Christians and Tattoos: To Tattoo or Not To?

exministriesUncategorized25 Comments

Is it Biblical for Christians to Get Tattoos?

By Will Honeycutt |

11648-tattoo.1200w.tnTattoos are more popular than ever. Currently one in five U.S. adults has at least one tattoo (21percent) which is up from the 16 percent and 14 percent who reported having a tattoo in 2003 and 2008, respectively, by the Harris Poll. Entertainers, professional athletes, and even a 2009 version of Barbie, have multiple, and very visible, tattoos. With such prevalence and rising interest, Christians rightfully ask what the Bible says about tattoos.

The short answer is…nothing. At least nothing definitive. The Bible makes no specific reference to tattoos as we understand them in modern times. Some Christians condemn all tattooing as immoral because God clearly forbids them in Leviticus 19:28. Since the word tattoo does appear in this verse in some popular English translations, this argument seems straightforward. For example, the NIV reads, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”

Other Christians say this passage no longer applies to us because it is Old Testament law, and not for Christians. If you go online to try to answer the tattoo question, you’ll see both approaches and contradictory conclusions. Both of these approaches, however, are misleading because, as we will see, the answer to the tattoo question is that the Bible has nothing clearly to say about the practice of injecting ink under the skin to form permanent pictures, patterns or messages—a.k.a. tattooing.

Leviticus 19:28 literally translates, “And a cutting for the dead you will not make in your flesh; and writing marks you will not make on you; I am the Lord.” The word writing refers to inscribed or engraved symbols/words, and is used only here. The word for marks, also used here alone, has an uncertain root, so we’re not really sure what the word means. Further, the word tattoo did not enter into the English language until the late 1700s.  This is probably why the KJV, written in the early 1600s, is closer to the literal translation saying, “ye shall not…print marks upon you.”

The background to this law was that Israel, after being rescued from slavery, was between Egypt and Canaan. Recent archeology indicates that, while Egypt did tattoo, it was limited to women. Evidence suggests that tattooing the body parts of women associated with fertility (breasts, thighs and abdomen) was believed to be a good luck charm to protect the birthing process. Women also frequently had imprints of the fertility goddess, Bes, which seems to support this theory.

In Canaan, evidence indicates that instead of marking the body with ink, more extreme scarification measures, like branding, slashing or gashing the skin were used. Archeology, backed by biblical texts, indicates the Canaanites would customarily slash their bodies for ritualistic purposes (1 Kings 18:28), especially to mourn their dead and honor their gods. Leviticus 19:28 seems to imply this when it says, “you will not make cuttings in your flesh, for the dead, nor print marks on you.” In light of this information from Egypt and Canaan, it would seem God was forbidding scarification, not tattooing as we know it.

With this said, while there may be no clear passage in the Bible addressing tattoos, this is hardly a license for unrestrained tattooing. You still need to think before you ink, especially if you’re a Christian. The following are guiding questions to help you think through your decision.

Modification – Since the Bible does not explicitly forbid tattoos, are there any limits? We know our body is not our own, but rather God’s temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The Bible has a high view of the body as God’s handiwork, which is not to be disfigured. Non-Israelites did not hold this view. Today, some have permanently modified their bodies to look more like animals or aliens than humans, who alone are created in his image. We must ask ourselves how much we can modify our bodies to suit our desires while not disfiguring the beauty of the human form as God made it.

Motive – Why get a tattoo? If it is in rebellion to parents, it is clearly not acceptable (Ephesians 6:1-3). And while artistic self-expression can be OK, our primary motive for anything we do should be to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). This means seeking to honor and draw attention to him, not ourselves. Getting a tattoo for purposes of witness may be acceptable, but remember, this is not the primary or most effective way to evangelize. It is in no way a substitute for verbally communicating the gospel. You are not fulfilling the Great Commission simply because you have a tattoo of a Bible verse.

