If you have been around Christians for any amount of time, you have probably met that person who thinks tattoos and piercings are wrong “because the Old Testament says so.” Many of us have also heard that the Old Testament does not apply at all to Christians and is there for historical purposes only. If you watch your Facebook feed or any news network long enough, you will notice that there is a great deal of confusion surrounding this topic. Let’s dive in.
GotQuestions.org says “The key to understanding the relationship between the Christian and the Law is knowing that the Old Testament law was given to the nation of Israel, not to Christians.” Read the rest of that great article here. It goes on to show some of the different reasons that God gave certain commandments to His people, the Israelites.
When a lawyer asked Jesus what the greatest commandment in the Law was, he said “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” This is the law that Christians are under; to love God and love people. The Old Testament Law as a whole does not apply to Christians. Paul wrote “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes,” (Romans 10:4.) and “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Galatians 3:23-25). For further proof from Scripture, see Ephesians 2:11-22 (especially verse 15) and Acts 15:1-35.
Since we have established that the Old Testament in and of itself does not apply to believers in Jesus, does this mean that they should not study it? As my daughter would say, “No way!” The OT is still part of the Bible for a reason, and it is far from being just a history book. The same article referenced above stated that “The Old Testament can be a good guidepost for knowing how to love God and knowing what goes into loving your neighbor.” There are many lessons for the Christian that can be drawn from the Old Testament, and some statements from it are even repeated in the New Testament. Any of these re-affirmed commands are actually in relation to loving God or others. Take the Ten Commandments for instance. The first four are about man in relation to God, while the last 6 are about man’s relationships to one another. Of the ten, all but number 4 (the Sabbath) is re-affirmed in the New Testament. Any reasonable person could make the connections: If you love God, you don’t worship other things. If you love others, you don’t break into their houses, kill them, and take their wives. Some things in the Old Testament, such as these, apply to the Christian exactly as they are written. Others may have a lesson that can be taken and applied to a situation that a follower of Jesus may encounter today.
This leaves one last question unanswered: Does this mean that things in the Old Testament that do not directly involve loving God or loving others is now irrelevant? Well, in and of themselves, yes it does. But before you dismiss them, consider two things:
First, how does the topic in question relate to loving God? We must remember that God looks at the heart, not outward appearances. The external only matters inasmuch as it reflects the internal. Since tattoos have already been mentioned, let’s stay with that illustration. How does getting a tattoo affect the love you are showing toward God? Well, if you want a tattoo because you think it makes you look awesome or because it will bring attention to yourself, then that is misplaced because we are called to point others to Jesus, not ourselves. That is not loving God well. I know, I know. Our culture tells us that we can express ourselves however we want, but a follower of Jesus has to think about this more deeply than that. I thought for a while about getting tattoos on my wrists of broken chains. When people asked about them, I would be able to share Jesus and talk of how he set me free from living a sinful, wasted life and from ending up in Hell. I was excited because it would be an opportunity to show people that a relationship with God is not about rules, but love. If I am honest, though, there was a little vanity there too. If you happen to be a person who wants a tattoo simply because it can be a conversation starter about Jesus or for some other noble reason, then awesome! You pass the first checkpoint and gain 10 seconds.
The second question to ask yourself is how does the topic in question relate to loving others? Sticking with tattoos yet again. Romans 14:14-15 says “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.” This entire passage (verses 13-23) is applicable here, but 14-15 are key. It means that tattoos, for instance, are not “unclean”. But if someone thinks it is wrong for them to get a tattoo as a Christian for whatever reason, then it is wrong for them because “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b.) It also means that if I get a tattoo knowing that it is going to confuse or harm that person, then I am being sinful. Here is an example of how this looks in real life, my situation in particular: I want a tattoo. Really, I would like several. But I am going to be a pastor, and that puts me in front of a lot of people. And not just people, church people. Some will be old Christians who are set in their ways. Some will be new Christians who have not yet learned some of the deeper parts of their faith. For me to get tattoos and show them off every time I stand up in front of them is unloving because the chances are great that someone out there will think that it is wrong for someone following Christ to have a tattoo. The bad here greatly outweighs the potential good that I talked about earlier of having tattoos, and because of it, I will never have one.
I know this was kind of long, so if you skipped to the bottom just hoping for a summary, here it is: Is the Old Testament Law something Christians must follow? As a whole, no it is not. But is the Old Testament applicable in regards to loving God and others and insofar as it is re-applied in the New Testament? Yes, it is.
Some of the ideas here began or came from the article I cited above, so I encourage you to read it as well if you are interested. I think it is actually shorter than this one! Please comment and let me know what you think and if you have any questions.