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. (Actually, 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:
- Although we may be free to do something, we should consider its impact on others.
- The Christian, like his Lord, is concerned about younger or weaker Christians.
- Try to avoid offending others.
- Everything we do is for the glory of God.
- Be like Christ.
As it pertains to tattoos I would ask myself the following questions:
- Why? I am trying to fit in with a certain group of following? Am I conforming or transforming (Romans 12:2)?
- When someone sees my tattoo will their first impression be that I am a servant of the Most High or a rebel?
- Since this is essentially permanent, will I proud of my markings 10 years from now? How about 20 or 30 years from now?
- Have I entertained the thoughts and feelings of my spouse or parents?
- Is the tattoo I plan to wear in itself godly or demonic?
- 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.