Tattoos and the Bible

by Bryant Evans on November 25, 2009

I don’t like tattoos. I have never seen one that really appealed to me. I’m just not about to spend a small fortune marking up my body with permanent inks. (Actattoo with Bibletually, with the size of my body it would be a large fortune.) But that is just my opinion and like everyone else I’m entitled to it.

But is there anything Biblically wrong with it? If so, that changes everything. If God says it is wrong then it is and that is the end of the matter. Tattoos are becoming more and more common and are showing up on the bodies of devout men and women. Some sources estimate that upwards of 15% of all Americans have a tattoo. Should we condemn those who choose to tattoo and pierce? Can I be a Christian and sport a tattoo? Let’s see what the Bible says.

What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos

Leviticus 19:28 is usually the verse first considered on this topic.

“You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.”

It is essential to note the context of any passage of Scripture before making a declaration about it. We must understand what is being said and to whom it is being said. We must ask the purpose of the statement or command too.

Leviticus 19 is a chapter about holiness and a demand to avoid idols. It is part of the law given at Sinai for the Israelites. The law began to be given in Exodus 20. We note in Exodus 20:2 that these laws are not given universally but instead to the Israelites as part of their special relationship with God.  It is a fundamental aspect of Bible doctrine that the Mosaic system was abrogated by the death of Christ (Eph. 2:14ff; Col. 2:14ff). So to begin with, this command concerning tattoos is not for Christians today.

We should also add that you cannot pick and choose parts of the Old Law to keep. See James 2:10. So when confronted with someone condemning you over a tattoo gently remind them that there is no such command for the Christian today.

Other Tattoo Considerations

But the Christian should be concerned about other things too. While it may be “lawful” to have a tattoo, it might not be wise or expedient. I think the apostle Paul offers some thoughts that one should consider before applying the ink.

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.  Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”  If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—  I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?  If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,  just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, ynot seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. “
(1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1)

Here are 5 quick lessons I distill from the passage:

  1. Although we may be free to do something, we should consider its impact on others.
  2. The Christian, like his Lord, is concerned about younger or weaker Christians.
  3. Try to avoid offending others.
  4. Everything we do is for the glory of God.
  5. Be like Christ.

As it pertains to tattoos I would ask myself the following questions:

  1. Why? I am trying to fit in with a certain group of following? Am I conforming or transforming (Romans 12:2)?
  2. When someone sees my tattoo will their first impression be that I am a servant of the Most High or a rebel?
  3. Since this is essentially permanent, will I proud of my markings 10 years from now? How about 20 or 30 years from now?
  4. Have I entertained the thoughts and feelings of my spouse or parents?
  5. Is the tattoo I plan to wear in itself godly or demonic?
  6. Is there any situation where I would be ashamed to have my tattoo seen?

It seems to me that you simply cannot argue that have a tattoo is a de facto sin. However it may be sinful if it violates Biblical principles. Before turning your body into a canvass, think long about the implications of your decision and what impact it could have on others. Talk with someone you trust in addition to parents and your spouse. Wise counsel is your best friend.

I would love to hear you thoughts and comments here on the blog.


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{ 21 comments }

Ellen Pendley Moon November 25, 2009 at 9:57 am

Hey Bryant,Old Test. laws are too many and too veiled in society issues for us to keep…AND New Test. is all about heart and relationship…..so don't you think that tattoos are more a judgement call than a "sin" issue? I don't have one either, but I DO have a huge scar on my right thigh from fire coral. I have considered "covering" my scar with a tattoo BUT what would I get AND then there is the MRI problem to deal with. I also have never seen a "clean" tattoo parlor. I wouldn't want just anybody "injecting" me with ink. Oh oh…it looks like I'm too "clean" minded to get one even if I wanted one. ….I thought about getting an american flag tattoo, but then I would have to stand up all the time….(LOL)Have a happy thanksgiving.

Chad Chupek November 25, 2009 at 11:49 am

Thanks Bryant……The thought of you getting tatooed up just made me lose my appetite!! As least you did not post this right before Thanksgiving lunch! Ha!

Bryant Evans November 25, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Ellen, let me be clear – I do not think it is a "sin" issue but some do and I think incorrectly. It is totally a judgment call but we should think of others as part of making that judgment.I wrote this because someone I know was criticized for having a tat and was told he was sinning.Bobbi is cooking – ya'll come.