Modesty – Modesty means not being self-promoting. Are you seeking to direct people’s thoughts toward God or yourself? Tattoos often accentuate certain areas of the body and get our thoughts on that body part. It is hard to believe that anyone with a “tramp stamp” (a tattoo on the lower back) is really seeking to direct people’s thoughts toward God. Thinking modestly will lead you to think about, and even limit, the size, number, and locations of tattoos.

Marketability – Will employers want to hire you? Numerous companies don’t want your tattoo to be visible, and it can actually prevent you from being hired. Many employers will restrict your tattoos, requiring you to cover them up because they are not socially acceptable from a business standpoint.

Message – What is it about yourself that you want to communicate to the world? Tattoos are powerful messages, automatically conveying what you value. They are nearly permanent and will likely be with you for life. A growing experience with tattoos is what has officially been termed, “tattoo regret.” As you mature, you may, like increasing numbers of people, regret your tattoos because you have outgrown their messages and changed your values.

Money – Is this the wisest use of money? One website, Tattoo Info, says, “In America, you can expect a basic price of $80 to $100 an hour…very few shops will ever touch you for less than $40” (2004-2009). We are responsible to God for how we use our money. It’s also important to keep in mind that the removal technologies being developed are even more expensive than the cost of getting a tattoo in the first place.

Medical concerns – There are real health risks with tattoos. The Mayo Clinic warns, “don’t take tattooing lightly”. They’ve resulted in severe allergic reactions, infections, unsightly scars, and blood-borne diseases like Hepatitis B and C. Tattooing deliberately opens skin and exposes your blood to unknown bacteria. Tattoo parlors are not medical clinics, although they are puncturing skin and exposing blood.

Please, think before you ink. Don’t make this decision hastily or rashly. Use these guiding questions to think through your decision. Discuss them with mature Christian adults you trust.


25 Comments on “Christians and Tattoos: To Tattoo or Not To?”

  1. I have seen people get tattoos to honor the dead

    And i have seen people get tattoos and brands to honor their sect, group, sorority, etc


  2. I have also heard, and tend to believe, that people get addicted to tattoos. Is there any foundation to those claims?

    1. I can testify and say that they can definitely be addictive. When I was 19 and unsaved, I went and got my first tattoo. It was to honor my aunt and grandfather who both had just passed away on the same day two hours apart. I figured that would be my one and only. By the time I got my last tattoo at age 21 I had five. I can honestly say that I got the other four for the sole purpose of self glorification. Now that I’m 39, no doubt I regret because it’s not a good look. Only thing is, now when people ask me about them I let them know that I was young and ignorant and if I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t because they don’t glorify God. They glorified me and I advise against them. All I can say is thank God for Jesus!

    2. Yes it is true. To get a addicted to cutting your flesh is call Sado-Masochism. Its what the Africans, Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs did to worship demons. Tattoos are connected to the occult and demons are invited through bloodletting. God Bless.

  3. I really appreciate this article because there really has been a lot of back and forth among the “Church” society about is it against biblical standards to do it or not. In a couple of your teaching dvd’s, I remember you describing a deliverance session to a young man who had a tatoo and how having that tatoo was a form of bondage. From that stand point alone, it doesn’t sound like tatoos are a good investment for anyone, let alone a child of God. Thank you for this. God bless.

  4. Leviticus 19:28 states that we are to make no mark upon ourselves. When we look at all of the questions that the author asked himself with regard to obtaining a tattoo, he basically shows that there is no reason for a Christian to want one. About 20 years ago when I saw the Lev. 19:28 scripture, I said, “Why would God care about tattoos?” Twenty years later, it appears that the reason that this command was given has become quite evident. Persons are getting tattoos in honor of dead persons, as body art, as sexual expressions, etc. It appears that the glory is going to their body not God. Even those that get crosses or images of Christ (which he told us not to make in the first place), seem to have taken the tattoo thing to an extreme where it also has become body art. What’s going on now is probably pretty similar to what was happening when this was written. Whatever we do, we are to do it to the glorification of God. Does marking your body glorify him or you?

