloring the skin. Still others, probably the majority, are having a tattoo for decoration only, ‘beautification’ tattooing. In that case the tattoos function as a fashionable expression. For many the tattoo precisely applies as a symbol of freedom. We would like to reflect on these voluntary adornment tattoos.


9. Tattoos also have a spiritual effect. The enthusiastic tattoopropagandist Michelle Delio testifies: “Tattoos have to do with making one’s body his own, so that it becomes a real home and a suited temple for the spirit, which abides in it. The more symbols I applied to my skin, the more it caused me to feel at home in my body. I noticed that my body, by considering it something I could change the way I want it, on the one hand became less holy, though at the same time holier. Less holy, because I refused to accept it to be perfect – besides, created in the image of God – and holier, because I honor my body by taking care of it, by nourishing and adorn it. Therefore, having it tattooed is a way to keep the spiritual and material needs of my body in balance. I am convinced that one can even bring blessings upon himself with a carefully chosen tattoo. Many current tattooists state that they have to be both a medium and a psychiatrist in their profession. Some tattooists in the Western countries are experimenting with ritual methods. That may imply among others that a ritual has to be accomplished, so that a holy space arises around the spot on which the tattoo has to be applied.

An incense is often burnt and the gods are asked to bless the process. Friends are invited to be present, and to give their support and energy. The tattoo is created according to traditionally magical color combinations and applied when the moon is in the right phase. This kind of tattoos are often used at an initiation or healing rite”. By having the Greek god Pan (which was a half-animal and half-man) engraved in her skin, she hoped to invoke the spirit of this ancient god of the 20th century. “The tattoos not only adorn the body, but also the soul. Some believe that one is only recognizable by his tattoo in the hereafter. And it is addictive. One wants to have more and more tattoos on his body, according to Delio. 11 Rob and Marjolein van Rijn, the owners of the first piercing shop in Haarlem, confirm it: they were addicted already to piercings and tattoos when they saw that people could also have themselves hung on meat hooks. They always want to be different, they hate to be bourgeois and quit when something becomes a fashion. 12 I read about the addictive effect in many articles on this subject.


10. To stay young is another goal. According to Chris Wrobleski, co- author of the book ‘Women tattoos’13, a tattoo is not an ethical, religious, sexual or social phenomenon in its purest form, but a ritual agreement with death. People are trying to prevent themselves from the ageing process in this way. The tattoos are according to him written spells on the skin, in order to prevent the inevitable decay.

11. Pilgrims of the Middle ages had themselves the pilgrimage tattooed which they visited, as a permanent remembrance. Some who had visited Japan, came back with a tattoo of a little dragon (e.g. the English king Edward III, the Danish king Frederick !X, king George from Greece and the emperors Frederick III and Wilhem II from Germany. 14 In remembrance of and as a tribute to a deceased, some people also have themselves tattooed. The ashes as remains of a cremation can be blended with the tattoo ink, but the risks to the health are such that Minister Schippers of Health dissuades the application of it. It is likely that the ashes are not sterile anymore at the blending with the ink by the tattooist and additionally the ashes may contain harmful chemicals (carcinogenic such as PAKS 15) 16


12. To communicate a message, is also possible with a tattoo. So, the very old and now deceased Nelly Bolten had herself tattooed on her forearm and later on her chest the texts ‘Do not resuscitate’ and ‘Do not resuscitate, I am 91 plus !!!’ respectively. Her example had elderly followers. However, this tattoo has no validity. 17 Proverbs, complete poems with all kinds of messages, etcetera, with or without illustrations, can be tattooed. The customer is king; as long as you pay for it, you can have anything you want on and into your skin.


13. A tattoo can also be an advertisement. The Paralympic sportsmen are not allowed to have advertisements on their body. The British Paralympic swimmer Josef Craig was disqualified during the European championships in 2016, because he had not removed a tattoo of a colored lion with five rings below it on his chest, for the semi-finals. 18


14. Tattoos can occur exceptionally and illicitly as a punishment. ‘I am a thief’ was tattooed on the forehead of a teenager, because the seventeen year old Brazilian boy tried to steal a bike.19


15. Finally, tattoos seem to serve as an alternative means for evangelization. The intention is good, but not practical. The former EO (Evangelical Broadcast) celebrity Arie Boomsma, got himself a tattoo of Saint Joris and the dragon on his back. According to him, it refers to the challenges that he took and his triumphs over setbacks. In addition, he also applied a tattoo on his forearm, on, mind you, Good Friday (april 6th 2007) of a cross, as a sign of hope and an unshakable foundation of his life. Boomsma defends himself by saying: in Leviticus, the priests of the people of Israel are not allowed to shave their heads, cut their beard and carve symbols in their skins. According to Boomsma, the opponents of tattoos are defending this prohibition inconsistently. For those opponents have shaved their cheeks or cut their beard short, which is also prohibited, according to Leviticus. Objection: However, this commandment, as a part of the rules for life sanctification, did not only apply to the priests (Lev.21:1-5), but to all Israelite men who were mourning (Lev.19:1, 28).

