Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

Pastor Gives Out Free Tattoos, Your Tattoo Questions Answered, And Why Rob Bell Thinks I’m “Hard Core”.

Church pastor gives out free tattoos? That makes him the coolest pastor ever in my book. In this post, I answer all of your tattoo questions: are tattoos biblical? What are your tattoos of? Who has more tattoos, you or Nadia Bolz-Weber?

A Florida pastor has earned the title of “Coolest Pastor Ever” in my book, after giving out free tattoos to members of his congregation.

During a sermon, Pastor Zack Zehnder said that if anyone wanted to get a tattoo of the cross, he’d find a way to pay for it. It seems he didn’t realize so many people would take him up on the offer (which he admits was somewhat sarcastic), but they did– and he paid up.

About a dozen people from the church have now been tattooed, something Zehnder hopes will be a lesson in acceptance and that will also provide a gateway to discussions on faith. As told to Yahoo News:

“People’s perception of church has probably never been as negative as it is today and so if we can do something to kind of flip that script and interact with them and do something in a unique and creative way, we’re going to do that.”

Zehnder went on to tell Fox 25:

“Every tattoo has a story. The landscape of faith has struggled to keep up with the times.  So if we can create a way to start a conversation, it doesn’t get better than that.”

Which is precisely why I love tattoos– they all tell a story, as do mine. The topic of tattoos is a frequent question I get by email from readers, so I’ve worked to compile all of your questions and will answer them today!

Are Tattoos Biblical?

True– they were forbidden under the Law of Moses. However, first and foremost, you and I no longer live under the Law of Moses– we are Jesus followers. Secondly, if you look at the context of the prohibition, it was never so much about tattoos as it was about worshiping false gods. The prohibition in Leviticus 19:28 makes the context clear: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.” Tattoos, in this historical context were tied to pagan worship and were done “for the dead”. So, even if the old law applied to us (it doesn’t) the context of the passage would not constitute a prohibition of all tattoos.

However, I do think there is a biblical principle to be considered here. In 1 Cor 10:23 Paul tells us that “all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial”, meaning that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do something. In this case, I think a Jesus follower should give consideration to exactly what they are getting for a tattoo– or as I say, “think it before you ink it“. As a minimum, we don’t want to do anything (tattoos or otherwise) that would unnecessarily offend someone. Trust me, I spent 9 months of my life doing laser tattoo removal (which hurts at a minimum of 10 times more than actually getting a tattoo), so please don’t get one without thinking it through on a variety of levels, both practically and spiritually.

What are my tattoos of?

I get this question a lot and have been promising to post on it for some time. When I was in the military I got a few random tattoos, many of which I have since either had removed by laser or covered up by the artist I’ve been working with these last five years. However, I have since tried to give rhyme and reason to what I have– turning what was random into two half-sleeves that now have some flow and continuity to them. I agree with Pastor Zehnder in that tattoos are a great conversation starter– especially with other people who have tattoos. If you have one, you know that they tell a story. In January I had the fun opportunity to trade tattoo stories with Nadia Bolz-Weber, though I think she has me beat in the area of sheer volume of tattoos (but not forever– I’m coming for you Nadia!).

Regarding mine, I decided that I would turn my random tattoos into two flowing sleeves that would provide a gateway to discussions on my faith– which they now do quite well. During my last tattoo session I spent 4 hours talking to a room full of bored tattoo artists about Jesus as I explained my tattoos and what I was getting worked on that day. At the end one of them said “I’ve always been turned off by Christianity, but the Jesus you’re talking about is something I want to explore more”, which is basically the mark I hope to leave on the world summed up in one sentence.

My left arm was more tattooed up than the right when I got out of the military, so I’ve had less space to work with and some couldn’t be removed (blue ink is almost impossible to get out of the skin, black is easiest). So on the left, I have a water scene of sorts (mostly water from some cover up work) with a beautiful koi fish toward the bottom with the phrase “fisher of men” in biblical Greek across the bottom.

