What does the Bible say about tattoos, ink, or markings on the body? One very controversial topic that often comes up among Christians is whether or not they should get tattoos or ink on their body. Should Christians get tattoos? Would it be a sin for Christians to get tattoos? Some Christians consider getting tattoos of scriptures, tattoos of Jesus, a cross, or other religious body markings. Is this appropriate behavior? What does the Bible say about tattoos?
First, it is worthwhile to note that many wonderful and faithful Christians today may have gotten a tattoo at some point in their past (most likely before they became Christians). There are Godly people in my church with tattoos that they received before they knew Christ. My wife’s grandfather has a tattoo, and he is a Christian. Some pastors may even have tattoos, deacons may have tattoos, and just about any Christian could potentially have a tattoo before they came to Christ. In my teenage days, even I considered a tattoo at one point (I never followed through, however).
Obviously, having a tattoo means nothing when you come to Christ. When you are saved, you are saved, and any sins you’ve done in your past are forgiven. Christians should be cautious about passing judgment on other Christians who may have tattoos, simply because this may be a part of their past life.
Also, getting a tattoo will not make you lose your salvation, and abstaining from tattoos will not give you salvation. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone.
This article is not going to address the issue of Christians who have tattoos from their past, but rather, whether or not a person who is currently a Christian should get a NEW tattoo.
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.”
In this verse, God commands the Israelites to refrain from cutting on their bodies or placing tattoos on them (a common pagan practice at this time). 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? Because He’s God, so you better listen!
The context of this passage is that the Israelites were in the wilderness. Moses had just brought them out of the land of Egypt, and he was giving them commands from the LORD. God issued this command (and many like it) to help keep the Israelites distinct from their surrounding pagan neighbors. Keep in mind, these weren’t your typical odd neighbors. The people
who surrounded Israel at the time would kill their firstborn children as a sacrifice to false idols, they would drink blood for fun, kill random people, and all sorts of demonic and bizarre activity that would probably make any reasonable person cringe.
If you were a father, wouldn’t you want your children behaving differently from them, too? So did God. So God prohibited the Israelites from dressing, tattooing, or appearing like their pagan neighbors in any way. God wants His people to be separate, that is true then, and it is true now. He wants us holy and distinct from the world around us.
Prohibiting tattoos at this time in history also carried with it the benefit of protecting against unnecessary disease or illness. This is important considering that they had no soap, antibiotics, or antibacterial hand wash in the wilderness. So if an Israelite got an infection from jabbing a dirty metal needle into his or her body, it could mean death.
But what about today? Since times have changed, should Christians get tattoos today?
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, although the color or pattern may fade or deteriorate over time. 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 very expensive, and may not be practical for all people.
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. That doesn’t mean that people who get tattoos today are necessarily pagan. But Christians should take note and consider where the practice originated, and what connotations it may carry today.
So the question becomes, “should a Christian really celebrate or emulate a behavior that originated as a pagan practice centuries ago? Is there any way Christians can take this practice and make it Godly?”
While tattoos are far more popular today than perhaps any other time in history, what do you think most of the world associates with a tattoo-laden person? A good person? A Godly person? Or something else? We can’t always judge by outward appearances, but what do you think the average Christian (or non-Christian, for that matter) thinks about a person covered with tattoos? As a Christian, you ought to consider that question very seriously, because you represent Christ in all you do.
Let us consider several points the Bible teaches:
God’s word says that Christians should not emulate this world, but that we should be separate:
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,
2 Corinthians 6:17
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
1 John 2:15
Are tattoos something “worldly?” Are tattoos something you associate with holy people, or other types of people? Could a person look at you and consider you different from the world, just based on your physical attributes alone? Do you think the average tattoo artist is on fire for Jesus Christ? Do most people covered in tattoos from head to toe honor Christ? Or would you suspect that the most Godly or holy people of the world probably don’t have a tattoo (or would discourage them)? What message will tattoos send to others in the body of Christ?
God’s word says that we should be a source of light and holiness to others:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Are tattoos reflective of God’s love and light? Are tattoos a good deed you can share with others?
God’s word says that if something we do causes offense to other Christians (our “brothers” or “sisters”), we should never do such an activity, even though we are under grace:
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)
Many Christians consider tattoos to be a “worldly” or “sinful” behavior. Some may get distressed or confused by the act of a Christian getting tattoos. Are you acting in obedience to God’s word if you get a tattoo, which may cause a brother or sister to be distressed? The verse above is in reference to eating. Paul warns to not even drink or eat something if it will distress a brother, even though we all clearly have the right to do so. If this is true, how much more could a permanent tattoo distress someone than the eating of meat?
The simple fact is that most serious Christians would roundly condemn getting a tattoo. I know I would. I can’t imagine one serious pastor alive right now who would encourage anyone to get a tattoo, and even ungodly, liberal pastors usually go no further than suggesting that tattoos are a “matter of conscience.” I can’t think of one mature Christian in my church who has a tattoo that would encourage another Christian to get one. In fact, most of them talk very regrettably about them.
God’s word says that we do not own our bodies, Christ does. Your body is to be a living sacrifice to God. Your body is a temple in which God’s spirit dwells. Your body belongs to Christ, because He purchased it with His blood.