In addition: although the use of tattoos had been already known in Biblical times, Boomsma is quite original in using it as an evangelization means in the Netherlands. The popular couple Yolanthe Carbeau (actress and television presenter) and top football player Wesley Sneijder both, have applied a tattoo on their body of a verse from Psalm 23. The American Todd Bentley had himself tattoos all over his body and claimed that is was assigned to him by God. Besides, occult images have also been discovered among those tattoos. 20 In the United States, the country of unlimited possibilities, there is everything, e.g. also the ‘Alliance of Christian Tattooers’, with Joshua 25:15 as a basic text. That is not particularly a Bible text to legitimize tattoos. On their website there are a lot of skulls to be seen. Why would they do that? They may have good intentions, but does the end justify the means? There may not be a clear prohibition, but a clear example in God’s Word to use tattoos for evangelization is clearly missing. Is it not a denial of the beautifully created body by God? Of course conversations may arise in response to those tattoos and God can make the crooked straight.

Just ask God Himself. He speaks by His Word. The experience expert Peter van Breemen has big tattoos with devils and demonic Celtic signs such as pentagrams which he has remained from his life before he became a Christian. Those tattoos are influencing his spirit and they remind him of his life with God. He has no money to have the tattoos removed. Today he works at the Christian shelter ‘In de Vrijheid’. His advice to young people reads: ‘Do not start with tattoos. Don’t take tattoos; it is written in Leviticus, is it not? There is no scripture where God says that one should honor Him with tattoos. And consider that whoever takes a tattoo of a cross, will always look at it upside down. A reverse cross is the sign of satan’. 21


4. The technique of tattooing

Absolutely everything can be tattooed, either in color or in black and white all over the whole skin (even on the shaved head skin): skulls, snakes, dragons, angels, lightning flashes, Hitler, Madonna, Dracula, a Buddha, naked women, hearts, anchors, sales receipts, but also Mariah, a cross and Jesus ... A small part of the body can be tattooed, but also the whole body, which makes it just look like someone is covered with clothes. After a certain drawing has been chosen, a template is applied to the skin. Then a substance is applied subcutaneously by the hand or with an electric engraving gun. A tattoo arises by placing colored pigments between the permanent under layer of the skin and the continually renewing upper layer. The pigment connects with the skin cells and is visible by the transparent upper layer of the skin. The pain depends on the place of the body. The healing process takes one or two weeks. One of the latest techniques is having the tattoo branded instead of etched. In this case a stamp is heated up to 1,000 degrees and pressed into the skin.


5. The dangers of tattoos

The Municipal Health Services (GGD) in the Netherlands has issued 570 permits officially, but in reality a multitude of tattooists is active. 22 In 2013, there were 823 tattoo shops with a permit and it has increased to around one thousand shops in the Netherlands in 2015.23 In this profession there are certainly (cheaper) unauthorized tattooists. But how high can the price reach if there is no strict sterile handling?! Diseases such as hepatitis C (a serious liver infection) and hepatitis B ( a blood-borne infectious disease, which is much more contagious than hepatitis C and even a hundred times more contagious than HIV) and HIV/AIDS are easily spread24, with all the miseries that they entail.

The heart specialists Dr. M.W. Freund, MA G.G. van Iperen and Dr. J.L.M. Strengers (chief of pediatric cardiology) of the Wilhelmina children’s hospital in Utrecht, express their serious concern in the Dutch physician’s magazine Medisch Contact, about the increasing young heart patients with a piercing or tattoo. The physical adornments seem to increase the risk considerably of life threatening bacterial infections in the heart of children and youngsters with a congenital heart problem. The small wounds that are caused by the application of a tattoo or a piercing, take time to heal and form an excellent entrance for bacterial

pathogens as Staphylococcus and Streptococcus.25 During a small- scale internal investigation in 2001, the Inspection Service discovered bacteria in the paint at 18 percent of the beauty parlors and tattoo shops.26 For Plastic surgeons and dermatologists it is still unknown whether the ingredients of the ink – sometimes heavy metals such as lead, mercury, chrome and cadmium – can cause damage in other parts of the body at the removing of a tattoo with the laser method. Strange, isn’t it, that the soil must be excavated and decontaminated due to heavy metals and that at the same time, toxic heavy metals are allowed to be injected in the skin of people! Finally, it is alarming that in the Netherlands (a message from 1994) the laser treatment of tattoos is not exclusively reserved to medical professionals. The Food and Commodities Authority has been checking tattoo ink for prohibited coloring agents since 1st May 2004, because some coloring agents can be carcinogenic. In 2012 already, it appeared that the black ink can cause cancer. Over a decade after 2004, this Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety authority (NVWA= Nederlandse Voedsel- en Warenautoriteit), mentions that a third part of the ink, which is used for tattooing in the Netherlands, contains agents that can be carcinogenic. Several importers and suppliers have been given a warning or fine for it. Between 2008 and 2013 the NVWA have tested 701 samples of colored tattooing ink of which 206 appeared not to be in order; 44 fines have been imposed for selling ink which contained harmful agents.