Kaylene Peters November 25, 2009 at 2:02 pm

It's a little opperation. I wouldn't ask to be cut unless the doctors determined it was the only way. I've seen too many of those that met with ill fate that doesn't look as pretty as a picture.

Kitty Waldrop November 25, 2009 at 1:25 pm

I was faced with this questions a few years ago, when someone I love got two tattoos, at first I was upset and thought to myself that it had to be a sin, but with more study, as you have done, I cannot say it is a sin any more than piercing one’s ears. I don’t care for it, anymore than I care for multiple piercings of other body parts. The older I get, the more I see people regreting the things they do in youth, and that is one of those things that is harder to get rid of than other things might be. Iknow there are some tattoos that are not as permanent as others (henna?), and that might be a good way for young people to “express” themselves without permanently marring their bodies. I cannot imagine being 75 years old and having a wrinkled up tattoo on a wrinkled up body, and it still being attractive. Just my opinion.

Bryant Evans November 25, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Thanks Kitty,
I agree they are not for me but I’m not willing to call it a sin. I remember not too many years ago the discussions was about length of hair. Of course as some of us know all too well, hair is not very permanent!
I agree that tattoo today is tomorrow’s unrecognizable scrawl. People just have to think about the implications of their decisions.

Bryant Evans November 25, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Chad…I do have this one picture…

Charles Steiner November 26, 2009 at 12:34 am

Nice blog Bryant, Having a tatoo isn't harmful to your body, and I feel like that is the reason some feel it is wrong. Coming from a former nurse's perspective I'm sure you could enlighten us on the many ways that people can cause themselves to have an early death, that could have easily been provented, and I'm pretty sure tatoos are not one of them.

JamesBrett November 25, 2009 at 11:48 pm

I think there can be a very good argument made that one should think long and hard before putting something as lasting as a tattoo on his body. That is wisdom, pure and simple. There aren’t many decisions made by individuals in our culture that are as permanent as a tattoo — career and marriage included. If we can’t be faithful to remain in a marriage relationship, what makes us think we’ll be happy with a cartoon character or a chinese word (we can’t even read) on our back?

I think an individual should confer with their parents or spouse before making a decision to get a tattoo, and of course I don’t think anyone should ever put a demonic mark on his body.

But I think our arguments against tattoos end there. Not that I want to offend other Christians, but allowing their current stance within their tradition and culture to regulate my freedoms in personal issues is, in my mind, a mistake. Those very same brothers and sisters in my church might have no problem with me dropping $50,000 on a really nice vehicle, or being just a little underhanded in my business dealings, or even making known out loud my already sinful position on preferring whites to blacks (NOT a position I take, just reporting where many of the non-tattoo crowd, in my experience, might stand).

I’m not trying to say that I shouldn’t care what others think, or that because they’re wrong on some issues, we shouldn’t mind offending them on others. But I am trying to say that we have to think about WHY people are being offended, and take that into account when we make decisions (especially largely personal ones).

Bryant Evans November 26, 2009 at 7:01 am

Hi James, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I hope you will become a regular here.

Your thoughts are good although I think you may paint a bit broadly with your thinking about racial issues. However you make a good point about people accepting some things while opposing other things. It seems to boil down to a fear of things we do not understand.

JamesBrett November 26, 2009 at 8:00 am

Yeah, Bryant, when I went back and reread what I’d written, I was worried about how it might come across. I don’t at all believe “that MANY of the non-tattoo crowd” are where I suggested. I apologize for that. There was definitely some exaggeration there, purposeful exaggeration — I apologize if it sounded like more. Not that in south Alabama I have never come across that line of thinking.

I was just trying to demonstrate that a group of people who have big problems with something the Bible doesn’t address, are not the people to which I really want to cater when making decisions — because often they’ve chosen to take issue with what makes them uncomfortable, and not with that which God would take issue.
.-= JamesBrett´s last blog ..a turkeyless thanksgiving in tanzania =-.

Bryant Evans November 26, 2009 at 9:45 am

And I can agree with that. I hope your work in TZ goes well.

