What does the bible say about tattoos, ink, or markings on the body? This is a very controversial topic that often comes up among Christians is whether or not they should get tatoos or ink on their body. As often is the case, many Christians are divided over the issue, especially Christians who follow a more liberal denomination.
Some think tattoos are acceptable, others do not. Some think it is a personal decision. I thought I would finally dig into this issue and write a brief essay on what I think the bible says about tattoos. First just let me say, if you do have a tattoo, please do not be offended at all by this article. I am just providing general scriptures, along with my interpretation and views. We’ve all sinned before anyway, and we get to heaven by God’s grace, not our goodness.
I received a great question recently regarding tattoos. I have actually been planning on eventually addressing the issue in detail anyway, so I am glad to finally be able to write about it. Here is the question:
What does the scriptures say about tattoos? I recall reading some where in the Bible that tattoos are a portal for evil spirits to enter your body. Please correct me if I have misunderstood. If I am on point please give me some good details and reference. Thanks for all of your help. I truly thank you for the insight you have given me.
Thank you very much for your question Hunnee. I will try to explain what the bible says about tattoos, and try to explain my opinions and beliefs about them. I know that this is a very controversial topic among Christians, and I have carefully considered the scriptures, as well as both arguments for and against the practice of getting tattoos by other Christians.
What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos, Body Markings, and Ink?
The bible does indeed specifically mention bodily markings of what we call “tattoos” today. This verse occurs in Leviticus 19:28:
“ ‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.
Now, this is a very direct verse, and God seems very firm and serious about it. He commands not to cut on their bodies (a common pagan practice), and not to put tattoo marks on themselves (yet another pagan practice). Then He reminds them of his authority at the end by proclaiming, “I am the Lord.” In other words, God says don’t do this….why you ask? Because I am the Lord and I said so, that’s why!
So let us consider some possible issues that are around this verse. First, what is the context of the scripture? Secondly, is this a law or covenant only for Israel, or does it apply to all? Thirdly, what is a tattoo anyway, and what does it mean? Is it God’s best for us? Did Jesus get a tattoo?
Before I get to that, let me address the part of your question about the evil spirits entering from the tattoos.
Are Tattoos Portals for Evil Spirits?
The bible only mentions tattoos in that verse above. I have seen nothing else to suggest tattoos have anything to do with evil spirits or anything like that. Pagans may have gotten tattoos to worship idols or evil spirits, but that doesn’t mean tattoos will invite them or allow them to enter the body.
I know a lot of people who have tattoos, and they haven’t been possessed yet. I also know that the bible does talk about evil spirits, and never does it say they were there because of a tattoo. In fact, Jesus even drives out some demons from a boy, so I doubt a young child would have had a tattoo. So that is probably an ancient myth from another culture or piece of literature or history.
What is the Context of the Leviticus Passage About Tattoos?
In this passage, the context is that God is giving commands to Israel, and trying to separate and differentiate them from other (wicked) pagans that surrounded them. Keep in mind, these weren’t your typical odd neighbors. These people that surrounded Israel at the time would kill their firstborn children to sacrifice to false idols, they would drink blood for fun, kill random people, and all sorts of demonic and bizarre activity that would absolutely be frowned upon today. If you were a father, wouldn’t you want your children behaving differently from them too?
In other words, they weren’t very Godly people, and God wanted His followers to be different in their appearance. God makes very sharp commands for them to refrain from this behavior. I suppose God does this for many reasons. First, perhaps God doesn’t want a foreigner to be mistaken as a fellow Israelite or vice versa. So he doesn’t want an Israelite to have a similar appearance as the pagans.
Secondly, these pagans would do things such as draw tattoos in honor of false Gods, and God clearly didn’t want them doing that either, etc. Thirdly, there is a serious risk of infection from cutting, piercing, or tattooing the body at this point in history. It isn’t like they can disinfect it with a bottle of alcohol they purchased from Walmart. So there is a legitimate medical reason as well.
Does This Command Apply Only To Israel and the “Old Covenant,” or Does it Apply To Everyone?
There is no doubt that God makes it very clear that some laws are meant only for the nation of Israel, and some laws are universal laws for all of mankind that we continue to follow in teh spirit of grace and liberty. So how do we know which law is which?
