The Bible does not explicitly prohibit tattoos, but it does provide principles that Christians should consider when deciding whether to get a tattoo. Here is an overview of the key biblical passages and principles related to tattoos:
Old Testament Law Prohibited Tattoos
The Old Testament law prohibited the people of Israel from getting tattoos. Leviticus 19:28 states: “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.” This verse appears in the context of laws forbidding pagan mourning rituals. Some scholars believe the prohibition against tattoos specifically applied to markings associated with idol worship and magic. However, the general principle was that God’s people were to avoid alterations and markings of the body associated with pagan religious practices. Many Christians today view Leviticus 19:28 as part of the Old Testament ceremonial law that was fulfilled in Christ and is not binding on Christians (Hebrews 8-10). However, the verse does provide biblical precedent for avoiding tattoos associated with idolatry or paganism.
The Body as a Temple of the Holy Spirit
The New Testament calls the physical body of believers the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Christians are exhorted to honor God with their bodies. Marking or altering one’s body for non-medical reasons could be viewed as defacing a temple of the Holy Spirit. This principle suggests wisdom and discernment be used in deciding to get a tattoo. Factors to consider include the health risks, the motive and reasoning behind the tattoo, and whether the specific design glorifies God or conflicts with biblical values.
Christian Liberty in Debatable Matters
The New Testament states that Christians are not under the Old Testament law but under grace (Romans 6:14). There is debate over whether Leviticus 19:28 carries forward as a command under the new covenant. Scholars point out that there are no unambiguous prohibitions of tattoos in the New Testament. Passages like Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10 indicate Christians have freedom in matters not expressly forbidden in Scripture. However, they should be careful not to flaunt their liberty in ways that could stumble other believers with stricter consciences. Christians getting tattoos should consider how it would affect others in their community.
Glorifying God with Your Body
The key principle for Christians to consider is how a tattoo would impact their ability to glorify God with their bodies. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Would a tattoo enhance your testimony and glorify God, or would it conflict with biblical values and stumble others? Factors to consider include the health risks of tattoos, whether the design is edifying or objectionable, and your motives for getting it. Your body belongs to God, so make decisions accordingly.
Association with Worldliness vs. Transformation
Historically, tattoos have often been associated with rebellion, crime, drugs, sexual immorality and other worldly pursuits. Christians are called to be in the world but not of the world (John 17:14-16). While views are changing in modern culture, many Christians still avoid tattoos to avoid any association with worldliness. They highlight verses urging transformation rather than conformity (Romans 12:1-2). Other Christians feel their faith gives them liberty to get tattoos as a matter of personal expression.
Potential for Addiction and Idolatry
Some Christians warn that tattoos can become addictive and idolatrous. The process of getting “inked” causes an adrenaline rush. Some believers get hooked on the feeling and the identity and community associated with tattoos. This can draw time, money and attention away from serving God. Christians should examine their heart motivation for getting a tattoo to ensure it does not become an idol (Exodus 20:3).
Overall, the New Testament does not expressly prohibit tattoos. Some Christians avoid them as a matter of conscience and testimony, while others feel free in Christ to get tattoos. Biblical principles to consider include glorifying God with your body, exercising wise judgment, acting in love toward others, avoiding association with idolatry or paganism, and focusing on inward transformation rather than outward appearance.
Common Objections and Responses
Here are some common objections to tattoos and responses to consider from a biblical perspective:
Objection: Tattoos are prohibited by Leviticus 19:28
Response: This verse prohibited pagan mourning rituals under the Old Testament law. Most Christians view this as part of the ceremonial law fulfilled by Christ (Hebrews 8-10). However, it provides a biblical example of avoiding tattoos associated with idolatry.
Objection: Tattoos dishonor your body as a temple of the Holy Spirit
Response: This is a valid concern. Christians should ask if a tattoo would enhance or diminish their testimony and ability to glorify God with their bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Objection: Tattoos indicate conformity to the world
Response: Some associate tattoos with rebellion and worldliness. However, the context and heart motivation are important. Christians have freedom in matters of personal expression (1 Corinthians 6:12).
Objection: Tattoos can become spiritually unhealthy addictions
Response: This is a risk. Christians should examine their heart motivation and not let tattoos become idols that distract from serving God (Exodus 20:3).
Objection: Tattoos are unsafe and unhealthy
Response: Some health risks do exist. However, modern tattooing is regulated to minimize risks. Exercise wisdom, but risks may be justified for meaningful tattoos.