  5. I do not even know why any Christian needs a tattoo. My thought is, better safe than sorry. Remember what the Word said about fear and trembling? I do not have time to play with anything that looks like unrighteousness with my eternal soul at stake.

  6. The way i see this,

    I don’t think Tattoos can be justified: one point is I will not be willing to employ one wearing a tattoo except they have a change story to it and they are ashamed of it. They are often judged before they open their mouth to speak. Do I really want to be in that category of men?

    I stand to be corrected it’s not good stewardship of the body to imprint something that will be permanently there. It’s also a shame for true believers to be flaunting tattoos all over the place. May God give us wisdom.

  7. a preacher man once said, when you get to a point whereby you are unsure on which road to take; watch the direction the world is heading then take the opposite path.

  8. It does not Glorify God no matter how you twist and turn it. The bible does not speak expressly about masturbation (if I may be so crewed ) but does that make it ok. People are just living by the Victoria Olsteen principal God wants me happy so He will justify what I want do. The Church just sooooooooo wants to be like the world. So what you get a tatt of a scrip or a cross the world does the exact same thing, NO DIFFERENCE. The word HOLY can be translated as unique which would imply that something or someone is set apart from the rest HELP US HOLY GOD!

  9. Elder G Craig made it clear we as men and women of God shouldn’t do this to our bodies, i want more to please God then my fleash nuff said….

  10. Tattoos are not from god, people just want to have an excuse to get one , tattoos make you look doom, just like the devil want you to look died and lost like him. If you really save you would not want a tattoo and be like the world and then change up and say I’m reaching people that is so crazy . Christian please wake up christ is coming soon and we is still on the same page useing worldly thing to reach people and we don’ even know the word of god the bible we want to believe what we want to believe threw Hollywood.

  11. What do they mean by Lev 19:28 is old testament? What we call the old is actually the new because the gospel “Jesus Christ” we now believe in this generation that made us righteous before GOD is the same gospel Abraham believed in, scripture says in John 8, Gal 3, Rom 4:18 down. GOD is seriously against Tattoos and judgement is set.

  12. Tattoos have increased in popularity I think as a way of preparation for people to accept the mark of the beast. The chip has to be surgically inserted into the body. If it is acceptable to get a tattoo, having a chip inserted into the body will not seem that far fetched.

  13. If we’re not suppose to be of the world, of course getting tattoos would be part of it. I’ve seen how dangerous tattoos can be, how it spiritually changes someone, it’s not a good sight at all.

    1. You’re absolutely correct. Tattoos are connected to the occult. It’s is associated with Shamanism and Bloodletting. So when a person gets a tattoo, they invite demons into there life. If you ever have a chance, go on YouTube and look up Are Tattoos Sinful? Shamanism and Demonic Blood Covenants by Pastor Mike Connell. God Bless.

  14. Ministered to a sister after attending a Road to Freedom Conference who requested ministry after recognizing some issues. She also mentioned having a tattoo on her ankle that she no longer wanted especially after hearing truth of God’s Word in the conference. She mentioned that it was inexpensive getting the tattoo many years ago when she was much younger however she could not afford to have removed because it was too expensive. I shared that I would pray that the Lord would supernaturally remove the tattoo. When I began to pray for her she started manifesting (evil spirit) and that spirit told me that it wanted to come across the table at me. I immediately addressed the evil spirit and cast it out. Afterwards, she was set free. Shared this to say people do not know the danger spiritually in getting tattoos especially believers. I remembered watching a DVD from EX Ministries where G. Craige Lewis spoke about tattoos. Thank you EX Ministries for sharing truth.

    1. You’re 100% right. Pastor Mike Connell explains this on YouTube. Thank you for sharing the truth. God Bless.

  15. For the last 20 years or so, the church no longer teaches the old adage of, “your body is a temple”. The way I see it is this; if God wanted you to have a tattoo he would have given it to you coming into the world.

  16. We are the crown of HIS creation, nothing can or should be added. It’s like adding a goatee on the Mona Lisa. Although I would like to add a goatee on these life-size cutouts of pastors and first-ladies we see today. Luke 12:25

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