Bible Christian Living Ethics

A.S.K 46 – Tattoos and Alcohol

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BIBLE READING: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

TEXT: 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 honour God with your bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

If you have been reading through this book you will have become familiar with our text for this question! So many questions we have as teenagers are to do with our bodies so it is not surprising that this verse, which states a major guiding principle, is used so much. Maybe it would be a good idea to have it as one of your verses to memorise? (I hope you do memorise the Word of God and store it up in your heart).

It’s also essential to realise that the Bible is not a list of do’s and don’ts – it’s not a moral checklist. Rather it gives us Christ and it gives us the principles on which we can base our life. The Bible treats us like responsible adults who have the capacity to think for ourselves and to work out God’s Word in our local circumstances. So with that in mind let’s look briefly at the two issues mentioned in our questions. Is it a sin to have a tattoo?

At first glance the answer seems to be an obvious yes. After all doesn’t Leviticus 19:28 say: ‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.’ But that is the danger with taking a cut and paste verse approach to the Bible – remember the principle that we have stated several times – everything must be taken in context. Is this like the verse afterwards which tells fathers not to make their daughters prostitutes or the one before which tells them not to cut their hair at the sides or trim their beards?! Are we going to say that all of them apply equally today or that none of them apply? It seems to me that neither of these options are biblical.

In the context of the Levitical law and culture of that day, the shaping of the hair and trimming of beards, as well as tattooing patterns on the skin, were part of pagan mourning practice. God is saying don’t mourn like pagans. Tattoos were often of pagan deities and were considered to be a dishonouring of the image of God in a person. (Deuteronomy 14:1-2). Neither of these practices were acceptable to the covenant people of God, who were to be separate/holy.

downloadSo what about tattoos today? I don’t think it is sinful to get a tattoo per se. It all depends what kind of tattoo and what the motive is. Interesting side fact: Ronaldo, the Real Madrid world cup star, does not have a tattoo because he wants to be able to give blood! I also think we need to be aware of the cultural context. Why are tattoos so popular today? Is it because as a society we are reverting to a pagan view of the body? If so, Christians need to be even more careful not to reflect that.

What about drinking alcohol? Psalm 104:15 thanks God for ‘wine that gladdens human hearts’. Jesus turned water into high quality wine (John 2:1-10). The memorial feast he established (communion) had wine as one of its two major elements. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells Timothy to stop drinking just water and take a little wine for his stomach’s sake (1 Timothy 5:23). On the other hand there are strong warnings in the Bible against drunkenness – and we are commanded not to get drunk on wine which leads to debauchery but to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). The Bible’s position is, then, that alcohol is a gift from God, but it should be used properly and not to excess.

What does this mean for us? We are free to drink alcohol and we are free not to. Another very important factor is to consider those around us. If you have a friend who is an alcoholic it would be unwise to drink in their presence. If there are those of our friends and family who abuse alcohol you don’t want to encourage them. But please remember not to judge others for doing something that the Bible does not condemn.

How do we know what is right and wrong on these and other issues? Sometimes our conscience, sometimes our culture, but always the Word of God. Consciences can be seared and cultures can be corrupted – but the Word of God remains pure for all generations. We should not do what he has forbidden or refuse to do what he has commanded. There is a great liberty in understanding and applying this. In all of this our desire is to show our love for God by obeying his commands (1 John 5:3). We follow Jesus.

In this respect Revelation 19:16 has an interesting word about a ‘tattoo’ on Jesus: ‘On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.’ He is King of kings and Lord of lords. Follow Jesus and you won’t get lost or wander into the wilderness.

CONSIDER: Why do you think God has not given a detailed set of rules for every situation?

RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING: Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics – John Murray

Knowing God’s Will – M. Blaine Smith

PRAYER: How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees (Psalm 119:9-12).

A.S.K 45 – Help – My Girlfriend’s Pregnant

A.S.K 44 – Backsliding

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13 comments

  1. I can affirm what you sat David about tattoos and the drinking of alcohol. The tattoos being significant in pagan religion just as the wearing of clothing from different materials. And alcohol leading to inhibitions which might be regretted later.

    I don’t have any tattoos, I do wear clothing worn of different cloths and occasionally I have been known to pick up sticks on a Sunday. There was a time when I was part of a drinking culture and feeling the worse off for wear form a session I would wake up in the morning and say “never again”, until the following weekend that is, when it would start all over again. Often times it would mask pain and there would be an esprit de corps in doing so – a team spirit, for a short while.

    But as you say, better with the Spirit of power, love and sound mind. And in Christ there is the freedom to choose whether to drink or not.

    I have a small question. You say “the Bible is not a list of do’s and don’ts” and “if you have a friend who is an alcoholic it would be unwise to drink in their presence.” If something is unwise, it is foolish. If something is foolish it is something you don’t want to do. So is what you say about drinking with an alcoholic friend a “don’t” or an implied “don’t at least.

    I was vulnerable in sharing of my experience in a conservative evangelical church recently which almost resulted in me rejecting Christianity. In this church, there were a lot of subtle things going on. Such as talking about the freedom to choose whether to drink or not but those that abstained from alcohol were held in higher esteem and it was a kind of status and one-upmanship when discussions were had about this.

    So can I suggest when it comes to specifics about “dos and don’ts” and what is considered wise and foolish that Romans 14 applies, i.e. not to do anything that distresses someone, even thought it is your “right” but also if you know that what you are doing is good, not let anyone tell you that it is not, that is it “unChristian” or the like?

    Then as a general approach not trust in your own understanding but in all things acknowledge God and follow his direction (Prov 3:5,6)?

