“Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”
Why are strange commands like these in the Bible? Do we have to obey them?
No. Many of the laws found in the Old Testament need not be kept by Christians today. Though they remain part of Scripture, their demands were satisfied later by Christ. Such commands are called ceremonial or ritual laws.
Ceremonial laws created categories of unclean, clean, and holy living. The normal state of things was cleanliness. Corruption led to uncleanness, but sacrifice or offering led to holiness. When something became corrupted or polluted, it was unclean. When something was specially dedicated to God, it became holy.
Some of the commands in our reading for today were meant to keep God’s people from corrupting themselves with the practices of their pagan neighbors. Some of the religions of other nations included rituals for the dead that called for cutting oneself. Others insisted on marking themselves with tattoos to show which god or tribe you belonged to.
Since Christ sacrificed himself to make us holy, we need not worry about becoming unclean because of tattoos, dining customs, and so on. But it is still important to show love and respect to all people, and to deal honestly with everyone. Jesus is our best example, and the Holy Spirit is our guide.
Dear God, by your Holy Spirit, help us to live holy lives that reflect the life of Christ within us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.