While looked down on in Western culture up through much of the past century, tattoos – designs or words etched into the skin with permanent ink – have become a widely accepted as popular trend, especially among young people. So are tattoos okay? Is inking your body a sin in the eyes of God?
The short answer is nothing definitive is said about tattoos in the Bible. Scripture 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. The Old Testament law commanded the Israelites, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:28). So, even though believers today are not under the Old Testament law, the fact that there was a command against tattoos may raise some questions.
Since the word tattoo does not appear in this verse in some popular English translations, this argument seems straightforward. Other Christians say this passage no longer applies to us because it is Old Testament law, and not for Christians. The New Testament does not speak on this issue. We do have this command in 1 Peter 3:3-4, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentile and quiet spirit, which is great worth in God’s sight.” While this passage is directed at Christian women, there is a principle here that may be appropriate to apply to this question: namely, a person’s external appearance should not be the focus of our attention. Much effort goes into “elaborate hairstyles” and “fine clothes” and “jewelry” but that’s not where a woman’s true beauty lies. In the same way, tattoos and body piercings are “outward adornment,” and we should be careful to give more effort to the development of the inner self, regardless of gender.
When it comes to tattoos, first ask yourself if you can honestly, in good conscience, ask God to bless and use that particular activity for His own good purposes. The Bible tells us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The New Testament does not specifically command against tattoos or body piercings, but it also does not give us any reason to believe God would have us get tattoos or body piercings either.
On issues that the Bible does not specifically address, one important scriptural principle is if there is room for doubt whether it pleases God, then it best to not engage in that activity. The Bible tells us, “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). This verse reminds us that anything that does not come from faith is sin. We need to remember that our bodies, as well as our souls, have been redeemed and belong to God.
While 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 does not directly apply to tattoos, it does give us a principle: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” This great truth should have a real influence on what we do and where we go with our bodies. Our bodies are so important to the Lord that He calls our bodies temples of God. Remember, we are commanded not to do things that will harm what is precious to Him. We are called to honor our personal temple in order to enter His.
Then, there’s the question of Christian tattoos. Do the same principles apply to tattoos that are of a Christian nature, such as a cross, a Christian Bible verse or quote? Some Christians have found that having tattoos gives them more credibility and connectedness, and thereby more possibilities to evangelize with some groups of people.
Obviously, a tattoo of a cross is better than a tattoo of a flaming skull or demon. Having a tattoo saying, “God is Love” or “Jesus Saves” could indeed be a conversation starter with some people who would never approach a preacher wearing a collar. The question is less “is getting tattoo a sin?” as much as it is “is getting a tattoo a good and necessary thing to do?” 1 Corinthians 10:23 says, “Everything is permissible – but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible – but not everything is constructive.” Christian tattoos may be permissible, but are they beneficial and constructive is the better question.
While there may be no clear passage in the Bible addressing tattoos, this is hardly license for unrestrained tattooing. You still need to think before you ink, especially if you’re a Christian. While Christian tattoos would seem to be permissible, it is questionable whether the can be considered beneficial and constructive. If you’re a Christian and considering getting a tattoo, the best thing to do is pray for wisdom and ask the Lord to provide pure motives and discernment.