First, we can immediately identify laws meant only for Israel because they are specifically directed to Israel. For example, there is a law which dictates that if a man has a rash, he should go outside of the tabernacle until one of the priests can see him. Obviously, that doesn’t apply today. Instead we go to a doctor, and there is no “tabernacle.”
God tells Moses to lead Israel around in the wilderness. Obviously, this is only meant for a specific period of time. It isn’t meant for us today. It is history. They have been made a nation.
Other moral and righteous laws, however, still stand today. These include all laws which were not for the temporary “covenant” meant only for Israel until the messiah came in the flesh. These laws include the 10 commandments, and more.
The bible says not to drink blood, but I think we can all agree that this applied to everyone, not just the Israelites. In fact, the disciples give several warnings to the gentiles and new Christian converts in the new testament to abstain from blood.
Now the difficult part for some is separating what is historic or “Old Covenant” from what still stands today (or “New Covenant). For example, some say that Christians should ignore dietary laws to not eat pork. But while it may not be a sin to eat pork, it should still be avoided as much as possible due to bad nutritional qualities. It is clean only in the sense that it is an animal created by God. However, it is unclean in the sense that it can cause health consequences by eating it too often.
Some say we shouldn’t worry about Wool & Linen being mixed. Well, again, this goes back to context. This was clearly a ceremonially law that was much more vital back then than it is today (the fabrics would be ruined if you mixed the two together, as the threads would often separate). There was often a symbolic meaning behind this command, as it represented the Israelites mixing with surrounding nations, and God wanted unity and oneness among his followers. So similar to animal sacrifice, avoiding mixing clothing threads was a “schoolmaster” for the Israelites to avoid mixing with sinful nations.
And so now we come to the issue of tattoos. So does the practice of tattoos still apply today, or has it passed away in the “old covenant?’ I think the scriptures are clear that this ordinance still holds today. Why? The answer is simple, and it lies in the next topic below. The summary of why I think it is wrong is: It is commanded directly to avoid, it is based on pagans, it does not have any positive meaning, it has negative connotations with it, and more.
What is a Tattoo Anyway, and What Does it Mean?
A tattoo, as most of you probably know, is ink inlaid into a layer of the skin, which will permanently remain until death. It will never be washed away. This is a big deal, because once it has been done, there is no going back. There are some “tattoo removal lasers,” but they don’t always work well, tend to be expensive, and may not be practical.
Now the interesting thing is that these tattoos apparently go all the way back in history to the pagans, and is connected with pagan practices. In fact, the only time the bible mentions this is in connection with pagan practices.
So the question becomes, should a Christian really celebrate or emulate a pagan practice? I think if we are honest we can say, no, we shouldn’t. Now let me back up for a moment, because I have talked about other pagan things that I do feel is acceptable for a Christian to do. For example, Halloween can be a great opportunity for a Christian to do good things. Even though it was originally celebrated by pagans, and had evil connotations with it, we can use it to do good. I see nothing wrong with celebrating it or using it as an opportunity to tell others about God, as the article in the link above shows (so long as you aren’t celebrating death and goblins).
But is a tattoo really on the same level with a holiday? I don’t think so. For one thing, the bible never comes out directly and condemns doing Halloween at all. Holidays come and go. We are going to be doing something on that day anyway—that fact is unavoidable. All holidays happen for one day, and are over. We can celebrate the holiday in a way which glorifies God. But the bible does come out and directly mentions tattoos and commands not to do them.
But how does barbed wire, or a skull, butterfly, heart, or any other tattoo really glorify God? Even if you got a scripture tattoo in reference of God, or a cross, is that honoring Him? Not really. I think God would much more prefer you to do something else to spread His message rather than ruining your body’s appearance.
Plus, people today still associate people with tattoos to be “pagan” or at least “Probably not Christian.” This may be a generic stereotype, but this is exactly what God wanted the Israelites to avoid. He didn’t want them to be confused, or even remotely appear to be like the pagans, and this is true today! Don’t give a physical mark on your body which could confuse some people and associate you with persons who do “less than Godly” stuff. Look at what this scriptures says:
If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. (Romans 14:15)
Here, Paul is saying that if something you are doing is questionable, yet causes other Christians to disapprove or be uncomfortable with it, by all means avoid it. Otherwise you are only seeking your own self interests, and not that of the body of Christ.
