Body Mutilation and Adornmentby Rit Nosotro
Contrast the meaning behind mutilation of the body. For example, are lip rings, ear piercing, foot binding, neck extension, tattoos, and flatheads merely decorative?
Body mutilation and adornment originated long ago and still prevails today in many nations and tribes. Christians have clear guidelines in the Bible as to how to treat the body. I Corinthians 3:16 states, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” What comes to mind when one thinks of the temple of God? It is to be holy and pure; the following verse says that God will destroy those who destroy God’s temple. With that in mind, let's take a look at the reasoning behind body mutilation and adornment and how it has changed over the years.
In the past, body piercing had many meanings to certain tribes. African women inserted wooden disks into their lip piercings in order to appear more attractive; men bought their wives depending on the size of the lip piercing. Other African clans pierced their noses believing that the demons would be kept away; therefore, illness would be reduced. In India, women pierced their left nostrils with a stud earring to lessen the pain of bearing children. Indian brides also wore earrings connected to their nostrils by ornate chains.
Tongue piercings had several meanings. During royal ceremonies, Mayan people pierced their tongues to communicate with their ancestors. However, in this case, an actual stud was not placed into the hole. Tongues were pierced for sacrificial purposes as well. Tongue piercing was also thought to be a sign of strength and power for some tribes. Africans also pierced their ears and stretched the holes signifying social status. In the Bible, slaves who were free but chose to work for their masters had their ear pierced to signify their loyalty and steadfast devotion to their master. (Ex 21.5, Duet.15.16)
Nowadays, body piercing has become a growing trend among teens and young adults. Teens often have their bodies pierced because of peer pressure or in order to “fit in” with a certain crowd. Naval piercing is often done for decorative purposes and draws attention to one's stomach. Earrings, however, are more commonly accepted and are also worn for ornamental reasons. Other piercings have acquired lewd and sensual references such as through the tongue and nipple.
Teens and youths are not the only ones pursuing body piercings; many adults are becoming enticed with the popularity of piercing as well. Some adults get their piercings to relive their youth or to appear younger while others say the piercings take their minds off of recent divorces, breakups, or deaths.
Tattoos were another type of body marking that also had meanings behind the needles and pain. Though some were tattooed merely for decoration, tattoos also had several meanings to other cultures. The Romans tattooed or branded their slaves to indicate their social status. Other tribes tattooed girls before they were married and women after marriage. Some tattoos were believed to help in battle and others were received after a victorious battle. Another belief was that tattoos aided in the passage through the afterworld; without a tattoo, one could become lost in the afterworld for eternity.
Reasons for tattoos today aren’t quite as serious and definitely not as religious as they once were. Many people find that tattoos are addicting and can become like drugs: powerful and controlling. Some say that tattoos are simply symbolic or pretty and others believe that they hold more meaning. Perhaps the name of a dear friend, or picture of an animal, maybe even a religious symbol. Though many tattoos are seemingly harmless markings, tattoos are associated with pagan religions and ought to be taken seriously. The Bible says in Leviticus 19: 28 that “ You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead, nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves; I am the Lord.”
The art of body adornment has also come a long way. Scripture says that the harlot Jezebel “…painted her eyes and adorned her head…” Perfume is also mentioned numerous times in the Bible. Scattered all throughout the book of Song of Solomon, spices such as frankincense, myrrh and cinnamon are highly praised. They were considered as valued perfumes and both men and women used them. Also, before Esther was made queen, she spent a year in special treatments that included oil of myrrh and spices. Jewelry was also worn and spoken of in the Bible. Song of Solomon speaks of strings of beads around the neck and ornaments of gold.
Body adornment is very common now among women, girls and teens. Makeup, perfumes, and jewelry are sold in abundance, mostly for decorative reasons. Christians argue that since Jezebel wore makeup, women shouldn’t wear it because she was a sinful woman; however, the makeup was not what made her a harlot. When worn in moderation, makeup can add color and brighten up dull skin, but too much makeup can attract too much attention and be a hindrance to fellow believers in Christ. Christian women who try to abide by scriptural commands, adorn themselves in a way that is tasteful yet not overly decorative. (See 1 Peter 3:3-6 and 1 Timothy 2:9)
It is obvious that the reasons for body decoration and mutilation have evolved over many years though some have remained the same. In everything that we do to our bodies, we ought to keep in mind one thing. Is what we are doing pleasing God our maker? After all, “He was pierced for our transgression” (Isaiah 53:5). This should be the only piercing to hold our attention. Not the piercings of tribal superstition or modern self-aggrandizement through mutilation and adornment. Honoring God in all we do is our ultimate goal as Christians, including how we treat the earthly bodies that He has given us.
1. Which of the following was NOT a reason for body piercing?
A. Power and strength
B. Less pain
C. Social status
D. Assured Salvation
2. Who pierced their noses to keep demons away?
3. Which of these was a reason for tattooing one’s body?
A. Longer life
B. Good health
C. Victorious battle
4. Which perfume was not mentioned in the Bible?
B. Bath and Body Works- Cucumber melon
E. None of the Above
Joseph Chambers, Tattoos and Body Mutilation, <http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/online/cite7.html>(29
November 2003), Paw Creek Ministries
Mutilation, < http://42.1911encyclopedia.org/M/MU/MUTILATION.htm>(29 November 2003), LoveToKnow, Corp
2003, <http://users.cnu.edu/~lookout/battle2.html>(29 November 2003), Lookout
Rev. Claude Purser, Women’s Adornment-Part 3, June 2003, <http://members.cox.net/rev.claude/stdy35-3.htm>(29 November 2003)
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