As with any debatable matter, Christians should seek God’s guidance with humility, study Scripture, and listen to perspective from mature believers. The glorious truth of the gospel is that Christ’s righteousness covers even bad tattoos, so we need not condemn but rather extend grace to one another.
Passages Discouraging Marking or Altering the Body
Here are some key passages that provide perspective on how altering one’s body could relate to the issue of tattoos:
Leviticus 19:28 – “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
1 Corinthians 10:31 – “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Romans 12:1-2 – “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
1 Corinthians 6:12 – “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.”
While none of these expressly prohibit tattoos, they provide principles for guidance as believers consider body markings and alterations.
New Testament Liberty and Limits
Several New Testament passages give insight into Christian liberty while also providing caution regarding its limits:
1 Corinthians 8:9 – “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” This verse encourages being careful with Christian liberty to avoid causing others to stumble.
1 Corinthians 10:23 – “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” Liberty has limits, especially when it does not edify other believers.
Romans 14:19-21 – “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” Tattoos may not directly cause others to stumble, but these verses illustrate the importance of acting in love.
In disputed matters, Christian freedom must be balanced with how such practices affect other believers and our shared witness for Christ.
Christian Testimonies and Perspectives on Tattoos
Many Christians who have tattoos explain their perspectives and how they believe the tattoos enhance their faith:
“After becoming a Christian, I got a tattoo of a cross to remind me of Jesus’ sacrifice for me. It motivates me to live for Him.”
“My tattoos depict Bible verses that are important to me. They remind me of God’s truth when I see them.”
“I have a tattoo of my daughter’s name because family is a gift from God. It reminds me to be a godly parent.”
Some believers choose tattoos they feel deepen their faith by providing meaningful reminders of their beliefs, values and priorities.
Other Christians share their objections to tattoos:
“I avoid tattoos because I want my body to be a clean temple to honor God.”
“In my culture tattoos have an unwholesome image, so I steer clear of them to be a positive witness for Christ.”
“I considered a religious tattoo but realized it could easily become an idol. My focus is developing inward character.”
These perspectives show how conscience, cultural context and spiritual disciplines factor into some Christians abstaining from tattoos.
There is room for reasonable debate and diversity within the body of Christ on this issue. The key is mutual understanding and extending grace to those who decide differently on disputable matters.
Potential Problems with Religious Tattoos
Some risks or issues to consider regarding religious tattoos include:
- Tattoos depicting Jesus could violate the biblical prohibition against graven images (Exodus 20:4).
- Explicitly Christian tattoos can lead to prime opportunities for sharing one’s faith. However, this motivation could become misguided if it turns into pride over outward displays of religion.
- Some religious designs and symbols have been associated with unbiblical beliefs in movements like the prosperity gospel or the New Age movement.
- Getting a spiritual tattoo based on an emotional impulse after a religious experience may lead to later regret.
- There are health risks associated with all tattoos, so caution is advisable. However, some health precautions can mitigate concerns.
Careful thought should go into any tattoos, especially religious ones. The goal should be glorifying God, not merely displaying religious symbols.
Displaying Bible Verses through Tattoos
Tattoos depicting Bible verses or passages have become popular among some Christians. Considerations include:
- Is the verse being displayed in context, or could it mislead without additional explanation?
- Does the display of a Bible verse on one’s body align with the intended reverence for Scripture?
- Is the motivation to sincerely reflect on that passage or more for outward display?
- How will perceiving a biblical text on someone’s body affect the viewer’s experience of reading it in the Bible?
As with other religious tattoos, motivations matter greatly. Displaying Bible verses on one’s skin requires thoughtful discernment to ensure it ultimately glorifies God.
What about Markings or Decorations?
Some Christians who object to permanent tattoos still get temporary markings or jewelry:
- Henna – Temporary dye forming intricate patterns, especially for weddings.
- Jewelry – Wearing crosses or other Christian-themed jewelry.
- Makeup – Using cosmetics to add Christian symbols for religious occasions.
These allow creative expression of faith without the permanence of tattoos. However, any practice could become inappropriate if taken to excess or done with wrong motives.
The Bible does not expressly prohibit tattoos, but principles such as avoiding pagan associations and glorifying God with your body apply. Christians have liberty in debatable matters like tattoos but should be careful not to flaunt that liberty. With prayerful wisdom and pure motivations, tattoos can be an acceptable form of beauty and self-expression for believers who thoughtfully consider the spiritual implications. The church needs grace and understanding on disputable issues. Ultimately, one’s relationship with Christ matters far more than outward appearance.