What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos?

Should Christians Get Tattoos?

The Bible is not clear on tattooing. There is only one passage in the Bible where it mentions it – “Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:28)

This passage, including the surrounding text, is specifically dealing with the pagan religious rituals of the people living around the Israelites. The focus here is prohibiting worldly, heathen worship and witchcraft. God forbids his holy people to engage in idolatrous, pagan worship and sorcery like those who do not follow Him.

Look at the previous two verses. If getting a tattoo is a sin then so is eating non-kosher meats and getting haircuts. (“Do not eat meat that has not been drained of its blood,” “Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards.”). Back then these customs were associated with pagan rites and rituals. Today they are not.

However, since tattooing is such a controversial issue today, it’s important to examine your heart and your motives before you make the decision.

To Tattoo or Not To?

Here are some questions to ask yourself based on the ideas put forth in Romans 14. These questions will help you decide whether or not getting a tattoo is right for you to do:

  1. Do I have a clear conscience before the Lord regarding the decision to get a tattoo or do I feel guilty about getting one?
  2. Will I still want this tattoo years from now?
  3. Will my parents and family approve, and/or will my future spouse want me to have this tattoo?
  4. Will I cause a weaker brother to stumble if I receive a tattoo?
  5. Is my decision based on faith and will the result be glorifying to God?
  6. What are the health risks to getting a tattoo?

Take some time to honestly answer these questions and the Lord will show you what to do.

Remember, tattoos are permanent. If you regret your decision in the future the removal is possible but it is more expensive and more painful.

Tattoos and Piercings

Many Christian(s) young people have adopted the culture of the age, i.e., getting a tattoo or having their body pierced, i.e., nose, tongue, eyelid, naval, etc.

Should Christians follow this practice? The issue is not whether it is stylish or a fad, the issue is what does God say about these activities? The Bible says, “He shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:28). Both tattoos and body marks were identification with a heathen religion and/or their view of gaining salvation; so God prohibited it to the Jews.

The phrase “for the dead” was identified with obtaining salvation for those who have already died, and for one’s own salvation. There is one illustration of “cutting” when the priests of Baal, “cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manna with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them” (I Kings 18:28). This was a religious rite. Therefore, the Bible gives us the principle of not following the practices of those about us, i.e., the unsaved.

However, Christians are not under the Law, but under grace; and it seems they can do what they want to do, including wearing tattoos and marking the body. However, when Christian young people succumb to the pressures of culture with tattoos or body marks, are they just succumbing to the pressure of today’s American culture or are they becoming like the practices of the ungodly?

The Christian young person has to ask how much of today’s culture is non-Christian or anti-Christian? Christian young people should not want to identify with any form of secular culture that is ungodly or anti-Christian. When the majority of secular people are following a fad that is identified witha) sinful practices, b) immoral practices, or c) practices of another religion, then the Christian should not participate.

Some Christian young people are confused because there are apparently Christian leaders who either advocate or have participated in these activities, i.e., youth pastors have gotten tattoos and wear earrings. Can it be wrong if many Christian young ladies pierce their ears and have plastic surgery?

Just because many are doing it does not justify it. The Christian should ask, “With what am I identifying?” The old adage should be applied in this realm, “Be not the first by which the new is tried, be not the last by which the old is laid aside.”

In Summary – So Are Tattoos a Sin?

It’s a debatable matter.

Tattooing falls into the category of “disputable matters” where the Bible is not clear.

But what about this verse? Isn’t it clear?

You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:28)

It’s important to look at the verse in context. This passage in Leviticus, including the surrounding text, is specifically dealing with the pagan religious rituals of the people living around the Israelites. God’s desire is to set his people apart from other cultures.

The focus here is prohibiting worldly, heathen worship and witchcraft. God forbids his holy people to engage in idolatrous, pagan worship and sorcery which imitates the heathens. He does this out of protection, because he knows this will lead them away from the one true God.

Observe the 2 verse before that verse:

“You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. (Leviticus 19:26-27)

Certainly many Christians today eat non-kosher meats and get haircuts without participating in the forbidden worship of pagans. Back then these customs were associated with pagan rites and rituals. Today they are not.

The critical question remains, is getting a tattoo a form of pagan, worldly worship? This still is forbidden by God.

So, this matter is disputable, and should be treated as a Romans 14 issue.

The question is not whether a Christian can get a tattoo

  • Instead of asking, “Is it okay for a Christian to get a tattoo,” a better question might be, “Is it okay for me to get a tattoo?”

Ask yourself these questions before getting a tattoo:

Since tattooing is a controversial issue, examine your motives before you make the decision. Here are questions (based partially on Romans 14).

  • What are my motives for wanting a tattoo? Am I seeking to glorify God or draw attention to myself?
  • How does my heart and my conscience convict me? Do I have freedom in Christ and a clear conscience before the Lord regarding the decision to get a tattoo?
  • Am I passing judgment on a brother or sister because I don’t have freedom in Christ to receive a tattoo?
  • Will I still want this tattoo years from now?
  • Will my parents and family approve? Or will this be a source of contention?
  • Will my future spouse want me to have this tattoo?
  • Will I cause a weaker brother to stumble if I receive a tattoo?
  • Is my decision based on faith and will the result be glorifying to God?
  • Have you considered the health risks?
  • Tattoos are permanent. Have you considered that you might regret your decision in the future? Yes, removal is possible, but it is more expensive and more painful.
  • Ultimately, the decision is between you and God. Though it may not be a black and white issue, there is a right choice for each individual. Take some time to honestly answer these questions and the Lord will show you what to do.
The following two tabs change content below.
Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

Latest posts by Dr. Elmer Towns (see all)