Tattoos And The Bible

Tattoos

Q: Is having or getting a tattoo wrong for a Christian to do/have?  We have only found one scripture regarding piercing and markings – does that apply to tattoos?

A: Our bodies are considered to be individual temples of the Holy Spirit. The verse most often quoted in regards to tattoos is I Corinthians 6:19-20

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, tadalafil patient whom you have from God, drugstore and that you are not your own?   For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

Two Interesting Verses

  • The Bible’s teaching concerning this issue is complex, shop not because it is somehow difficult to understand, but rather because it is a “side issue” that the Bible really does not address head on. There is one passage that seems to teach against such things, Leviticus chapter 19, verse 28, which says:
  • You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD.
  • However, only nine verses earlier in the same chapter (Leviticus 19:19) the people of Israel were also commanded to avoid mixing fibers in garments:
  • Nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you.
  • Therefore, if someone chose to consider a tattoo sinful, then they would have to toss all their cotton/polyester clothing too!

So What Do We Do?

  • It helps to know that God originally set aside the Jewish people as a “higher standard” among the pagan nations, through whom the Messiah would come. As a result, many of their laws were given to wean them from pagan customs, habits, and appearance.
  • The book of Romans (and the rest of the New Testament for that matter) emphasizes that we are no longer under that Law. Jesus paid for our sins, so people no longer have to try “cleaning themselves” to be worthy of being around a holy God. Stated another way, the Old Testament made it clear that people could NOT stay clean on their own, so God sent His Son, who could and did live a sinless, “clean” life. By accepting Christ, we benefit from His work, not ours. (See our page “Why Christ Had To Do The Job” for more information.)
  • For that reason, the “ceremonial cleanliness” laws were done away with once Christ provided a new way to get right with God. Still, some laws were not ceremonial or fashionable in nature (to set people apart from other nations) but rather civil and moral. Those laws are still valid and many of them were repeated often in the New Testament. If you have not read it lately, read the book of James. It is a good overview of desirable Christian behavior.
  • Although this is a brief treatment of this subject, you should get the idea. The bottom line is that the Bible does not clearly define tattoos and body piercing as a sin.
  • There is one thing to consider, though. Since people react to tattoos, short skirts, beards, motorcycles, smoking, and other things in unpredictable ways; a Christian must determine what their “audience” (Christian and non-Christian) will think about Christians (using that person as the example of their admiration or scorn) if they appear or behave in some way. That said, this issue becomes a “matter of conscience.” Romans 14:1-15.6 (chapter 14 verse 1 through chapter 15 verse 6) discusses matters of conscience and uses food as an example. Therefore, each Christian should thoughtfully examine this passage, and modify their appearance or behavior accordingly.

The main scripture that concerns many people with regards to tattooing is this verse from  the remarkable Old Testament book of Leviticus

  • “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:28 — New American Standard
  • At first glance this passage seems to indicate that tattoo is forbidden for Christians. To comprehend the Scripture correctly, we must always examine the whole of Scripture and look at the particular context of a given passage. If we neglect deep study we will never truly understand the intent of the author.   We need to look at the word(s) of the above passage in full connection with the surrounding verses, and in context with the historic setting at the time of its writing. When we study below the surface of this text, we then will see more clearly what God says about tattoo. The verse quoted above is part of a larger passage of scripture seen here.
  • ‘You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor practice divination or soothsaying. 27 You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard. 28 ‘You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD. 29 ‘Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot, so that the land will not fall to harlotry and the land become full of lewdness. 30 ‘You shall keep My sabbaths and revere My sanctuary; I am the LORD. 31 ‘Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:26-31 — New American Standard
  • In this passage God is speaking to his covenant people Israel. He is specifically telling them to stay far from the religious practices of the surrounding people groups. The prohibited religious practices in these verses include eating bloody meat, fortune telling, certain hair cuts related to the priests of false cults, cutting or marking the body for dead relatives, cultic prostitution and consulting psychics. All these practices would lead God’s beloved people away from Him and toward false gods that were not Gods at all. In the midst of this context we find the word translated “tattoo marks” in verse 28. It is important to note here that the context of this passage is not one of body décor but one of marking one’s self in connection with cultic religious worship. Bible commentaries tell us much about the eastern religious practices that God was warning His people to shun.
  • These prohibitions seem to relate to pagan religious customs which should be avoided, including pagan mourning rites (vv. 27-28) Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary: An exposition of the scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  • The practice of making deep gashes on the face and arms and legs, in time of bereavement, was universal among the heathen, and it was deemed a becoming mark of respect for the dead, as well as a sort of propitiatory offering to the deities who presided over death and the grave. The Jews learned this custom in Egypt, and though weaned from it, relapsed in a later and degenerate age into this old superstition (Is 15:2; Je 16:6; 41:5). “nor print any marks upon you” (v:28 )–by tattooing, imprinting figures of flowers, leaves, stars, and other fanciful devices on various parts of their person. The impression was made sometimes by means of a hot iron, sometimes by ink or paint, as is done by the Arab females of the present day and the different castes of the Hindus. It probable that a strong propensity to adopt such marks in honor of some idol gave occasion to the prohibition in this verse; and they were wisely forbidden. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (Le 19:28). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

© Copyright Jason Gennaro 2002-07. Feel free to use this article to educate friends, colleagues, parents, children, believers, and unbelievers. Provided you are not printing the article for monetary gain (e.g., including it in a book), you have my permission to reprint it. If you do print it out, please consider contacting me to let me know what you used it for. I always like to hear how the article was used.