A test of 37 samples last year, showed that 41 percent did not meet the standards. The NVWA does not know whether the agents have indeed caused cancer. Many black tattooing and permanent make-up inks still contain (February 2017) carcinogens. This appears from a test by the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority that has tested 52 of the most common inks in the Netherlands. In seventeen of the inks they found the carcinogenic agents.27 In the Netherlands we have stricter rules than in other European countries. According to the European rules, the agents such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are allowed to be used to a certain level in the ink. Though, in the Netherlands there is a total ban on the use of those agents. The NVWA therefore warns about the risk of tattoos. The composition of many tattoo inks is obscure. Some contain carcinogenic azo pigments and polycyclic aromatics. At the removal of tattoos by laser rays, very dangerous agents are being released.28 There are strict hygiene standards; and tattoo shops require a permit from the Municipal Health Services (GGD). Additionally, a website should offer more safety, regarding all kinds of risks.29 In case of a breach, the fines can reach up to about 4,500 euros.30


6.The regret of getting a tattoo

The adage ‘look before you leap’ is very applicable here. The age at which the youngsters get a tattoo is constantly going down and the age of regretting it, does as well. About three out of five tattooed people seem to want to get rid of their tattoo. So, that’s a remarkably high number. Especially women of around the age of 30 who think of getting married and having children, do not want to be associated with their youth anymore and therefore the tattoo has to be removed. It may get in the way of one’s career. He, who in a cheerful mood during one evening ever allowed himself – most likely in drunkenness- to have the name ‘ANNIE’ tattooed on his chest, should have known that the ink letters would last longer than the relationship with Annie herself. One’s adored and tatooed idol may have fallen into disgrace with him. It happened to the singer Anouk. A spelling error can be destructive. Just ask the Feyenoord soccer player Jordy Clasie (‘You mean everything in my life’). And we must be very careful with Chinese characters or foreign texts.

Before you know it, the tattoo on your hip does not mean ‘mysterious’, but means ‘weird’ (Britney Spears) or means that you live according to your ‘menstruations’ (régles) instead of your own rules (règles), which is what happened to soccer player John Carew.31 And how does your tattoo look like when you have become old and wrinkled? And there is another reason for you to think first carefully before you get a tattoo. It appears from research by the University of Saint Andrews, that (visible, which is the intention, isn’t it?!) tattoos may reduce the chance for employment. Managers seem to consider tattoos to be ‘dirty’ and ‘grubby’, and are afraid about how colleagues and clients would respond to it. 32 In addition, the image of one’s tattoo may not be appreciated by everyone. In July 2016, a Spanish tourist was deported from Myanmar because of a tattoo of Buddha on his leg.33 In principle, the tattoo is irreversible. It is often underestimated how hard, painful and emotional it is to get a tattoo to be removed, apart from the financial picture, which can be very painful too. The simplest way not to have a tattoo in sight, is to cover it with clothing. In case someone has leapt before he looked and is dissatisfied about an image, he can have a so-called ‘cover-up’.

In this case a picture is placed on top of it, which conceals the first one. In fact the tattoo is being enlarged. Another method is having a flesh colored tattoo applied. In the fourth case, the skin can as it were, be scratched off (dermabrasion). Of course it is very painful. To really get rid of the tattoo is possible by the means of plastic surgery or skin transplant (fifth method). It often leaves scars. Where does the ethical limit lie for the application of plastic surgery? You might say that this is acceptable when it causes a person to be seriously affected psychologically. Finally, a very modern way of removal: laser rays, which is not painless.

This method is much more expensive than the tattooing itself. Depending on the size and nature of the image, the costs are 50 – 300 euros per treatment. The ink of the tattoo is exploded literally by the radiation and divided in such small elements, that they can be released by the body itself in the weeks afterwards. The treatment must be repeated four to twelve times! The classical India ink can be removed after about six treatments. Red ink can be removed within six to ten treatments. Green ink does require 25 sessions (3 years), while white ink is often untreatable. The removal of a tattoo equivalent to the size of a matchbox costs 600 to 800 euros.34 Though, it still cannot be guaranteed that the tattoo will really get removed. When the ink for example contains synthetic agents or metal particles, the laser beam cannot degrade it. Unfortunately, it becomes only clear when you’ve once been treated with the laser method.. Therefore, prevention is still better than cure!


