God’s Call For Virgin Skin … Tattoos in their Broader Historical and Cultural Context (#5)

Proverbs 22:28 “Do not move the ancient boundary Which your fathers have set.

“In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.'”

G. K. Chesterton

When I was a boy, a short 45 years ago, I almost never saw a tattoo. There was one exception. Mr. Welty, who lived down the road a couple miles, had been a sailor and had a tattoo. Mr. Welty was a nice man but had the gruffness of a former Swabby.  He had two sons who were my friends and whenever I went over to the Weltys to see Hal and Craig I couldn’t get my eyes off of that anchor tatted on their Dad’s forearm.  At least I think it was an anchor. 45 years ago is a long time.

Now, nobody ever sat me down, as I recall, and taught me of the impropriety of tattoos. It was just something known that people with tattoos were to be avoided. Good Christian people didn’t get tattoos.

Now of course 45 years later I understand that one can have a “past” and so have a tattoo and still be Christian. Nothing I have said in this series should be construed that one can’t be saved and owned by Christ if they have tattoos. That would be just ridiculous. No, the point in this series is, and has been, that biblical Christians don’t pant and hanker after tattoos since they are not biblical and are associated with paganism. Let me say this again. Having a tattoo is not an unpardonable sin any more than doing anything else stupid in one’s regrettable youth is an unpardonable sin.

If we look at the history of tattoos we learn that even the word itself comes to us from a pagan milieu as the word was brought to the West upon the return of Captain Cook’s 18th century voyage to Tahiti. Originally as “tatau” the word morphed into its phonetic spelling.  Though the word had been introduced to the English lexicon the practice was known to our people in antiquity in pre-Christian times.  Both the Greeks and the Romans embraced the use of tattoos or “stigmata” as tattoos were called then. As we have noted elsewhere the stigmata (or tattoos as we know call them) were primarily used then as a means to mark out as identifying with a religious sect or as a brand signifying ownership whether as slave or criminal. So true was the branding aspect of this that even Ptolemy IV (221-205 B.C), a Pharaoh during the Ptolemaic times in Egypt, was said to bear stigmata (tattoos) of ivy leaves to communicate Ptolemy’s devotion to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and the patron deity of the royal house at that time.

The fashion of wearing stigmata (tattoos) was also not unusual in Roman times and was adopted by soldiers of Rome who then exported the stigmata across the Roman Empire. This continued for centuries until the rise of Christianity. With the rise of Christianity the correlation of stigmata and tattoos with witchcraft and paganism was made and so, on the that basis and upon the basis that tattoos were believed to disfigure that (which was) made in God’s image, tattoos were finally banned by Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. In doing this the Emperor Constantine was self consciously reinforcing the biblical ban on tattooing.

The tattoo, as we hinted above, was reintroduced to the West via Captain Cook’s exploration. In “Mutiny on the Bounty” tattooing becomes a sub-theme that works through the book. In some of the film versions, tattoos are clearly part of the process, along with the lust for strange flesh, whereby Mr. Fletcher Christian abandons his ties to Captain Bligh and civilization.

As Mr. Dan Brannan informs us in his fine article, “Tattoos & Taboos: The Marilyn Mansonization of the Church,”


“But the heathen connotation of tattoos was still taken entirely for granted a century later in Melville’s Moby Dick (1851), wherein we read of captain Ahab’s descent into madness leading to a renouncement of the Christian faith punctuated by a ceremonial session of tattooing by which Ahab says he has joined his “heathen brothers” – Polynesian, Amerind, and African harpooners. Which is to say that it was still, mid-nineteenth century, comprehended as sacrilege tantamount to selling one’s soul to the devil.”

Indeed, legally speaking, tattooing is still eyed with suspicion as seen in the fact that at least 45 states have laws prohibiting minors from getting tattoos, though most allow tattooing minors if a parent or legal guardian is present.