The simple fact is most serious Christians would roundly condemn getting a tattoo. It is a secular idea. I can’t imagine one serious pastor alive right now who would encourage anyone to get a tatoo.
Why I Wouldn’t Recommend Getting a Tattoo, and Are They a Sin?
Again, I think on scripture alone it is a real risk to get tattoos. In my mind, they are not appropriate for a Christian at all. Are tattoos a sin? I would say that it absolutely would be best to avoid them, and not risk it. We do have a direct command, and disobeying that command would be a sin. The main issue is whether the command is still valid. I say yes, because the same reasoning still applies today as it did for the Israelites then–much like the ordinance to avoid blood.
It doesn’t matter if it is a tiny butterfly on the back, or an arm full of them from top to bottom. Either way, it isn’t the “number” that counts, it is the “principle.” God says don’t do it, it is a pagan tradition, and it ruins the body’s appearance. As some Christians say, your body is the temple, and you are painting graffiti on it.
But aside from that, there are other really great reasons not to get a permanent tattoo. Here are some things to consider before getting inked:
- First, they typically aren’t free, and in fact, can be quite expensive. So saving a potential $50-300 is always a great reason not to do something! You could give that money to the poor, buy yourself something nice, or loads of other things.
- You might catch something. Even though tattoo practices are much cleaner these days, there are still cases of diseases being transmitted from unclean needles every year. This is serious folks. You wouldn’t want to go in and get a tattoo and AIDS, hepatitis C, or some other terrible disease would you?
- They hurt! Take something sharp and poke it into your skin. Now do that about 1,000 times and that is what a tattoo will feel like. That isn’t exactly my idea of a massage or restful day! You are literally paying someone to stab you with an inked needle hundreds or thousands of times. Hey, shouldn’t they be paying you?
- They are permanent. My wife’s grandfather became a Christian about 5 years ago. When he was younger, he was in the Navy, and got a huge tattoo of a lady on his lower arm. As you can imagine, he regrets it badly. Needless to say, he wears long sleeves quite a bit. And a 70 year old man looks strange with a large tattoo of a lady. Not only that, imagine getting a woman’s tattoo on your arm, and then you break up or get a divorce.
- People will judge you. Yes, it is sad to say, but tattoos (big or small) carry a very bad stereo type with them. For example, here are some common thoughts some judgmental people may think immediately in their head: If a person has tattoos all over their arms–they probably have wild views about life, very low morals, and do drugs. If a woman has a tattoo on her back or other body part, people may think she isn’t very religious, and probably has promiscuous sex, and may be into drugs or partying. I’m not suggesting these stereotypes are true by any means, but if you search the web this is what many people say on forums. . You may not care what people think now, but that may not be true in the future, and I almost promise you one day may care. People change. Sheesh, I started my 20′s as an atheist, and ended it as a devout Christian. You have no clue where you will be in 5-10 years. Don’t make a permanent mistake. And yes, people will judge you in their minds about it, and I do mean everyone!
- You send mixed signals. As I mentioned above, it is a common secular practice to get tattoos, and sadly, many who have them are not very godly people. So why would a Christian want to send out visible signals that may confuse others? Other Christians may look up to you, and think, “Well, Bobby has tattoos and is a Christian, so maybe I should get some.” Or “Bobby has tattoos so he probably parties, why can’t I?” This is NOT the type of message you want to send out to others.
- Jesus Nor Other Prophets Did it–We have no accounts of Jesus, any prophets, disciples, apostles, or anyone else getting inked. We are supposed to follow Christ & the prophets are we not? Is Jesus your example or Jesse James?Do you really think Jesus Christ would have gotten a tattoo? Seriously, think about it for a minute. I would guarantee he would say, “I tell you the truth, do not mark on yourselves like the pagans do.”
- It Isn’t Holy–Again, it just isn’t Godly to get a tattoo. It is pagan based, and most do not look very flattering. I must admit, I have never seen any tattoo that I truly thought was nice. All (even the pleasant designs, just didn’t look very pleasant on the skin of a person). You are on God’s side now, and you must seek His Holy ways.
Addressing Common Arguments for Why Religious People Should Get Tattoos
Here are a few of the common arguments or rationale Christians & others try to use to justify getting “inked.”