7. Tattooing from the point of view of Judaism

The only clear text, that reminds strongly of tattooing, is Lev.19:28. In the New English Translation, the word tattoo is used here. “

Here it is about a prohibited mourning ritual. Commentators differ with regard to the question whether or not its

function is some kind of penitence in favor of a dead person, so that demonic powers will not torture the dead person anymore. The commentary of Noordtzij on this is: “Here it is expressly forbidden, certainly because at that time it was strongly related to the Canaanites. The tattooing occurred more often in later times in Judaism, but the pagan influence had disappeared.”35 He fails to indicate where and why tattooing would occur often among the Jews. The idea that the application of tattooing would occur often among Jews is not true, unless you consider the holocaust. In Auschwitz-Birkenau, 400,000 people were forcefully tattooed with numbers and in that way were reduced to the

You must not slash your body for a dead person [literally: for a soul] or incise a tattoo on yourself. I am the LORD.

status of an object; after all, it is easier to throw away impersonal objects than people with names. But it is, like the frequently use of cremation in the Shoah, in contrast to the conviction of Judaism, in which they ‘are called to look further beneath the surface and focus on the development of deeper and more permanent aspects of their self-esteem and satisfaction’. The opinions of the orthodox and liberal Jews are not unanimous. What is exceptional, is that a descendant of a holocaust survivor or – deceased, gets himself tattooed with a number as from Auschwitz, as a permanent remembrance and a significant sign of themselves. ‘Grandma was first very upset about it’. As a response to that, someone writes the condemnatory term ‘holocaust nostalgia’ on the internet. ‘Young people are trying to take over the victim role of their grandfather’, according to someone else. 36 Abraham Chill37, goes into more details on the view of the Jews:

1)Tattooing as a sign of mourning is forbidden.
2)Incisions in the skin with non-erasable ink is prohibited, based on Leviticus 19:28. Rabbinic commentaries are different from one another’s opinions with regard to the reason of the second regulation. Apparently due to the pagan origin, for pagans wrote the names of pagan idols. Therefore, it was also generally forbidden. The reason that Or ha-Chajiim gives, is that if people (for understandable reasons) make incisions as a sign of mourning and sorrow, how much more is it forbidden (when they do it with full sense) to get themselves a tattoo. How do Jews view tattoos and body piercing, especially in more extreme appearances, when they are not a part of a medical treatment? The fact that they do not serve a medical purpose, is not a sufficient reason in itself for rejecting them. It is after all an acceptable habit in their culture to have their ears pierced for adornments, in order to look more beautiful. Their committee has written that it is permitted according to Jewish tradition.
If this is the case, then what is the essential difference between having the ears pierced and the objectionable forms of tattoos and body piercing? When the only consideration is how great or small the operation may be, then on which reasons of principle do they allow the one and prohibit the other? And if they explain that the other is prohibited, can they be sure that their religious speech is more than only a smoke curtain behind which a generation or social group is trying to impose its own standard of beauty, decorum and taste on people who think differently about it? These critical comments are to be taken seriously. But they are also carefully to be considered according to the criterion of the Jewish tradition, that they treat their bodies with respect, which is an order to which we attach a greater weight.
38 Sanctification laws dictate to them the natural beauty of the body and prevent them from abuse and spoiling.39 God prohibited to incise a tattoo on the body

Lev.19:28, 21:5, Deu.14:1, Jer.16:6, 41:5. This prohibition was not related to idolatry, but was intended to impress the correct way of reverence on the Israelites for God’s creation. The external appearance should reflect the inner status of God’s holy nation (Deu. 14:1,2). This prohibition was applied to Israel in any case. There are many different opinions whether it also goes for other nations.


8. Position determination toward tattooing from a Christian view

A scientific research in America has shown that tattooed young people significantly often overindulge themselves in sex, alcohol and violence than non-tattooed youngsters. Children who had their first tattoo or piercing at the age of 13 or younger, had also thought more often about committing suicide. Tattooing fits in with the modern hedonism, which only cares about one’s own ego and his own body. In this way the young people want to accentuate the beauty and strength of their own body.40 It is not in dispute that a human body is clean and that a tattooist can be a handsome artist. Shall I have myself to be bruised by tattooing?

Is there mention of adornment or mutilation here? Can a body be adorned with eye shadow, nail polish, lip stick, earrings, etc.? The big differences with tattooing is that it is not applied on, but into the skin, which is permanent. In fact, it is quite luxurious to spend a considerable amount of money on a tattoo. From the growing popularity of tattooing, it appears that the financial crisis is not much of a problem, but it appears that it is probably much more about an identity crisis. The kind of people that have had a tattoo, as well as the images, should make us stop and think. My philosophy teacher rightly stated: ‘better longhaired than shortsighted!’, which is in other words: one’s inner self is more important than his appearance. The appearance does indeed reflect the inner self. Every human being communicates with his body and clothing. What can that message be then?

