Are Tattoos Sinful? (what the Bible REALLY says)

Are tattoos sinful? Is getting a tattoo a sin? What does the Bible say about tattoos? 

For years tattoos have been soaring in popularity. Currently 21% of people in the United States have at least one tattoo. And those between 18-29 are much more likely to have at least one tattoo, about 36% (Tattoo Statistics). Tattoos are certainly less taboo than in decades past and are more or less socially acceptable. 

However, among Christians there still remains a lot of debate. Can Christians get tattoos? Is it a sin to get a tattoo? Those questions are bound to stir up a lot of heated conversations. And you probably have a pretty strong opinion either way. 

What I want to do in this post is take a look at some of the common arguments and then address these questions: Are tattoos sinful? Is getting a tattoo a sin? 

But before we can answer the question, “are tattoos sinful?”, we first need to look at what the Bible says about tattoos. 

What Does The Bible Say About Tattoos? (Is getting a tattoo a sin?) 

What does the Bible say about tattoos? Buckle up… I’m going to give you ALL the passages that mention tattoos… Ready? 

Leviticus 19:28… That’s it.

It says: Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:28

Are tattoos sinful according to this passage? We will have to dig a little to get there. 

This passage is dealing with pagan religious rituals of people living around the Israelites. Specifically Leviticus 19:19-32 (where are verse is found) is dealing with common pagan practices of the Canaanites. Dr. Tom Constable addresses this section this way:

These included eating blood (Leviticus 19:26), cutting their hair in the style of the pagan priests (Leviticus 19:27), and disfiguring their bodies that God had created (Leviticus 19:28). They were not to disfigure the divine likeness in them by scarring their bodies. These foreign practices also included devoting one”s daughter to prostitution (Leviticus 19:29), seeking knowledge of the future from a medium (Leviticus 19:31), and failing to honor the aged (Leviticus 19:32).

When we ask are tattoos sinful we need to understand the context in which it’s written. The drive of Leviticus 19:19-32 is that the Israelites are not to worship other gods. Each of these verses include some kind of pagan ritual that was in worship of a pagan god.

This is what Leviticus 19:28 is talking about, ancient pagan worship. The Canaanites would cut their body as part of a ritual in worship of their gods. They would brand themselves as belonging to a pagan god. They would slash their bodies for ritualistic purposes. This is not even in the same ballpark as modern day tattooing. 

When we read the Bible we have to remember it was written to a specific people that lived during a unique time. God was speaking to a very different culture when these words were written. To imply that the command to not cut your bodies (Leviticus 19:28) is the same as getting a modern tattoo is a stretch to say the least. 

So, what does the Bible say about tattoos? Are tattoos sinful? When we read it in context, we see that Leviticus 19:28 is not talking about modern day tattoos. 

But hold on… While there are no direct verses prohibiting modern tattoos, there are other arguments used as to why Christians shouldn’t get tattoos. Let’s look a little deeper, are tattoos sinful? 

Are Tattoos Sinful? 

So, are tattoos sinful? Is getting a tattoo a sin? We now know that the Bible is prohibiting the marking of your body in worship of pagan gods. And this command comes in a long list of things the Israelites should not do. In context we see Leviticus 19:28 is not talking about modern day tattoos. 

It’s asinine to cherry pick one verse out of the law and claim it needs to follow and ignore the rest. Just verses before it says don’t cut your hair and do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of materials (Leviticus 19:19 and Leviticus 19:27). Nobody I know follows those laws. 

Still many will argue tattoos are in fact a sin because it’s in the Bible. I find two arguments most commonly used so let’s look at what those are. 

Is getting at tattoo a sin? These are two arguments I hear when people say yes, getting a tattoo is a sin. 

1. Follow All The Law

Many will simply point to Leviticus 19:28 and say that’s good enough for me. It’s in the Bible, therefore tattoos are a sin. As we have seen that completely ignores the context and fails to take into account what “cutting of the body” actually means. 

But this argument also fails to understand the Law and what Jesus has done. 

