As tattooing has develop into more mainstream, Christians have, rightfully, sought counsel from God’s Word to find out whether or not tattoos are a biblically authorized type of expression.
For those of us who’ve tattoos (yes, I actually have two three-quarter sleeves) or are considering getting a tattoo, the digital or “artificial age” is raising latest questions that ultimately transcend tattooing.
These latest questions aren’t about whether or not Christians should put ink under their skin but concerning the increased opportunities allowing us to disconnect from each other.
The tattooing process offers an interesting test case for the ways artificial intelligence (AI) models provide the means for us to distance ourselves from each other.
To underscore the issue, it can be crucial to know how the Bible deals with tattooing and why.
While conversations about Christians and tattoos have tended to concentrate on whether the motion of getting a tattoo is prohibited or not, the legal literature of the Old Testament isn’t an inventory of dos and don’ts that may be abstracted from a specific context. Instead, they speak to the ways God pertains to us and the way in which we’re to relate to others.
The Bible, Tattooing, and Connection
Before deciding to get “inked” for the primary time in 2005, I spent a good period of time researching that query.
While Leviticus 19:28 may, at first glance, appear to preclude the modern-day practice of tattooing, the text isn’t aimed toward the physical act a lot because it is aimed toward the symbolic meaning and purpose behind those acts.
More specifically, the law is anxious with relationships between God and his people and between God’s people and others.
In each Leviticus 19:28, tattooing reflects one’s understanding of and connection to God and others. Leviticus points to ways of interacting with others that convey a false sense of reality. The prohibition against tattooing has as its background an improper human relationship.
Tattooing had been utilized in Egypt as an indication of slavery. The continued practice of marking oneself or others as servants of anyone aside from the Lord would constitute a return to the form of slavery from which God had delivered his people.
The prohibition in Leviticus 19:28 concerns the perpetual establishment of inappropriate relationships between humans and, thus, an inaccurate understanding of God.
Isaiah 44:5 may offer a more positive perspective on tattooing. Isaiah points to a day when God’s people will proclaim their reference to the Lord without shame.
Though the shortage of a preposition before “hand” in Isaiah 44:5 leaves open the likelihood that the text doesn’t confer with writing “on their hand” than “with their hand,” the reading “on their hand” would reinforce the notion that the meaning and purpose of an act like tattooing is crucial to understanding the appropriateness of the act itself.
If Isaiah 44:5 is known as a reference to tattooing, the connection conveyed by the everlasting mark is an appropriate one as God’s people exhibit their ongoing commitment to the Lord.
Viewing the prohibition against tattooing in Leviticus and the potential “endorsement” of it in Isaiah from this angle situates tattooing inside the broad summary of the law’s requirements: loving God with all we’re and have and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
The laws given to Israel were offered inside the relational context of the covenant. As such, they offered guidance to the Israelites on methods to relate rightly to God, others, and creation as an entire.
The covenant, in accordance with Old Testament scholar Richard Averbeck, “is meant to assist us understand how the holy God does relationship with us as fallen sinful people.”
If the covenant and the laws given as a part of that covenant are inherently relational, we must always not simply attend to the particular rules laid out for ancient Israel and the way in which they inform our understanding of God.
We must also recognize that these laws offer wisdom regarding the forms of relationships we’re to cultivate as individuals who know the living God.
Why I’m Concerned about Artificial Intelligence and Tattooing
After getting a less-than-stellar tattoo in 2009 (which I ultimately got covered up), I began taking the strategy of tattooing more seriously. I checked out quite a lot of tattoos online, visited a couple of tattoo parlors, and talked to several artists before finding an artist I trusted.
Between 2017 and 2021, I worked with my artist to design a cover-up on my right arm and a latest tattoo for my left.
I’d bring her an idea; she would draw it up and make suggestions to enhance on my rough concepts. In my experience, the interaction between me and my artist allowed for higher tattoos.
My concern with a few of the AI models currently available is that they may diminish elements of the creative work tattoo artists actually do.
If AI models create the art and clients simply expect tattoo artists to use a stencil and pop within the ink, the tip product could also be indistinguishable from that produced when clients and artists collaborate, but we are going to lose something in the method.
At the core of my concerns is a conviction: human-to-human interactions matter. It seems to me that AI is already exhibiting a bent to show creatives (e.g., tattoo artists) into roughly mechanistic employees.
They essentially paint-by-number. To put it simply, AI is creating opportunities for us to redefine the way in which we interact with each other.
While you could not share specific concerns about AI’s impact on the tattoo industry, all Christians needs to be concerned concerning the ways AI allows us to vary the way in which we relate to at least one one other.
If “all of the Law and the Prophets” rely on loving God with all we’re and have and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matt 22:34-40), we must consider how AI’s functionalities hinder us from loving God and our neighbor.
We may justify our willingness to switch human work with AI within the name of efficiency. Yet, Christians usually are not called to be efficient. We are called to like God and our neighbor.
As such, we cannot embrace AI as a tool on the idea of efficiency. We have to contemplate how AI helps and hinders us from loving God and our neighbor. In some instances, AI may offer opportunities for us to care for individuals who are burdened in some fashion.
In others, AI will diminish our neighbors and eliminate the spaces we currently need to love them by respecting their creativity and allowing them to exercise their God-given talents.
Why Does This Matter?
In the tip, AI’s potential to vary the tattoo industry is of less concern than what that potential represents. It represents AI’s potential to diminish our capability to like God and each other.
If we develop into overly depending on technology, we are going to soon find ourselves pushing God to the margins of our lives. When God is pushed to the margins, our neighbors won’t be far behind.
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James Spencer earned his Ph.D. in Theological Studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He believes discipleship will open up opportunities beyond anything God’s people could accomplish through their very own wisdom. James has published multiple works, including Christian Resistance: Learning to Defy the World and Follow Christ, Useful to God: Eight Lessons from the Life of D. L. Moody, Thinking Christian: Essays on Testimony, Accountability, and the Christian Mind, and Trajectories: A Gospel-Centered Introduction to Old Testament Theology to assist believers look with eyes that see and listen with ears that hear as they consider, query, and revise assumptions hindering Christians from conforming more closely to the image of Christ. In addition to serving because the president of the D. L. Moody Center, James is the host of “Useful to God,” a weekly radio broadcast and podcast, a member of the school at Right On Mission, and an adjunct instructor with the Wheaton College Graduate School.