Some examples: “Just be yourself”, “I don’t care at all”, “Be afraid for me”, “I have sought my refuge in the gods”. What do you radiate with your message? What is the purpose? Power? Protection? Sturdiness? Wanting to belong to a group of people? Security? To shock others? It is striking that the advance of the tattooing coincided with the rise of interests in eastern religions. Some of the tattooed people allowed themselves to be led by occult motives. It is to be hoped that a Christian recognizes it on time. The power, protection, self-esteem and acceptance of the Christian are in Christ alone. From the Christian tradition, it appears that we are not the first who think about this subject and try to determine a position. In the church history, Christians had an aversion of changes in the body, because they believed that God created man in His image. Tattooing was considered a deed of blasphemy, a pagan habit, which have to be annihilated. InCalcuth, Northumberland, the Council just simply prohibited the Churches in the year of 786 or 787of applying any form of tattooing.41 Similar decrees have been accepted in the following thousand years regularly. Of course there have been exceptions:

*In the current Sudan, a Christian tattoo has been found on the mummy of a woman from the time of around 700 after Christ. The tattoo was on the inner side of her right thigh. It consists of a monogram with the Greek characters M-I-X-A-H-A, or the arch angel Michael, the patron saint of the Christians in that particular region, probably with the intention of self- protection.42
* Another exception: Italians in Lorette had themselves an image engraved in their skin as a testimony of their love for God.
* During long periods of abuse, the Coptic art of tattooing came about. Ancient Egyptian tattooing art traces back to 2000 before Christ.
In the Roman empire, tattooing was a humiliating practice which was used to brand slaves and criminals; it was also used at pagan religious rites, whereby a person became the ‘slave of a god’. In the fourth century after Christ, the Montanists (a christian sect) that strongly trusted in the book of Revelations, tattooed themselves as ‘the servants of God’ (Rev.7:2-3). The first proofs of the Coptic tattooing are going back to the eighth century, when the Egyptian monks tattooed their hands with Christian symbols. Some scholars believe that they have learnt it from Ethiopian Christians, who inscribed crosses on their forehead, temples and wrists. The historian Susanne Elm writes that ‘different kinds of Christians, ascetics, common Christians and sometimes Bishops, wore stigmata which in several ways reflected their obedience to God, ‘as being a property to God’, even in adverse conditions’. The Coptic scholar Otto Meinardus, agrees: ‘In times of persecution, the tattoo of the cross has given strength to the believers and it was therefore absolutely not possible for them to deny their faith’. While the tattoos of the cross are not widespread anymore among urban Copts, they remain popular among Egyptian Christian villagers as a remembrance of special blessings and religious oaths. For the Copts of the past and today, the tattoo of the cross is not a sign of teenage rebellion or trend. Instead they are permanent remembrances of their Christian faith. It shows the devotion of the Copts to Him Who bore the eternal scars of mercy, grace and truth.
43 A new phenomenon is the ‘Project Semicolon’, a movement which was started by the Christian Amy Bleugel from America.

The thought behind it is the following: ‘The semicolon is used when a writer could have decided to conclude a phrase, but chose not to. You are the writer and the sentence is your life’. Tattooed semicolons are to be found on wrists, fingers, forearms and ankles, but also behind ears, on the necks and between the shoulder blades. The latter body parts are, strangely enough, not to be seen by the bearer himself and therefore misses the positive influence. The goal is to reach a lower figure of suicides, which is of course commendable, but the means is doubtful.

In a personal crisis it takes more, of course, than a tattoo as a remembrance and statement. We cannot expect much of a tattoo as a sort of amulet. It is true that man has his own responsibility, but it seems to me that it goes too far to state that we can write our own life’.44 All in all, for ages most Christians have found it sinful to make changes in that ‘image’. It is remarkable that especially non-Christians get themselves a tattoo and that those who have been tattooed, often after their conversion to the Lord Jesus, want to get rid of it by the conviction of the Holy Spirit about the sin of tattooing! Nevertheless, no tradition and experiences are decisive in the formation of our opinion, but it is God’s Word in harmony with God’s Spirit.

As it has been said, every human being is an image or depiction of God. In Genesis 1:27 we read it even twice. Man is similar to God rather than animals. In spiritual view we look like God, for God is (a) spirit (Jn 4:24). The Godman Jesus Christ got a body and now has a glorified body. The human body is no less worthy than the soul or the spirit, is it? According to 1 Cor.6:19, the body of a Christian is indeed a temple. A temple is built to bring praises and offerings to God. A Christian, with his whole life and body, is not his own but God’s. Thereby it is therefore the intention that he should not require extra attention to himself. All selfish motives for taking a tattoo are therefore reprehensible. This holy temple of the Holy Spirit is not suited for – no matter how artistic – being treated with a kind of ‘permanent graffiti’. This is to be considered a protest, as if the Creator has failed. The human body has been ingenuously put together in such an amazing way; it is has been formed breathtakingly and wonderfully and is stunning by nature. It is striking that people, also in our time, wherein less and less or nothing seems to be permanent, by choosing for a tattoo,

in this way are choosing for something permanent. What we believe in and what we remain faithful to, is after all often just temporary, isn’t it? Does tattooing in this way get a deeper dimension?! That the human (especially the woman) is pretty good at dressing up, seems to be very old. In the seventh century before Christ, the prophet Isaiah in chapter 3:18-26, mentions the large make-up assortment. All this beauty will be exchanged for horrible externalities, because of the people’s pride. Painting the eyes is not modern, but very old: 2Kings 9:30 (Jezebel), Jer4:30, Eze.23:40. At the end of his suffering, Job received among others a daughter, whom he called ‘Keren-Happuk’, which means ‘little powder box’ or ‘horn for black make-up’ (Job 42:14). Is a woman not allowed then to ‘beautify herself’? That’s the impression that 1 Pet.3:3-4 gives: Let your beauty not be external—the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes— but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God’s sight.” Therefore, let us especially profile ourselves in our inner beauty,which is called: character building.

