What Does the Bible Say About...

What Does The Bible Say About Tattoos?

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What does the Bible say about tattoos? 

In the not so distant past, tattoos were taboo in Christian circles. If you got a tattoo as a Christian you were destitute for the pits of hell. But somehow you were okay if you got it before following Jesus… Go figure… But as the years have gone by the subject has become less and less controversial. More and more Christians have tattoos. But my guess is most don’t know why it’s okay, or if it’s okay… It’s just become socially acceptable. 

So let’s take a look at what the Bible says about tattoos. 

What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos

The Leviticus Verse

So what does the Bible say about tattoos? Leviticus 19:28. That’s it. Well there is this other one in which Jesus is pictured with a tattoo… Revelation 19:16. So if it’s good enough for Jesus… 

Back to Leviticus… “Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord.” 

Seems clear right? It’s a no go. But before we draw any conclusions we need to look at the context, and we need to understand the culture. 

This passages is dealing specifically with pagan religious rituals of people living around the Israelites. This practice involved the worship of pagan gods. So God tells his people not to engage in this practice. He does this because he knows that if his people engage in this practice it will lead them away from the one true God. 

So how does this verse apply to us? In short, it doesn’t directly apply to us. Tattoos today are drastically different, and they are no longer done as part of a ritual to pagan gods. Culturally tattoos mean something totally different. 

We must also view this command as part of the Old Covenant in which we are no longer held to. We live under a different set of rules. Just read the verses Leviticus 19:26-27. We have no problem breaking those rules by eating a bloody steak or getting haircuts. But those were forbidden to the Israelites. Why? Because they were part of pagan rituals and the worship of false gods. Today they are not. 

Not only has the cultural meaning of tattoos changed, but so have the rules. Our righteousness is not gained by adherence to the law. This verse does not apply to 21st century Christians. 

But there’s another argument against tattoos. 

Our Body is God’s Temple Argument 

The go-to argument against Christians getting tattoos is that our bodies are God’s temple. Thus if we get a tattoo we are causing damage to something sacred. 

Most people who use this argument will again point to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 claiming that tattooing is damaging our body which is God’s temple. At first glance that might makes sense. Our bodies are a temple and we should care for it. But what about all the other things we do that damage our body? Sugar is bad for you. Driving can cause injury. Sitting too long can kill. But then again you might hurt yourself exercising. Should we avoid all that too? Should we just avoid everything that could damage our body? That’s the logic of this argument. 

If you take this argument to its logical conclusion, it would be a sin to do anything that could cause damage to our body, God’s temple. Not to mention tattoos don’t damage your body, they alter it. 

At the root, this is a really hollow argument. And it’s legalism. It’s adding to what the Bible says and making it harder for some to come to Jesus. 

For more on the Old Testament Law check out: What’s the Point of the Old Testament Law

Let’s Not Add To the Bible

Following Jesus is simple. Not easy. But simple. 

The problem is since Jesus left, Christians have been adding rules left and right. Rules Jesus never wanted his followers to adhere to. And we still do this today. The church is full of rules that Jesus never mentioned. Rules that keep people away. And that’s not okay. 

What does the Bible say about tattoos? Not much. We’ve added rules that keep people away.

We cannot add rules to the Bible. We cannot take our personal preferences and force them on others. That’s called legalism. And that’s exactly what the Pharisees were doing and what Jesus got so mad about. 

God doesn’t care if you get a tattoo or not. If you don’t like tattoos for whatever reason, great, don’t get any. If you think it would hinder your relationship with God, that’s fine, avoid them. But don’t create some rules that aren’t in the Bible, as to why others can’t. And if you think it’s okay to get tattoos, don’t force your personal freedom on those who think it’s not okay. Choose grace in the grey.

Let’s end with what to do with the grey areas in life.

How To Discern the Grey

While it’s clear the Bible doesn’t specifically forbid tattoos, some of you might still be struggling to decide what the right decision is. If that’s you these next two questions are for you. 

Here’s two questions to help you discern these grey areas:

Is this a wise thing for me to do? 

When you are trying to decide if you should or shouldn’t do something ask yourself this: In this circumstance what is the wisest step for me to take? I think that is a much better question to ask. Life isn’t all black and white, right and wrong; there’s a lot of grey. Rather than asking whether something is right or wrong, ask if it’s wise. It might be okay for you to have a few drinks. But if you struggle with addiction, that’s probably not wise. 

Here’s the next question: 

How will this affect those around me?

A hard lesson I’ve had to learn is that while I may have the freedom to do something, it still has a consequence. I may lose influence because of the choices I make. On some level you cannot help it. If you choose to get a tattoo some will discredit you. But on the other hand if you choose to get a tattoo you could actually gain credibility with some. 

You cannot please everyone, nor should you try. But this question is still valid. There are people in your life that you have the opportunity to positively influence. There are relationships worth holding onto. How will your decision in these grey areas affect people in those circles? 

You will never change anyone if you just hold onto your freedoms and do what you want. Sometimes you have to give up something so that you can gain influence in someone’s life to help them see the change they need to make. That’s why Paul said, I will become all things to all people so that I may win a few (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). In order to change someone you must first gain influence in their life which often requires you to give up your freedoms.

We must each look at our lives and decide if it’s the wisest thing for us to do. We must look at who we are influencing and decide if it will gain or lose our influence in their life. We might have the freedom to do something, but that doesn’t always make it the best thing for us to do.

So it’s up to you, what’s the wise thing you should do? 

I’d love to hear from you! Drop a comment down below!


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28 Comments

Jeffery Curtis Poor

Husband. Father. Pastor. Writer. Trying to be more like Jesus each day. Follow me: Twitter, Facebook, Email

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Kimberly
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Kimberly

Good article but the Bible says we are to be in this world and not of it. We are supposed to be different than the culture around us. So to me inking up your arms, face,,, is conforming to the culture not to Jesus’ call to be different.

Zee
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Zee

God said be Holy because I am Holy, we can achieve this through Jesus Crist and the Holy Spirit, he wouldnt say it if it weren’t possible.

And on his ROBE and on his thigh he has a name KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORD. ( He has a robe on). Jesus will wear a banner across his robe down his thigh with a title emblazoned on it that emphasizes His absolute sovereignty over all human rules. It’s not a tatoo. Dont take it out of context.

Bill
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Well thought out commentary. Thank you. Regarding grey areas – It’s like Paul says all things are permissible but not all things are beneficial.(1 Cor 10:23)

Christina
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Christina

I’m sorry but I completely disagree. 1 Corinthians3:17 is extremely clear. “If anyone [a]defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” Scary. It is NOT defiling the temple to get in a car accident that is so ridiculous. The bible also says in Hebrews 10:26-31: ” For if we sin WILFULLY after that we have received the knowledge of the truth,, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who… Read more »

Paul Koshy
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Great article – really well thought out. The only thing to add is “why”. Why do so want to get a tattoo? Is it a choice of freedom? Or a choice that is being driven out of certain needs? A need to fit in. A need to dull the internal pain? Why would I want to cover, change, mask my body and particularly face? Is there something else going on here? Doing everything in faith, love and to the glory of God are guiding principles. I don’t always live up to it in my sugar consumption, but it doesn’t mean… Read more »

Bishop Bella Grace
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I agree Pastor Jeffrey. Thank you and Amen.