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
If you are a Christian concerned with God’s will for your life, you should really pray to God and seek His will, and soak up what His words above say. God owns your body. As a Christian, you are to die to self and live for Christ. You are to walk not according to the flesh, but the spirit.
Although I have family members with tattoos, brothers in Christ with tattoos, and so forth, I’d never dare get a tattoo now. Why? The scriptures above speak to me. I don’t want to displease God, or be a bad witness to others.
Can getting a tattoo make you lose your salvation as a Christian? Never. Could getting a tattoo as a Christian harm your testimony? It may.
Practical Reasons to Avoid Getting a Tattoo as a Christian
Aside from scriptural commands, 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 a disease. Even though tattoo practices are much cleaner these days, there are still cases of diseases being transmitted from unclean needles every year. This is a serious risk. You wouldn’t want to go in and get a tattoo and AIDS, hepatitis C, or some other terrible disease would you? Sadly, this happens each year.
- 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 a few 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. Needless to say, he wears long sleeves quite a bit. And a 70-something-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. I’m not talking about Christians, but people of all backgrounds may pass judgments on you. Yes, it is sad to say, but tattoos (big or small) carry a very bad stereotype with them for a lot of people. Women are sometimes referred to in derogatory terms, and more. You will have this forever, and you can never go back. Even a tiny tattoo can become a big regret years later.
- You send mixed signals. As I mentioned above, it is a common secular practice to get tattoos, and sadly, many who actively get 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 and 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. Do you think Jesus would sit down in a tattoo parlor and get barbed wire around his arm? Folks, you are supposed to follow Christ. Think about Christ.
Common Arguments for Why Religious People Should Get Tattoos
Here are a few of the common arguments or rationale Christians or others try to use to justify getting “inked.”
- It is old covenant–It is true that the scriptures specifically relating to tattoos was given along with other Old Testament laws. However, the majority of the scripture posted above is New Testament teaching, and Christians should heed the warnings from both books.
- I am not doing it to worship pagan stuff. It 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? It was a pagan practice then, and it is something more “secular” or “worldly” 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 and tattoo will pass away, but not your spirit. For God does not judge us by our appearance, but by our hearts. If you feel that you MUST have some scriptures on you, then get a t-shirt with scripture, or a hat, or a purse, or whatever. 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–You can still enjoy freedom in Christ by picking your own clothing style, hair style, and things like that. Isn’t that individual enough for us all? Why do we need to mark our bodies permanently to do this? You are already a unique soul that God loves so much, He died on a cross for you.
- The Bible says we get a new name in Revelation. Isn’t this like a tattoo? No. The Book of Revelation God says He will give us a new name. This does not mean God will sit down with ink and give us a tattoo. This verse is simply referring to the fact that God will honor us with a title only we will know. God changed the name of many in the Bible (Abraham, Jacob, etc.).
As the scriptures above indicate, Christians do not own their bodies. Your body is a living sacrifice to God. Your body is a temple in which God’s spirit dwells. Your body is belongs to Christ, because He purchased it with His blood.
A Great Alternative to Permanent Tattoos: Get a Temporary One
If you’ve made up your mind to get a tattoo, and nothing will stop you, then here is the perfect solution for you: A temporary tattoo. Temporary tattoos still fall into the “wordly” category (and should be avoided for the same reasons as a real one), but at least you can wash them off after a while, and you are not left with something permanently inked on your skin.
These days there are many temporary tattoo designs, and you can even customize your own design. It will not set a Godly example to get a temporary tattoo for the scriptural reasons above, 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
- 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 any type of tattoo (even the temporary ones), but if you must have one, wouldn’t this make more sense than a permanent one? Nevertheless, God would have people not acting like the world, but rather, acting in obedience to Him.
What About Christians Who Already Had a Tattoo?
Again, 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 the reasons and scriptures stated above.
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.
Are Tattoos Portals for Evil Spirits?
The Bible only mentions tattoos in that verse above. There are no other scriptures 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 of an average person.
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. Therefore, pagans may have used tattoos in connection with idol ceremonies, but that doesn’t mean they are necessary for demons or spirits to use you. In fact, the Bible constant warns all of us to be on watch for Satan:
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: (1 Peter 5:8)
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 He forbids the Israelites to get them. Christians are called to be separate from the world, to be a Christ-like example in society, to be meek and humble, to love one another, and to honor God with our bodies and activities. There is no positive benefit that comes from tattoos, and it is not only engaging in worldly sin, but there are other negative things that can arise (such as disease, pain, costs, etc.).
God’s word is clear on how Christians should conduct themselves, and that includes things like apparel, tattoos, and so forth. We are called to be holy, to dress modestly (1 Timothy 2:9), to be a better example to the world, and not to fit in with the world. Yes, we do have freedom in Christ, and we are under grace and not some set of laws. But God still has standards, and we are exhorted numerous times in the New Testament to conduct ourselves in a Godly way.
Lastly, Christians should be cautious of judging others who are new to the faith, who may have gotten tattoos previously. We have all sinned and have all done things we regret.
Have you tattooed Christ in your heart? Have you trusted Him as your savior yet? If not, then I urge you to repent and place your faith and trust in Christ today, and receive forgiveness of your sins. God loves you so much, that He sent His only Begotten Son to die for you and for me.