Is it ok to modify your body?

As technology continues to advance, we have more and more power to change our bodies. But Christians should be asking whether there are boundaries. This is a complex topic and one that cannot be sufficiently covered in a short blog post like this, but I would like to lay out certain categories and principles.

1. Your body is part of God’s image.

Some people think that divine imageness is exclusively related to spiritual aspects of humanity. But biblically speaking, the “image of God” includes body and soul. God uniquely formed the human body, distinct from animal bodies, to be His image and likeness. The human body has the capacity for speech and higher powers of reason. It is formed to stand upright for face to face communication. God designed the human body and soul to bear His image. Genesis 1:27 says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female, he created them.”

2. Restorative body modifications are good.

Corrective eye surgery, for example, merely fixes a problem with the eye and brings the body back to health. The Scriptures teach that using medicine to heal the body is a good thing (Jer 51:8; Lk 10:33-34). Braces for teeth also fit in this category. Crooked teeth can cause chewing problems, speech impediments, and jaw pain. Surgeries to correct scoliosis, for example, or other bodily abnormalities are simply helping to restore the image of God, not to change it. In 3 John 3:2, John prays “that you may be in good health.”

3. Body modifications that change the essential nature (or apparent nature) of the body are sinful.

By “nature,” I’m referring to the very essence of the human body, that which is constituent to a body’s humanity. Currently, it’s possible for medical technology to make the body appear to be something it is not. In the future, it may be possible to change the body’s nature through genetic manipulation.

But changing the body’s nature would fundamentally alter the image of God. To do that would show a deep dissatisfaction with God’s image and likeness, and create another image in its place. Part of the reason God tells us not to make images (2nd commandment) is that God has already made images of Himself: human beings, male and female. Changing the nature of a human being violates God’s law because to reject God’s image is to reject God Himself. The 1st commandment says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod 20:3). The 2nd commandment says “You shall not make for yourself a carved image” (Exod 20:4). This is why changing the nature of a human being is a sin. “Sin is lawlessness” (1 Jn 3:4).

Some people have had surgeries that make their bodies look like animals through various means. More and more people today are changing the appearance of their sex through the use of hormones and “sex reassignment surgery.” But the Bible teaches that “maleness” and “femaleness” are inherent to biology and are part of the image of God (Gen 1:27; Ps 139:13-14). In addition to violating the 1st and 2nd commandments, to make your body appear to be something it is not is a lie, and thus a violation of the 9th commandment (Exod 20:16).

Technology is also more and more able to change the human body by genetic engineering, but any modifications that change the nature of the human being are wrong. 1 Corinthians 15:38-39 says, “But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.” There is “one kind” of flesh for humans.

4. Body modifications that enhance beauty should be used with caution.

Some people modify their bodies, seeking to make themselves more beautiful than they are, because they are not satisfied with the bodies that God has given them, or because someone else is not satisfied with their bodies. That’s a wrong reason to modify your body. God gave you your body, and He made it as He did on purpose. Those who modify their bodies for the sake of beauty should only do so out of love to Christ, love for others, contentment in Christ, and to glorify Him. As a rule, beautifying modifications should only support a body’s natural beauty and not attempt to change it.

There is nothing inherently wrong with ear piercings or tattoos, for example. Some people prohibit these practices because of Leviticus 19:28, which says, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.” But that verse is a positive law of the Old Covenant and was abolished with the passing away of the covenant (Heb 7:12; 8:13). Leviticus 19:28 probably refers to the false worship of the Canaanites, and thus the continuing moral use of the verse is tied to the first commandment: you shall have no other gods before me. Do not identify with false religions or worldly ideologies in your tattoos or piercings.

5. We should be wary of modifications that enhance human ability.

For now, this is mostly science fiction, but one day soon, it seems, we will have the ability to greatly enhance human ability. We may soon have the ability to genetically engineer human speed, intelligence, or eyesight. We may develop the ability to combine technology with the human body and insert a computer chip into the human brain to enhance memory and processing power. Engineered internal organs might extend life well beyond its current limits.

Some people only see potential positives here. But I would suggest that any substantive enhancements to the human body would change the very nature of the human body, which we should not do (Gen 1:27; 1 Cor 15:38-39).

There are tremendous social questions that arise as well. All of society would be divided into two classes: “the enhanced” and “the unenhanced.” The enhanced will have tremendous advantages. Some entity will also have the power of enhancement, and that power will be great. Finally, if we modify the human genetic code, there is no turning back and the future is forever changed with unknown consequences.

Conclusion

With the continuing advancement of technology, Christians need to think carefully about the relationship between technology and the body. The Bible provides us with a wholly sufficient ethical system to deal with these questions. Scripture teaches that the purpose of the body is to image God, and we do that best by taking proper care of our bodies, being content with them, and being more and more conformed to the true Image of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.