Ask Ivor

Curious asks:

"What does the Bible say about tattoos and branding and piercing and things like that?"

The first tattoo was Cain's: God "put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him" (Ge 4:15).

During the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness (the Sinai Peninsula), God instructed the Israelites not to "cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves" (Le 19:28). Why God said this is unclear.

In one of the prophecies in the book of Isaiah, God speaks of a man who will write "The Lord's" on his hand, and take the name Israel (44:5).

In the Song of Songs, Solomon's lover tells him to "place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm" (8:6). She goes on to say that love "burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away."

God himself has tattoos: "See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands," he tells his people (Isa 49:16).

Paul wrote: "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus" (Gal 6:17). This might be a reference to tattoos, but it is usually understood to refer to Paul's five lashings, three beatings, and one stoning.

In the book of Revelation, the servants of God receive on their foreheads a seal containing God's name (7:3; 14:1; 22:4); while those who worship "the beast" receive, on their forehead or right hands, a mark containing the beast's name, or "the number of his name"—666 (13:16-18; 14:9).

Piercing is what they did to Jesus on the cross, but you probably mean decorative piercing. Earrings and noserings are mentioned repeatedly in the Bible.

In the book of Proverbs, Solomon says: "Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man's rebuke to a listening ear" (25:12).

In Ezekiel, God says to Jerusalem: "I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head.... The splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect" (16:12,14).

Peter puts body decoration in perspective: "Your beauty should not come from outward adornments, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight" (1Pe 3:3-4).