In the Old Testament God’s people lived under the Law. It was their adherence to this Law that they were to be made right in God’s sight (holy). That was the Old Covenant. Here’s an oversimplification of how it worked: 

Follow The Law = God’s Blessing
Disobey The Law = Removal of God’s Blessing

Since God knew that they His people could not do this perfectly, He made a way to atone for their sins: sacrifice. When you broke a law, something, an animal, had to die to pay the price for your sin. That’s how the law in a nutshell worked. 

But there was a problem with the Law… Humankind could not live up to it. 

That’s where Jesus comes in. He fulfilled the requirements of the law (Matthew 5:17-20). He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. And now, because of Him, we are in good standing with God (Romans 10:4-13). 

Christians now live under the New Covenant. Our holiness is no longer determined by adherence to the Law, instead it’s determined by what Jesus has done for us.

Those rules that used to determine our righteousness no longer hold weight against us. You can eat a bloody steak, get a haircut, and wear whatever clothes you want. Jesus has fulfilled the purpose of the Law. 

Before you lose it, hear me on this… I do indeed believe that murder is wrong, rest is needed, jealousy destroys us, and we should be generous. Much of the law has good principles to live our life by. But our call is no longer to adhere to these laws. Rather Jesus replaced it with a new law (John 13:31-35). This is not in addition to, but in place of. It says, Love God, Love Others. The whole law is summed up in that. The world should know us by that one law. Everything else in the New Testament is commentary on how we should live in light of the New Covenant we live under. 

For more on that check out: What’s The Point Of The Old Testament Law?

To say that tattoos are sinful because they are in the Bible ignores the context and fails to see what Jesus did on the cross. Are tattoos sinful? No, because we no longer live under the law. 

2. Body Is A Temple

The other 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 point to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 claiming that tattooing is damaging our body which is God’s temple. 

For more check out: The Powerful 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Meaning (your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit)

At first glance that might make 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. 

But the biggest problem with this argument is that it ignores the context of Paul’s words. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 is talking about sexual immorality. It has NOTHING to do with tattoos or anything of the sort. Paul is not asking the question, are tattoos sinful? Rather, he is warning Christians to flee from sexual immorality.

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

To say that tattoos are sinful because our bodies are God’s temple ignores the context of what 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 is written in. Are tattoos sinful? No, there’s nothing in the Bible that says otherwise. 

Now before you run out and get a tattoo hold on. Just because something isn’t a sin doesn’t mean that we should instantly do it. We should first consider what’s the wise thing for us to do.

So, Should Christians Get Tattoos?

Are tattoos sinful? Is getting a tattoo a sin? No, getting a tattoos is not a sin. But that doesn’t make it a black and white issue. It means it’s up to each person to decide how they can best live out their faith in the grey. 

There are some that don’t like tattoos, and that’s okay. Others feel that a tattoo would hinder their relationship with God or hurt their witness, that’s fine for them to feel that and avoid them. It’s a grey area. If you think tattoos aren’t wise, then don’t get one. 

However don’t force your preference on those around you. Creating rules that aren’t in the Bible is a dangerous practice. 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.

If you are struggling through how to navigate the grey of getting a tattoo or not, let me end by offering you two questions. 

Here’s two questions to help you discern not just getting a tattoo, but all grey areas of life:

  1. What’s the wisest and most loving thing for me to do? 
  2. How will this affect those around me? 

A hard lesson for us 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? 

I know we like the cut and dry answers. We simply want to know, what does the Bible say about tattoos? And are tattoos sinful? We want it black and white. But the Bible doesn’t do that. Instead it asks us what love requires of us.

You will never leave an impact on 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)

Each person is in a unique situation and will have to determine this themselves. Who’s around you that you can impact? And in light of them what is the wisest and most loving thing for you to do? We might have the freedom to do something, but that doesn’t always make it the best thing for us to do.

Let’s hear from you! Leave a comment below. Are tattoos sinful? Is getting a tattoo a sin?

Don’t forget to leave a comment… Do you have a tattoo? Did you ever ask yourself, are tattoos sinful? 

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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