Sr. Louise Zdunich

October 14, 2013

QuestionAre body piercings or tattoos sinful? What about breast augmentation, liposuction, botox injections and rhinoplasty?




AnswerThe third book of the Bible is Leviticus. As the name suggests, it is mainly directed to the tribe of Levi who were responsible for Israel's worship. Therefore, many of the regulations deal with worship and offering of sacrifices. There are rules regarding ceremonial cleanliness, morality, keeping the Sabbath holy.

Some are detailed instructions about stealing, defrauding, cheating, sexual morality while others seem to be more mundane: not cutting the hair or beard, not wearing a garment made of two different materials, not sowing a field with more than one type of grain, etc.

In this context, the Israelites are told: "You shall not make any gashes in your flesh . . . nor tattoo any marks upon you" (Leviticus 19.28). Common practices in the surrounding pagan cultures, these were signs of service to their gods and of respect for the dead.

Israel was to be different. Interspersed within Leviticus are frequent references to the holiness of God whom they are to imitate. The purpose of these prohibitions was to help the Israelites live as God's holy people.

The Book of Deuteronomy reinforces this dimension to the prohibition of cutting oneself: "You are children of the Lord your God. You must not lacerate yourselves. . . . For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; it is you the Lord has chosen" (14.1-2).


This theme of respect for the body is continued in the New Testament. We read: "The body . . . is for the Lord. . . . Do you not see that your bodies are members of Christ? . . .

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God and that you are not your own. For you were bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6.15, 19) and, "present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. . . . Do not be conformed to this world" (Romans 12.1-2).

Since we are members of the body of Christ, "we are one body in Christ and individually we are members of one another" (Romans 12.4-6). Therefore, each one has a commitment to all the others and to that oneness in Christ.

It is on these considerations that we can evaluate the nature of these activities. What are the intentions when individuals pierce their bodies and decorate them with metal or tattoos? Are they showing respect for being created in the image of God and redeemed by the blood of Christ?

Even tattooing religious images is unsuitable for it can lead to inappropriate display of the holy.

Are tattoos and piercings done to emphasize individuality, independence or uniqueness as long hair once was?

But here, we have two different categories. Hair grows naturally and its length can vary but having someone engrave images on one's flesh is not natural. If it is simply following the crowd, it is neither a sign of individuality nor uniqueness.

Or is it simply a phase of growing up? Serious consideration needs to be given to what these will mean for future job prospects and health.

Cuttings can create infections. They may be painful and tattoos are not always easy to remove. One might wonder why people subject themselves to this needless pain. Therefore, think before injuring the body unnecessarily.

Remember, we are God's people, saved by Christ with his death on the cross.


The second part of your question falls in a different category because these may be done for health reasons or for enhancing one's appearance. There is nothing morally wrong with them.

However, one needs to examine motivation. Does it help to retain employment if, for example, excessively aged skin or hair result in job loss? A crooked nose may hinder breathing and so rhinoplasty may be done to straighten it.

Therefore, it is obvious that intentions determine the goodness of an act when it is not a matter that is always morally wrong.

There is no doubt that many of these procedures are carried out because of simple vanity. It could result from little respect for oneself as it seems to give the impression that only exterior appearances count rather than one's goodness or talents or accomplishments. Is that what we want to convey about ourselves?

Therefore, in these situations, it is important to reflect deeply on one's relationship to God, self and others and act accordingly.

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