Justin Bieber tattoo of Jesus: Is it blasphemy?

Justin Bieber tattoo: The pop singer has a new tattoo of Jesus’ name written in Hebrew. Beyond Justin Bieber, what do religious authorities say about tattoos?

Dan Steinberg/AP
Justin Bieber got a new tattoo of Jesus' name in Hebrew on his side. Here he poses in the press room at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas on May 22.

So Justin Bieber got a tattoo of Jesus’ Hebrew name (pronounced Yeshua) on his side. He got it during a recent trip to Israel, and had to get parental permission, because he’s still a minor.

It’s a pretty small tattoo compared to the elaborate ink "sleeves" of rocker Tommy Lee, or the neck tats of rapper Lil Wayne. Still, some eyebrows have been raised, even though he already has a tiny seagull (in honor of Jonathan Livingston Seagull) on his stomach.

Tattoos used to be the province of sailors and motorcycle gangs. Although now they are almost respectable – practically a uniform for college students – tattoos still have unsavory associations, especially among religious folk.

Christians and Jews seeking guidance, often cite Leviticus 19:28 (King James Bible): "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I [am] the LORD."

Many rabbis oppose inking the skin, although more and more Jews are doing so. There also is a condemnation of the practice due to the forced tattooing imposed on Jews by the Nazis. It is a myth, however, that a tattooed person cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

As far as getting a Hebrew tattoo, apparently Mr. Bieber recites the "Shema Yisrael" prayer before every concert, taught to him by his agent, Scott "Scooter" Braun. "Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one," goes the prayer.

In Islam, tattooing is considered “haram” (legally forbidden under Islamic law) because it signifies changing Allah’s creation. Those who already have tattoos, however, can still convert to Islam.

The New Testament is mum on tats. But through the centuries, Christians have mainly frowned on what is considered a pagan practice.

For those who think that tattooing "Jesus" or a cross on themselves will help them be better Christians, an article on Bible.com, a popular Christian website, says that "God is more concerned how we are living our lives than by displaying a religious mark on our body."

The article goes on to discourage people from getting tattoos of any kind, while noting that “just because a person has had a tattoo, it will not prevent God from using people to witness nor keep them from being a minister of God.”

But there is clearly debate within the Christian community, especially among teens, about whether to ink or not to ink.

Mary Fairchild, a self-described Christian who blogs on issues for her pastor, says that "the more serious questions to ask yourself are: What are my motives for wanting a tattoo? Am I seeking to glorify God or draw attention to myself? Will my tattoo be a source of contention for my loved ones? Will getting a tattoo cause me to disobey my parents? Will my tattoo cause someone who is weak in the faith to stumble?"

She notes that in another article, "What to Do When the Bible is Not Clear," we discover that God has given us a means to judge our motives and weigh our decisions. Romans 14:23 states, "...everything that does not come from faith is sin." Now that's pretty clear!

Instead of asking, "Is it okay for a Christian to get a tattoo," Fairchild writes, perhaps a better question might be, "Is it okay for me to get a tattoo?"

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