Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Should Christians Get Tattoos?

The question of whether or not tattoos are acceptable for Christians came up recently in a Facebook discussion and I thought I would post my thoughts on that here.

The only verse I know of that could be construed as forbidding tattoos is Leviticus 19:28: "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD."

It is a little unclear about whether or not this is a
moral or ceremonial law as written. Moral laws are still binding on us today while ceremonial laws were given to the Jewish nation and do not apply to Christians today. In this case, the prohibition on tattoos is preceded by a verse about not cutting the corners of a beard (probably a ceremonial law) and followed by a prohibition on prostituting one's daughter (obviously a moral law). The final part of the verse, however, seems to indicate at least a moral component in this law. If the reason for prohibiting cutting and marks in the flesh is that God is the Lord, it would suggest that this law (or at least the reasoning behind it) is enduring since God is still the Lord. It appears that body modification such as cutting and tattooing is not approved by God.

Since there is a little bit of uncertainty about that verse, I think that some Biblical principles should be considered that apply to this issue. One of these is the direction to take care of our bodies as a temple of God. Tattooing isn’t all that safe or healthy. This principle also means that our bodies are not ours to do with as we please since they belong to God as His temple. We should be doing only what pleases and glorifies God.

It is also true that Christians have historically abstained from tattoos as being a pagan practice. And even in our culture today, people still recognize tattoos as being a sign of rebellion and not practiced by Christians. In that light, even if the prohibition on tattoos in the OT was not binding on us today, we would do well not to hinder our Christian witness by marking ourselves in ways that make others associate us with being non-Christian.

Another thing to think about is that at least part of the reason for the prohibition of tattoos, even if it was a ceremonial law, was to set the people of God apart from the world. That part is still in effect. We Christians, as followers of Christ, are to look and act differently than the world. Refraining from tattoos is certainly one good way to do that.

So, a cumulative case against tattoos for Christians can certainly be made. Between wisdom and issues of the body as a temple, our Christian witness, being separate from the world, and an outright prohibition in the OT that appears to have a moral component, it's best not to get one.

Is it a sin to get a tattoo? It depends. For some people, especially those who don't know any better, it may not be. Some things are immoral, whether someone knows it or not and some are only a sin when the person knows to do better and doesn't. I would put tattoos in the latter camp. Keep in mind that if your purpose in getting a tattoo is to fit in with the world or to flaunt your "freedom in Christ," regardless of the effects on your Christian witness, then yes it is a sin.

Those not convinced that getting a tattoo is a sin would do well to remember Paul's warning that not all things are beneficial (I Corinthians 10:23). The mature Christian uses wisdom and discernment to stay away from unwise things, not just those things that can be absolutely identified as sin.


  1. Another well thought out article on a topic that seems to come up from time to time. It does seem that those who do get the tattoo try to justify by saying the Bible does not specifically prohibit and we have "freedom in Christ". There a great number of things that are NOT mentioned in scripture specifically but are unwise to do as a committed Christian. Freedom in Christ is not that we have freedom to do whatever we want without consequences. It means we have the power to be overcomers in a sinful world. The Bible clearly teaches we are not to use our "freedom in Christ" as a license to sin.

  2. This is like my attitude towards tattoos as well. Is it a sin? It is forbidden in the Bible? not really. But, I agree the issue is not is it expressly forbidden. There are lots of things that are not expressly forbidden.

    The issue is am I living to glorify and honor God with my life? Do I want to avoid the appearance of evil? Do I want, as God's ambassador, to make sure that I represent Him in the best way possible? Do I want to embrace something that some may see as rebellious or edgy?

    All things are lawful, but not all things edify; All things are lawful, but not all things build up. I won't be brought under the power of anything.

    Is not it just as easy for a Christian to not get a tattoo to avoid even a chance of offense or misrepresentation?

  3. " If the reason for prohibiting cutting and marks in the flesh is that God is the Lord"

    That probably means it was made in response to a Pagan ritual practicing, that was in some way branding themselves as belonging to Ba'al or whoever. So can't be construed as universal condemning the idea of Tatoos. At any rate more then one verse is required to build doctrine.

    1. It isn't always necessary to have more than one verse to build a doctrine if that verse is clear. However, I am not building a case that tattoos are always sinful here, so that's irrelevant. My point was that they are unwise and can be sinful if a person is getting one out of desire to fit into the world or a rebellious heart.

  4. I've been following your blog for a bit now. Very interesting topic. My thought has always been, what I want first is Jesus. When you look at me, I want you to see Jesus first. I don't want anything to hinder "Christ in me". I wish tattoos were seen different because I would get one. I agree with you, tattoos are still not seen as a godly thing. Tattoos still have an affect on our testimonies. More importantly I think the heart of "why" is very important as Christ judges the heart. Like John Piper once said, Santa Clause distracts and delays kids from the understanding of the meaning of Christmas. Tattoos can be much the same, something that distracts or delays people seeing Christ in us.