My right sleeve is one I’m a little more proud of, and am still working on as I have a good amount of space left to work with. First, I have an image of Jesus walking a dusty road and kicking up dust– inspired by the “Dust of the Rabbi” Nooma video. Yes, Rob Bell has seen the tattoo, and he says that I am “hard core”. This tattoo helps me talk to people about what you hear me discuss often: following Jesus instead of simply being part of the Christian religion. Opposite that tattoo, I have a scroll that says “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live”, which provides a transition to talking about the old me– the me I really don’t like… selfish, self-absorbed, materialistic, and how in many ways that person is dead (and how I work to put him to death when he tries to come back to life). I also have a large Celtic looking cross on that arm, inspired by a trip I made to an old monastery in Glendalough, Ireland years back. Finally, I also have a large depiction of the signing of the Abrahamic covenant where Abraham cut an animal in two and God walked between the carcass in the form of a “smoldering pot” and a “flaming torch”, which promotes conversation around God’s faithfulness and the command that we are to “be a blessing” to the whole world– a message I think we in American Christianity often forget.

What are you getting next?

My next big piece for that arm will be taken from the vision of Isaiah where he saw an angel take a coal off the altar of God and touch it to his “unclean lips”– should be a cool piece when I’m done.

So yes, Zack Zehnder is the coolest pastor ever.

No, tattoos are not generally unbiblical (they would be if the image itself was offensive or if done as an act of worship to another god).

Yes, you should think through your decision to get one thoroughly because tattoo removal hurts enough to have made my grandma cuss (which I don’t believe she ever did).

Yes, laser removal is expensive and time consuming. It also blisters your skin and can cause scarring.

Yes, Nadia has more tattoos than I do. She is also infinitely taller than I am, but that’s the story of my 5’6 life.

Yes, Rob Bell thinks I am “hard core” (okay, so no one has actually asked that question, but who doesn’t think I’m hard core?)

Yes, my tattoos now are almost entirely geared towards helping facilitate discussions on faith.

Oh, and lest I forget: use high SPF sunscreen on those tats! If you don’t listen to me, you’ll be getting that tattoo re-tattooed in about 4-5 years as some colors (like yellow) will quickly disappear from your skin entirely from sun exposure. Sun exposure will also make some of the lines on your ink less clean, which is almost impossible to fix.

So there– I’ve answered all of your tattoo questions, as promised. I leave you with Fox 35’s story on the coolest pastor ever:
FOX 35 News Orlando

Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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5 Responses

  1. I recently posted on Facebook about how I sometimes feel like I stand out in a crowd because I have no tattoos, no facial hair and no body piercings. Then I decided that this really makes me part of a new minority. Just try not to stare, please. Thanks!

  2. You state, “…. you and I no longer live under the Law of Moses– we are Jesus followers…” Isn’t that a bit of overstatement? So when He said He did not come to destroy the law he was not being accurate? I am aware of the tattoo law and really do not care if it was repealed or not but surely I do not want one, seems a bit like being uncivilized to me. However, many will be relieved to know the law about adultery and others are no longer binding if you are a Christian.

    1. No. Romans 6:14 says the Christian is no longer under the law, which strikes me as being pretty straight forward. It’s a common theme in the NT. God gives Peter a vision and declares the former “unclean” things to now be “clean”, and Paul calls it a “shadow” that wasn’t reality and warns us not to return to it.

      1. I have been occupied and took some time to consider and study your point. I suppose the law and the full impact of the grace of God as revealed fully by Jesus Christ has always been a difficult balance for me. Methodist at the time of my acceptance of salvation and Baptist four years later at age thirteen and now at seventy-six still attempting to learn more and be more in tune with Him; all of which shows I am a slow learner. However, freedom from the law is always asserted by all of my Baptist comrades and myself that we are free from the law, etcetera. As I think back about the struggle with the Judaizers, gnostics, and others the freedom you express appears to be correct. As with the scripture you cite and some you have not. A bit more study and prayer for me but thanks for the pointer and God bless.

  3. My only current tattoo was done in Giessen, Germany in 2007. It was meant to be a a caduceus, with a sword as the staff and two dragon-like snakes twirling up the blade. Unfortunately, the German artist (an older man with an impressive body of work) took some unfortunate liberties with the design on the dragons, and they look like they’re grinning at each other over the pommel. Not exactly as somber and dangerous as I would have liked.

    I’ve been thinking of my next tattoo. I was thinking about some sort of cross, but the “hipster youth pastor” image that it produces in my mind causes my desire to wane a bit.

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