Most Christians seeking Scriptural evidence against the practice of tattooing like to refer others to Leviticus 19:28. In so doing, though, they ignore the entirety of the context, including Leviticus 19:27 in which God’s people are instructed:
You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard. (NASB)
Basically, the Israelites are being told not to square their beards just as the surrounding pagan peoples. If you are familiar with the depictions of ancient Egyprians, Assyrians, and Babylonians, you will recall that all of the men in those cultures would square their beards. Amongst the Egyptians, if a man was unable to grow a beard, he would actually wear a fake one that would also be square in shape.
Why do we condemn the practice of tattooing and body piercing as seen in this chapter of Leviticus but say nothing in regards to how men cut their facial hair? Why do we condemn one without condemning the other? Where is our consistency? Am I saying that we should begin condemning certain styles of chin whiskers? No. I am saying that by singling out the one, while ignoring the other, we miss the point of what is being communicated in this chapter. Moses is being told by God that His people should avoid practices that are done in immitation of the heathens living around them.
Of course, we are no longer bound by the Old Teastament (cf. Hebrews 8-9). Christ nailed the Old Law to the cross and institued the New Testament through the shedding of His blood (cf. Colossians 2:14; Matthew 26:28). Even so, we understand that often principles were retained that we still follow today. We might find equal condemnation of engaging in certain practices to be just like those around us in the world in the words of Paul in Romans 12:2:
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (NASB)
Is this to say that the one with a tattoo or body piercing is a sinner? Absolutely not. Such does not necessarily set one apart as a pagan or heathen today. In fact, there are more “Christian” tattoos than one might suspect. I would caution, however, that in many circles such practices as tattooing and body piercing sill invokes images of an unsavory element that they consider best to be avoided. For this reason, the cause of Christ could potentially be harmed. For example, a zealous convert desirous to convert others to Christ may be rejected by certain people if they see that the Christian approaching them is covered with tattoos and body piercings. Is it fair to judge others by their outward appearance? Absolutely not (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7). Yet, the truth remains that we have to meet people where they are and cannot expect them to behave as Christians before accepting Christ. Besides, we are commanded to:
Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22 NASB)
Things in and of themselves may not be truly evil, but may convey to others that which is evil. As such, these practices and activities are best to be avoided. Yes, we should not “square” our beards today just in order to fit in with the practices of the world.