A nice character does not become pale and lifeless in the course of years, but more beautiful. Do dress yourself in “inner compassion, in kindness, modesty, gentleness and patience and above all, in love” (Col.3:12-150. Our model and example thereby is the Lord Jesus. There is no greater compliment for one than when it is said of him that he looks like Jesus. One’s wealth and identity must especially be in his inner man. If your wealth is only external, you are poor in essence, and your beauty consists of a mask that can conceal the inner rottenness. Additionally, you have to fight (and loose!) the battle against wrinkles and gray hair, which will come inevitably.

But a woman is certainly allowed to pay attention to her appearance, in order to be and remain attractive, especially for her own husband.
No, the people in the Bible and the writers of the Bible were not blind for nice looking men and women such as Sarah and Rebekah (Gen.12:11, 14, 24:16, 26:7)! Jacob was in love with Rachel, who was ‘lovely in form and appearance’. The same is said of her son Joseph, by the way (Gen.39:6). But Rachel committed idolatry and dies tragically. Of his other wife Lea, who looked rather plain, you cannot say that. (Gen.29:17, 31:30-35, 35:16-20). Queen Esther was both from the inside and outside stunningly beautiful. Nice clothes, adornments and make-up are not evil, unless they do not conceal the inner emptiness and are not intended to seduce men. Does Exo.13:9 and 16 relate to tattooing? “ 
on your hand and an emblem on your forehead..”.45 However, Jewish

It is to be a sign people have never taken up this command to get a tattoo. They actually applied this verse very literally in a totally different way. Every Jewish man, from 13 years of age is obligated to wear prayer belts at the morning prayer. They consists of two small cubes of which the one is placed on the forehead and the other on the left arm. In these small cubes there are brief portions of the Torah. The Lord Jesus acted against it in Mat.23:5. The application must of course be figurative, as Proverbs 3: 3 also is to be explained : “Do not let gracious love and truth leave you. Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart”. When it comes to faith, it is not about the skin, but the heart. To reinforce our deep desire, our intense prayer, we are not called anywhere in God’s Word to take a tattoo, but to fast. As the blood of alamb on the doorposts was a sign for life (Exo.12), ‘men, who were sighing and groaning about all the horrors’ in Jerusalem received a sign on their forehead. This was done by a man clothed in linen, who was equipped with a writing set (Eze.9). In Rev.7:3 9:4, 14:1 there is mention of a seal on the forehead and a mark on the right hand of the faithful believers. The counterpart of this seal of God is the mark that the worshipers of the beast will get on their forehead and right hand (Rev.

A seal is comparable to a stamp, and can also be considered purely spiritual (Jn 6:27). Some people think of the subcutaneous implantation of a chip, which is technically already possible and has already been applied to animals...Any way, it is not the same as an adornment tattoo, which is exactly our subject. It seems like God Himself does write in His body:

On his robe that covers his thigh he has a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS”, but it is unlikely that there is mention of a tattoo here. These names are written at the height of his hip, on a robe or sword, instead of on or even in his skin. Besides, this would have been unreadable for John. The inspired apostle Paul stated: “13:16, 14:9).

I’ve inscribed you on the palms of my hands, and your walls are forever before me” (Isa.49:16). Does God really have hands? No, as we have seen before in Jn 4:24, God is a Spirit, but He is described as a man. This is called anthropomorphism. Thus, here a spiritual reality is described in a malleable, human way. This verse is also not applicable to tattooing. Schiffmacher, the tattoo king of Amsterdam with his shop on the Wallen (Red Light District!), makes us attentive to Revelation 19:16: “ because you were bought for a price. Therefore, glorify God with your bodies” (1Cor.6:20).


9. Conclusion

A tattoo as fashion, etcetera, is not mentioned in the Bible, but certainly prohibited as a mourning rite. We should take into consideration, that especially non-Christians have had themselves tattooed because of various non- or even antichristian motives. Although the adornment of one’s body in itself is not against God’s will, tattooing is risky and has a significant impact, which can be compared to graffiti on a white temple. One’s appearance is a reflection of his inner man. And this inner man is very essential to God. The invisible heart is more important than the visible skin. In general, tattoo has been rejected in Christian tradition and its about more than just conservatism. The fact that the tattooed individuals, after their conversion to the living God, do decide to have their tattoos removed (actually, without having read this article), should also make us stop and think. In addition, there are medical objections: in case the tattooing does not happen under strictly sterile conditions, the chance of contracting Hepatitis B and AIDS is very real. And in case of the possible removal (60%!), it is yet unclear what damage the toxic coloring agents can cause. Based on the above-mentioned, we are not positive about this ‘art’. Hopefully, we have helped Christians with this article on how to be a good steward of their body, money and time. In case of doubt, do not do it. Think before you ink!


