A friend of mine recently sent me the following note:
Since you explained the whole purgatory locker room concept so well for me I thought I’d let you take a stab at this one. For 2 weeks in a row the Sunday paper has had a Q & A with a rabbi that referred to the subject of tattoos and how they are sinful.(No I don’t have one – but my son does) Yesterday they actually cited the verse. So here it is in Leviticus, but look at the verse before it! Yikes – I sin every 5 weeks without fail! What do you make of this?
Leviticus 19: 27-28 Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. 28 Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.
Here is my off the top response. How would you like to add to it, correct it, or offer something entirely different?
Good grief you ask hard questions. My first suggestion would be to read the whole of Leviticus. It contains dozens and dozens of laws and rules instructing the early Hebrew nation in how to become Jews. The first thing you will notice is that we routinely ignore a great many of them because it is obvious that they have no application in our day and place, so it’s always problematic when someone goes back into Leviticus and hauls out some particular verse demanding that it be obeyed because it’s God’s law. The one I’ve thought about keeping is the one about stoning disobedient sons (just a joke). Orthodox and some Conservative Jews do make a very determined effort to obey each and all of them, which is why you see Orthodox men with long sideburns and fringed garments poking out under their regular clothes. Reformed and Liberal Jews rely more on the judgment of a very dyamic rabbinical conversation to guide them in which of these laws are meant to be observed in the modern world and how. Most all Jews agree that the prohibition of tattoos is important even today. Given that both Jesus and Paul taught that to follow Christ frees us from the law, and, somewhere around the time of the Reformation, Christians more or less decided that O.T. laws dealing with rites and rituals were no longer binding, but laws dealing with morality were, we were left in a state of some perplexity. That’s when the arguments about which was which began and continue to this day.
Frankly, I like Leviticus. The form in which we have it comes late, after the Babylonian exile, probably not more than four or five hundred years before Christ, but no doubt it transmits far more ancient law to us. Consider then how a nomadic people loosely related by kinship and sort of following a God they knew very little about would be formed into a nation. These laws provide the framework for a community of ordered life with very high moral standards and set pretty far apart from the surrounding religious practices. It’s really quite remarkable. But it is also not the last word. Deuteronomy, which may be a much older book and yet a more recent revision of the laws of Leviticus, makes some changes and eases things up a bit. God, through the prophets, dramatically changed more of them and added new dimensions that I think are valid still today. Jesus redefined all of them in dramatic ways, especially in his Sermon on the Mount, and Paul was adamant that the old laws had no dominion over gentile Christians.
So, the next time someone starts raging about illegal immigration, ask them if they are bible believers. I’ll bet the answer is yes. Then ask them to read and comment on the meaning of Leviticus 19:33-34.