- It is old covenant–Really? So can we drink blood now, murder, and do what we want? Don’t think so! I don’t think this one applies at all under the “old covenant rule.” Again, obviously some laws were only meant for Israelites, some were meant as governmental laws (stoning people), and some apply to all people as an ordinace for Christians under grace, called to be set apart as God’s holy people.
- I am not doing it to worship pagan stuff. Doesn’t matter. Drinking blood was done in honor of idols too, but is it permissible to drink blood if you are thinking of God only? Don’t think so! It was a pagan practice then, and you are emulating them even today. Even if you do it for a different reason, it is still inappropriate to drink blood, and I think tattoos fit right in there.
- I want to get scripture or a cross tattoo to honor God–If you want to honor God, write his laws on your heart, not your body. Be a living example by your actions and deeds–not your ink work. Then share your heart with the world. Ink is completely unnecessary (unless on paper). I tell you the truth, God cares not for tattoos, but your heart. Your body & tattoo will pass away, but not your spirit. For God does not judge us by our appearance, but by our hearts. A tattoo on the skin can never please God. If you really want to please God in your heart, let the Holy Spirit speak to your conscience, and help bring others to Christ by your example. As discussed above, tattoos can be a real stubmling block for some Christians, and out of love for them, you should avoid them.
- I can express my individuality–Really? What happened to picking your own clothing style, hair style, and things like that? Isn’t that individual enough for you? Why do you need marks on your body? (hint, you don’t) God made you individually already anyway, and you will always be unique to Him.
- My friends are doing it–yeah, right! If they jump off of a bridge too, let me know how that one works out for you!
Are There Any Good Reasons to Get a Tattoo?
I honestly cannot think of one really good reason why someone should get a tattoo. Everything about them comes off as being negative to me, or there are tons of other methods that could achieve the perceived benefit of a tattoo. It is a negative thing in the majority of society, there are direct scriptures against it, Jesus didn’t and certainly wouldn’t have done it (based on his views about other things in the NT), it costs money, it is permanent, etc. In other words, please don’t do this, or at least think it through really well, and pray about it. Think about it, pray about it, and read the scripture about it. I think you will feel as if it isn’t appropriate. It isn’t a very effective way to glorify God at all.
In other words, I strongly recommend that if you are considering a tattoo, don’t do it! It doesn’t matter if it is a small tattoo that isn’t visible with clothing on, or if you are getting fully covered in them. It isn’t the number that counts, it is the principle.
A Great Alternative to Permanent Tattoos: Get a Temporary One!
If you seriously want a tattoo, here is the perfect solution for you: A temporary tattoo! These days there are tons of very nice temporary tattoo designs, and you can even customize your own design. Don’t get me wrong–I still don’t think this sets a Godly example either. But it would be a preferred option to a permanent tattoo for sure. In fact, let’s compare it to permanent tattoos.
- It costs almost nothing—most can be purchased for less than $10.
- You can wash it off–Don’t worry about the permanent thing.
- No pain
- Great designs to choose from
- Virtually no risk of a disease or bleeding
- Can take it off, change it, or anything else you want
So again, I would definitely recommend avoiding a tattoo (even the temporary ones), but if you must have one, try a temporary tattoo for fun. It just makes more sense than a permanent one! They look so real these days, even your friends will be convinced.
What About Christians Who Already Had a Tattoo?
If you have already gotten a tattoo in the past, then don’t worry about it–Christ’s blood covers your past sins when you repent. If you have been forgiven for your sins, that includes the ink. However, I would avoid getting any more for sure.
Also, you may not want to remove it due to costs, etc., but that is always a possibility for those of you who may regret having it done. There are tattoo laser removal services out there. You an also try to conceal it with clothing if it makes you uncomfortable or embarrassed.
Conclusion: Are Tattoos a Sin or Not? Should Christians Get Tattoos?
The bible makes it clear that God did not like the tattoo practices of the pagans, and forbids the Israelites to not do them. I think this Christian rule definitely holds today as a thing to avoid, and Christians should avoid them. There is no positive benefit that comes from tattoos, and it is not only risking a sin, but there are other negative things that can arise.
In general, it is not a very “Christ-like” thing to do. We should strive to be like Christ, because Christ’s way leads to God. It’s as simple as that.
I hope I have covered every issue about tattoos. That is my 2 cents on the subject after careful reading of the scripture, logical thinking, and hearing both sides of the Christian argument. Thanks again, and God bless!