Bryant

Russell Latner November 26, 2009 at 9:05 pm

I have a couple tattoos myself. And in my experiences, at my work mostly, it has caused a couple problems, that have made me not regret getting them but regret my placement of them. I do not regret getting them, even though my personality has changed and I have matured( not much).
As far as trying not to offend others, that is a very difficult topic. That can come in to play on alot of stuff. Clothes you wear, what you drive, how much we eat, how we talk. I believe that we should not mark our bodies with demonic tattoos.But trying not to offend everybody cannot be done. In my opinion. And Thank you for this outlet to talk about this Brother Bryant.

Bryant Evans November 27, 2009 at 6:54 am

Hi Russell, thanks for your thoughts. We all need to care about one another. That sounds like a cliche and I guess it is but is a Biblical idea. It seems to me that education is the key especially when someone is misusing Scripture.

I’m glad for all the comments and discussion.

Bryant

Roger November 29, 2009 at 4:12 pm

I am a gospel preacher who has both arms covered in tattoos. I got them before I was a Christian, and certainly before becoming a gospel preacher. I live in the deep south, which means it is really hot here almost all year around, yet I seldom wear short sleaved shirts because of the problems that I have encountered because of my tattoos. It typically goes something like this: I wear a nice short sleaved shirt and go to the store with my wife. We get into a conversation with someone who asks: “What do you do,” to which I reply, hanging my head, “I’m a gospel preacher.” They look at the tattoos, then at me, and say, “Really?!?” I hope to be able to remove them at some point, but until then, I just wear long sleaved shirts almost always when in public.

Bryant Evans December 3, 2009 at 9:13 am

I appreciate your thinking and the position you are in. I think your comment will help people have some perspective on the permanence of a tattoo.

Jami October 30, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Thank you so much for this article. I’ve been talking on and off with people for and against tattoos over the past 5 years and have considered getting two tattoos. (Haven’t yet because I’m scared of the literal pain it takes to get them). It’s nice to run into those who discuss that it’s a matter of the heart along with considering those who are in close relationship with us and our current status in life. The one tattoo I really want to get is my husband’s initials on my ring finger and make it small enough to be covered with my wedding/engagement ring yet large enough so that when I do remove my rings (for safety purposes at work), I still have a symbol of the permanence of our marriage together that doesn’t interfere with my duties. The primary reason I wouldn’t get even that tattoo is because we are planning to go into the ministry and my husband would ask me to not do so because there are so many Christians who are against tattoos. Anyway, I know this article is old but thanks for it anyway.

Jami

Bryant Evans October 30, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Thanks for visiting. I hope you will come again.

I think you are wise for thinking twice about the finger tat. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it. Your commitment to your spouse is not contingent on a ring or tattoo. But the thought is nice.

Angela Cathey August 8, 2012 at 10:37 am

I agree this is a personal choice as individuals. We are free to do certain things that forbidden in the old testement. I just feel like when I make these choices, I have to ask myself does this edify God? Is this going to hinder a lost person or younger Christian? I don’t have any tattoos but have friends, both believers & no believers. Personally I have none & no desire to get one. I know a young man that was called to preach at an early age. He went through some difficult times in his life. Long story short, ended up getting 4 or 5 tattoos. The latest one was a pin-up. I do feel part of this is in rebellion. As a female, seeing a half naked female in a seductive pose is degrading. His other tattoos are not of this nature. I just don’t see how this would cause anyone in the world to think him anything but worldly. I do believe it will hinder his witness to others, especially females. I just feel that this is depicting females are objects. Not to mention what images like this can do to young females who’s bodies don’t or haven’t matured to the portrayal of an image like this.

Bryant Evans August 8, 2012 at 11:18 am

Thanks for your thoughts. I think you have a good point. Nevertheless, society is constantly changing and tats are not what many of us once thought them to be. It’s a serious decision which does have implications.

Angela Cathey August 9, 2012 at 2:16 am

I agree, society is continually changing. Never the less, that doesn’t all was mean for the better. There are changes in society that are not morally better. We are becoming desensitized to a lot of things that throw off our moral compus. I think sometimes we cross that moral line because of society shrugging those morals off. A tat can say a lot of things to those around you & I feel the subject matter may need a bit of thought. I don’t have any personally but have friends that do.

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