© MA W.J.A. Pijnacker Hordijk

translated by Ursula Moestapa




Consulted literature:
* Raymond van den Boogaard, De teloorgang van de tattoo, NRC-Handelsblad, 13-8-1999, p. 19

  • J.O. Buswell, Tattoo, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, deel 5, (Michigan, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), p.603

  • Arnoud Cornelissen, Onzichtbare verwijdering tatoeages is onmogelijk (Gooi en Eemlander, 16-12-1987)

  • Michelle Delio, Tattoo: lichaamskunst als spiegel van je ziel (Alphen a/d Rijn: Atrium, 1993) vooral pp. 8, 15, 65, 73, 75.

  • C.F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, volume I (Michigan, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981) p. 424

  • Teunke Koelewijn, Veel mensen willen van hun tatoeage af (Primeur, 13-1-1995)

  • F. Kootstra, Tatoeages soms een (medisch) probleem - Een cultuur in kaart gebracht

    (Medisch Contact, 29-7-1994)

  • Rob Molthoff, Tatoeages op het lijf geschreven (Psychologie, juli 1992)

  • Karin van Munster, Laserstraal blaast tatoeages op (Trouw, 24-9-1994)

  • Eduard Padberg, Stoere tekening wordt lelijk litteken (De volkskrant, 28-6-2005)

  • Chaim Pearl en Reuben S. Brookes, Wegwijs in het Jodendom (Amsterdam: stichting Jad

    Achat, 1985)

  • Henk Schiffmacher, Heet van de naald (Amsterdam: De Arbeiderspers, 1991) p.61

  • Frits Wafelbakker, Tatoeages, trots & spijt (Primeur 30-8-1994)

  • Tonny van der Mee, Een tatoeage als levensverhaal, Algemeen Dagblad, 28-7-2012, pp. 12

    en 13

  • Bob Witman, Tatoeage camoufleert plastische chirurgie (De Volkskrant, 8-10-1988)

  • Chris Wroblewski, Tatoeages: de kunst, de trots, de erotiek (Houten: Gaade, 1993)

  • Chris Wroblewski, Vrouwen tattoos (Houten: Gaade, 1994)


    1 Ingmar Vriesema, Nooit meer blote armen, NRC Next, 20 en 21 mei 2017
    2 Temporary tattoos with black Henna can cause severely allergic reactions. Over the past few years dermatologists in Belgium and other countries have determined an increasing number of severely allergic reactions which are caused by temporal tattoos with Henna that contain para-Phenylenediamine (PPD). PPD is a very strong allergen, which is permitted for the use in coloring agents for hair, but is forbidden in products to apply directly on the skin. With pure Henna there are rarely allergic reactions. When coloring preparations contain only Henna, it takes some hours for the skin to color and the obtained coloring looks orange to chestnut-red.

In case PPD is added to it, the drawing looks blacker and it appears faster, but then there is a greater chance of an allergy.
The allergic reactions that are evoked by PPD, generally appear 2 to 3 days after the application of the temporal tattoo at the already sensitive person, but may only occur after about ten days when the tattoo is at the basis of a primary sensitization (which is however, often the case).

Several symptoms have been observed such as itching, redness, pimples, blisters, erosion, ... Permanent hyper pigmentation of the skin can occur and also permanent scars. In principle one becomes hypersensitive for a lifetime and can then develop allergies to all products that contain PPD or analog products, namely coloring agents for the hair, certain coloring agents for textile, rubber, sun filters or even some medicines.

When such reactions occur, one should get in contact quickly with a treating physician or dermatologist who will prescribe an appropriate treatment.
These temporal tattoos are generally applied by traveling artists, on beaches, fairs or festivals. This form of tattoo is very popular, especially among young people. In foreign countries the henna tattoos are often presented to tourists. In Belgium, an inspection will be organized in sensitive areas, by the Inspection Service of the federal government service of Health, Safety of the Food Chain and Life Environment.

3 Verbod op tattoo en piercing bij kinderen, Reformatorisch Dagblad, 28-6-2006

4 Berry van der Heijden, ‘Tatoeagewet aanpassen’ en Veel jongeren hebben spijt van tatoeage. Nederlands
Dagblad 21-8-2007

5 antwoord/welke-regels- gelden-er-bij-het-laten-zetten-van-een-piercing-of-tatoeage

6 LPF: Geen piercing en tatoeage voor politieagent, Reformatorisch Dagblad, 15-6-2006 7
8 Petra Wolthuis, Zorgen om risico’s ‘beautificatie’, Metro, 13-8-2002
9 Martha Aalbers, Een tattoo nog steeds taboe?, Nederlands Dagblad, 6-1-2010

10 Alex van der Hulst, Tatoeages zijn mainstream. Amputeer eens een vinger, NRC.Next, 25-3-2015, n.a.v. de tentoonstelling Body Art t/m30 aug. 2015 in het Tropenmuseum te Amsterdam.