    Could I ask also about what your pastoral experience is perhaps with youth? Have you found it wise in youth work to apply a tight set of boundaries at times which with more mature adults (or more mature in faith) can be relaxed?

    1. Hi Adam – by unwise I just mean its not helpful nor loving to provide temptation and a bad example. I don’t need to drink when my alcoholic friend comes round.

      I don’t think either with youth or adults that I would apply a different set of standards. I want to provide biblical ones for all…obviously, the application may be different but by definition that means it must be flexible according to the circumstances. I think its wrong to add extra rules…

      1. Hey David,

        Thank you for your reply.

        My alcoholic friend it the one who invited me to the pub and buys drinks. If I drink an alcoholic drink that he has bought me, is that me providing temptation and a bad example? I don’t think so. I think he would be drinking whether or not I had requested at Tennants or a fruit smoothie when he offered to but me a drink. I can see your point also and I assume what you mean with your alcoholic friend, if he is abstaining from alcohol, your drinking alcohol could be putting temptation in his way and making things difficult for him when they might not be otherwise.

        So I would affirm what you say about adding extra rules. I hope no-one takes offence on reading this.

        Given that there are differences in approaches, what I have learned in my church experience is that it is better among some conservative evangelicals to keep such matters to myself as it can result in difficulty by sharing things. For some people eating everything is permitted and others only eat vegetables. And so as not to have conflict and possibly destroy someone over a mater of food, it being about keeping such matters to ourselves? Perhaps the same can be said for drink in some circumstances?

        I hear what you say about the same set of standards for youth and adults with possible different application and being flexible according to the circumstances. I’ve found with younger adults there is often a security they crave and direction (although perhaps they won’t admit to it) and that requires boundaries. Although this can apply to older adults too.

  2. thanks, David, a helpful and thought-out approach to a couple of issues that trouble many Christians today.

    some other considerations I find helpful –

    1 does this activity enhance my walk with Christ? does it bring me closer to Him and glorify Him?

    2 does it provide a good witness to unbelievers?

    3 does it provide a good example to other believers, especially those younger and perhaps less mature in the faith?

    4 does it have the potential to be a ‘stumbling block’ to others?

    5 is it a good use of resources? not just money but time, effort, energy, consequences.

    every blessing

    Steve

    1. I never remember experiencing JOY during or afterward of drinking alcohol. The “good time we had” , and I tried controlled drinking, you know, just get a buzz and stop. Didn’t work. More often than not drunkeness was the result. I have only found Joy since I rejected alcohol and surrendered my life to Christ, my Higher Power. I have dealt with several alcoholics in my family, and brother it ain’t worth it. I prefer to believe where it says not to cut on our bodies, and do not admire tattoos. I have a small one on my upper right shoulder, the name of my city and state I grew up in. Got it while in the military, and was drunk.

  3. David, in this part of the world questions along similar lines often arise – the wearing of hats or having head coverings and women having long hair as a covering, it being shameful for a man to have long hair etc.
    Now I know these things seem to have gone out of fashion in church generally, and there is a much more relaxed approach to dress code overall, apart from perhaps Brethern folk and the Free P’s here.
    But when I read that women should cover their heads when praying “because of the angels” I am left wondering why we ignore some standards and not others.
    The reason given for not doing these things nowadays is said to be cultural, but is it?
    I would love to hear your views on these standards please.

    1. The 1 Corinthians 11 passage is one of the most difficult to understand in the Bible…would love to go into it at some point – but can’t just now…sorry.

  4. Regarding alcohol, the case is nowhere near as simple as it might seem at first glance.
    First, alcohol is a very addictive drug that is hydrophilic and a depressant. So it’s a drink that is addictive, makes you thirsty, so you want to drink more, and lowers your self control, so you find it harder to resist drinking more. You could hardly contrive a more diabolocial combination. As a drink, it has been responsible for untold misery. If it was invented today, it would without doubt be banned, it’s impact on society is that bad.

    There are several Hebrew and Greek words used in the Bible that are translated “wine” in English Bibles, and not all of them refer to alcoholic drinks; some refer, or can refer, to unfermented grape juice, although there is also dispute about the meanings of some of those words.
    The Psalm 104:15 reference is one such case, where there word apparently can refer to either unfermented or fermented grape juice.
    The wedding of Cana is a very weak case. Again the word can refer to unfermented grape juice, but one also needs to consider that in this wedding feast in which the guests had already drunk so much that the wine ran out, is Jesus really going to provide them with more than 450 litres extra of this drug?

    The Bible’s references to the communion don’t mention wine, just “the cup”.

    And Paul’s advice to Timothy is arguably for medicinal purposes, so is not a clear endorsement of taking it for other purposes.

    I’m not aware of any indisputable endorsement in the Bible of drinking alcohol. It may not be forbidden per se, but as a “wisdom issue” I think Christians should be very wary about saying that it’s acceptable.

    1. Thanks Philip – I’m afraid that it is really stretching things to suggest that Jesus turned the water into grape juice (after the guests have had too much to drink!). There are good reasons for being teetotal – but changing the meaning of Scripture is not one of them.

      1. Sorry, but why do you consider that a stretch? How is it changing Scripture? As you said there are warnings against drunkenness, and there are also warnings against causing others to stumble. So for Jesus to provide so much alcoholic wine, especially when they had already been drinking, is what seems the stretch. Especially given that the word translated “wine” doesn’t require it to be alcoholic.

      2. Except it does. The trouble is that rather than start with what the Scripture says the reasoning goes – alcohol is evil, Jesus would never turn something into evil – therefore he didn’t turn the water into wine – therefore we have ‘discovered’ that the word does not mean wine…its what’s called ‘special pleading’!

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