So, given all this background of the Christian West it was not surprising that as a boy, and a son of Western more’s and norms I would have absorbed an instinctual revulsion for that tattoo on Mr. Welty’s forearm.

But of course all that has changed in the last 40 years or so and it causes me, at least, to ask, “what changed that in such a short time that tattoos went from a taboo to being all the rage?

The only answer here possible is that in those 40 years the West has had a whole scale change of a religion. Any time a people’s more’s, norms, and ethics change the way that the more’s, norms, and ethics of the West have changed you know that a change in institutional religion has occurred. Anything the defines right and wrong and defines good and evil is a religion. We once had a religion that defined tattoos as wrong. We now have a religion that defines tattoos as good. This didn’t just happen without a change of religion.

Now, of course a predominance of people would deny this. I would guess that even the predominance of the clergy would deny this. What tends to happen when a people’s institutional religion is whole sale changed out this rapidly the way that our institutional religion has been changed out is to reinterpret the former faith (in this case, Christianity) in light of the new faith (in this case Cultural Marxism). Cultural Marxism is America’s new Institutional religion and Cultural Marxism says tattoos are fashionable and because Christianity is being reinterpreted through Cultural Marxist categories a large percentage of the Church as well as many “Ministers” are now chiming in with one voice with the Cultural Marxists to sanctify tattoos as a positive good.

The Cultural Marxists spoke long ago about the need for a long march through the Western institutions and Western cultural infrastructure. The Cultural Marxist believed and realized that unless culture was changed from the ground up there could be no way they could achieve destruction of biblical Christianity and the implementation of their halcyon goal of the satanic egalitarian social order.  The signs of our Cultural Marxism civil religion are all about us as well as the sign that Cultural Marxism has displaced biblical Christianity as our “guidance providing social order religious North Star.”

In my lifetime tattoos, especially for and on Christians, were once counted as “taboo.” Now they are counted as socially acceptable and now the protest against them is “taboo.” In my lifetime sodomy had gone from a wicked love that dare not speak its name to the enriching love that won’t shut the hell up.  In my lifetime body modification piercing has gone from a wickedness unheard of to a positive good that finds the beach doubling as a Iron salvage yard during the summer. In my lifetime a political candidate with a divorce in his background was scandalous. Now we have a Republican nominee with two divorces in his background not to mention being now married to a former centerfold of a men’s magazine. In my lifetime Churches which had women in the pulpits were sedulously avoided. Now however if someone attends a church with a woman minister it is a sign of how enlightened the parishioner is. And we haven’t even begun to speak of Trannies, women in combat roles, fashion or the lack thereof, dyed hair, cowardly clergy who refuse to engage on these issues, and any number of other things that were once considered socially malevolent. Clearly we have lived through a religious revolution. What were once taboos now have a waiting line for club membership. Indeed the only taboo today is to do what I’m doing now, to wit, publicly advocating that these things should still be taboo.  One can now be a male tran-sexual with body modification in a fifth marriage to a female transgender who fought door to door combat in Fallujah and everyone will fall all over themselves to make such people feel welcome at family reunions but let someone show up at the family reunion saying these things are not Christian and “katy bar the door.”

All this, from the casual acceptance of tattoos by Christians to John marrying Steve and everything in between can be explained by the changing out of the Western Civilization of Christianity for the faith of Cultural Marxism.

It may be the case that tattoos are only the tip of the iceberg. It may be, as compared with all the other perversions I listed, that it is not that bad of a thing. It may be that a 18 year old young lady getting tatted with a butterfly or a hummingbird may not be that terrible in the total scheme of the current Kulturkampf that we are living through but it is significant enough for me to want to at least tease out the battle lines and the meaning of being tattooed in the largest possible context.

So, we have moved the ancient boundary stone set by our Fathers that God warned against us doing so, and contra Chesterton, we have removed fences we had no right in removing since we never understood why they were present in the first place.

And as a social order we are now, institutionally and structurally speaking, anti-Christ for doing so.


Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

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