Learn What the Bible Says About Tattoos

Man with tattoos reading the Bible

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What does the Bible say about tattoos? Is God okay with Christians having tattoos? These are difficult and controversial questions in the body of Christ and many believers struggle, wondering if getting a tattoo is a sin.

Question for Reflection

Instead of asking, "Is it okay for Christians to get tattoos?" a better question might be, "Is it okay for me to get a tattoo?"

What Does the Bible Say?

The Bible says in Leviticus 19:28, "Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord." (NLT)

That seems pretty clear, right? But maybe not.

It's important to look at the verse in context. This particular passage and the surrounding verses in the book of Leviticus are specifically dealing with the pagan religious rituals of the heathen nations living around the Israelites at that time. God desires to set his people apart from other cultures. The focus here is prohibiting worldly idol worship and witchcraft. God forbids his holy people to engage in idolatrous worship and sorcery which imitates those who are ungodly. He commands against it out of protection and love, because he knows it will lead his people away from the one true God.

It's interesting to observe Leviticus 19:26: "Do not eat meat that has not been drained of its blood," and verse 27, "Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards." Well, certainly many Christians today eat non-kosher meats, get haircuts, and trim their beards. We don't accuse them of participating in the forbidden practices of pagans. In ancient times, these customs were associated with pagan rites and rituals. Today they are not.

To Tattoo or Not To?

Still, the important question remains: Is getting a tattoo a form of pagan, worldly worship forbidden by God today, or is it okay now for Christians to get tattoos? Perhaps the correct and most appropriate answer is both yes and no. If so, the question likely falls into a category that Bible scholars have dubbed "disputable matters" based on Romans 14.

In this chapter, the apostle Paul urges believers to stop judging one another and disrupting unity in the church over nonessential matters in the Christian life. As God's servants, Christians are accountable to the Lord alone. In matters where the Bible is unclear, we are better off judging ourselves only and leaving the judgment of others to God.

In Romans 14, God gives us the means to judge our motives and weigh our decisions. Verse 23 states, "...everything that does not come from faith is sin." Now that's pretty clear.

It's vital to examine your heart and your motives before you make the decision to get a tattoo. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

What are my motives for wanting a tattoo? Am I seeking to glorify God or draw attention to myself? Will my tattoo be a source of contention for my loved ones? Will getting a tattoo cause me to disobey my parents? Will my tattoo cause someone who is weak in the faith to stumble?

Self Exam

Here is a self-exam based on the ideas put forth in Romans 14. These questions will help you decide whether or not getting a tattoo is a sin for you:

  1. Do I have freedom in Christ and a clear conscience before the Lord regarding the decision to get a tattoo?
  2. Am I passing judgment on a brother or sister because I don't have freedom in Christ to receive a tattoo?
  3. Will I still want the tattoo years from now?
  4. Will my parents and family approve, and/or will my future spouse want me to have this tattoo?
  5. Will I cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble if I receive a tattoo?
  6. Is my decision based on faith and will the result be glorifying to God?

Ultimately, the decision to get a tattoo is between you and God. There is a right choice for each individual. Take some time to honestly answer these questions and then pray and trust God to show you what to do.

Final Things to Consider

As you grapple with the spiritual questions involved with getting a tattoo, remember to carefully weigh the health risks involved with getting a tattoo. Also, since tattoos are permanent, be sure to consider the possibility that you could regret your decision in the future. Although removal is possible, it is more expensive and painful.