11 Een van andere de uitspraken van Michelle Delio “Tattoos have a power and magic all their own. They decorate the body but they also enhance the soul.”

12 Brigit Kooijman, ‘Zijn tongsplitsing vond ik wel moeilijk’, NRX. Next, 23-1-2017 13 Vrouwen tattoos, WROBLEWSKI, Chris & RIJSOORT, Albertjan van

14 Rien van den Berg, Een echte draak is niet te doden, Nederlands Dagblad, 10-6-2016; recensie van Draken, Peter Nissen en Sanne Verdonck (Nijmegen: Vantilt, 2016) 176 p.

15 PAKS zijn polycyclische aromatische koolwaterstoffen

16 Schippers ‘As van cremeerden beter niet in tatoeages’, De Volkskrant, 1-4-2016

17 Peter de Waard, Eerste 90-plusser met niet-reanimeren-tattoo, de Volkskrant, 2-5-2017

18 Fred Buddenberg, Eline van Suchtelen, Rob Velthuis, Tatoeage met olympische ringen uit den boze voor paralympiër, Trouw, 15-9-2016

19 ‘Fietsendief’ gestraft met tatoeage op hoofd, Nederlands Dagblad, 13-6-2017
20 Krijn de Jong, Baas in eigen huid, de Oogst, juli-aug.2012 pp. 14, 15
21 Martha Aalbers, Een tattoo nog steeds taboe?, Nederlands Dagblad, 6-1-2010
22 Tonny van der Mee, Een tatoeage als levensverhaal, Algemeen Dagblad, 28-7-2012, p.


  1. 23

  2. 24  Drs. M. Dosljak, projectleider nationaal Hepatitis Centrum, Sp!ts 12-7-2002

  3. 25  René Steenhorst, Alarm om tattoo kinderen Risico infecties bij hartproblemen aanzienlijk

hoger, De Telegraaf 19-7-2008.

26 Tattookleurstof kan infectie veroorzaken, Sp!ts, 19-12-2001 en Petra Wolthuis, Zorgen om risico’s
‘beautificatie’, Metro, 13-8-2002

27 Tattoo-inkt bevat nog altijd kankerverwekkers, Nederlands Dagblad, 18-2-2017

28 dr. Wim Hoek, Tatoeages.een onbijbelse trend!, Bijbel en Onderwijs, dec. 2016, citaat uit C2W (vakblad voor chemie) van 13-9-2008


30 NVWA: tatoeages kunnen kankerverwekkende inkt bevatten, NRC, 16-4-2015; Gerben van ’t Hof, Felle kleur in tatoeage is kankerverwekkend, ‘Af en toe gebruik je de klant als proefkonijn’, AD 16-4-2015

31 Tonny van der Mee, Een tatoeage als levensverhaal, Algemeen Dagblad, 28-7-2012, pp. 12 en 13

32 Tatoeage vermindert kans op een baan, Metro, 9-9-2013, vermindert-kans-

33 Rens Oving, Drie maanden achter tralies om een uitgetrokken stekker, Metro, 7-10-2016

34 Berry van der Heijden, Veel jongeren hebben spijt van tatoeage. Nederlands Dagblad 21- 8-2007

35 dr. A. Noordtzij, Levitikus, Korte Verklaring van de Heilige Schrift (Kampen: Kok, 1940) p.202

36 Ad Bloemendaal, Oma genummerd in Auschwitz, kleinzoon in Israël, Nederlands Dagblad 17-10-2012

37 The mitzvot, Jerusalem, 1990, pag. 246, 247
38 De rest van dit artikel is te lezen in Levend Joods Geloof nr. 1


39 Gordan J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans publishing company, 1979)
p. 272

40 Verband tatoeages en slecht gedrag, Reformatorisch Dagblad 12-6-2002 Het onderzoek is verschenen in het
blad Pediatrics, en is besproken in de Washinton Post.


42 Rien van den Berg, Mummie heeft christelijke tatoeage op binnenkant dij, Nederlands Dagblad 25-3-2014 Op de mummietentoonstelling van het British Museum in Londen is deze mummie vanaf mei 2014 te zien.

43 Door: Jennifer A. Johnson(3/9/2009) Vertaling: Michael Zaky 3aAr.dpufhttp://ww

44 Harmke van Berkum, Tattoo als teken van hoop, Nederlands Dagblad, 17-7-2015 45 Vergelijk Deut.6:8.!Facebook!Google!Live!Yahoo!

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