Millions of people around the world have tattoos, including many Christians. Some got them before they were born again and some after. Some Christians regret their tattoos, while others feel that they are perfectly fine. Many even get Christian tattoo art, containing crosses and Bible verses.
So are tattoos sinful? Should Christians get tattoos?
First let’s look at things from a “legal” standpoint. Leviticus 19:28 says “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you…” Many take that as a clear statement that God commands us not to get tattoos.
While that commandment from God was indeed referring to cutting and tattooing, it seems to have been referring to acts of idolatry that Israel had previously been partaking in. Also, believers today are not bound to keep the Old Testament ceremonial law. This would also apply to Leviticus 19:27. It would only apply if you were rounding the corners of your head and marring the corners of your beard for idol worship as a New Testament believer. Obviously, it’s not sinful to cut your hair in that way, as long as it is not done so for sinful reasons.
So then, is it OK for Christians to get Tattoos?
Now let’s look at it from an ethical standpoint. None of the New Testament writers directly mentioned tattoos, but they certainly can be sinful. The Christian who is considering a tattoo should ask himself “Why do I want to get this tattoo?” He should be completely honest with himself, and God, and make a genuine effort at suppressing any carnal bias that may come to mind.
In many cases, the desire to get a tattoo is not to glorify God. Many get crosses or Bible verses and then use the fact that it is Christ-based as an attempt to justify it. However, in most cases the thought of getting a tattoo is not due to a deep pondering of how one might glorify God.
Responding to strife between Christians about whether it was sinful or not to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, the Apostle Paul states in Romans 14:14-17 –
“I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
We get two very important principles from this passage. Both relate to Christians and tattoos:
1. If getting a tattoo might “grieve” a brother or sister in Christ, then we are not walking in love and that is sin.
2. When we are not sure if something is sinful, we should always err on the side of caution, just in case it may not please God.
This issue really comes down to an issue of conscience. Do we truly believe that a tattoo will glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31)? If not, we should not do it.
The body of a believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 6:19 “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?”
Romans 12:1 states: “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.”
Will tattoos improve upon that temple? Will tattoos cause your body to be more holy or less holy? If the Lord Jesus were standing before us in the flesh, would He be glorified by it or ashamed?
Another equally important thing that should be considered is how others will think of you. It is important that we walk in such a way as to glorify the Lord. We are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). When people see us, do we stand out because we are Christ like or because we look like a rebel? Will our tattoo(s) cause some people to discount the Gospel as we witness to them? Will the image our tattoo(s) project trip them up?
These are things a Christian should honestly ask himself. Consider these things when questioning whether or not you should get a tattoo.
If you already have a tattoo, or tattoos (like the Author) and you feel that they do not glorify God, just know that if we confess our sins He is faithful to forgive. Those of us in that group can come to the throne of Grace with confidence, knowing that we are forgiven (Hebrews 4:16, 1 John 1:9) if we have been born again.