Does the bible say anything about tattoos or body art?

January 10, 2011


Tattoos are mentioned in only one place in the Bible:

“Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:28).

If you look at the surrounding context, you’ll see that God forbids his people to engage in practices associated with pagan religion. That included cutting the body or marking the body either to worship the dead or to contact the dead. But it also included making permanent marks on the body as part of idol worship.

That much of the prohibition still stands. Christians ought to avoid any practice that lifts up or exalts false gods or is involved in any sort of divination, sorcery, or Satanic worship or honor. All other things aside is clearly wrong to mark up your body with pagan, Hindu, New Age, Buddhist, Islamic, or Satanic symbols. Since the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), you are marking your body on the outside with symbols that contradict the Holy Spirit who lives in your body. We should expand that to include graphic depictions of violence, curse words, foul language, murder, bloodshed, degradation of women or children, including both words and symbols. A great many (though not all) tattoos fall into this category.

Does that mean all tattoos are prohibited for the believer? The New Testament does not say that, and we should not erect a law where God has not raised one. However, we ought to consider whether getting a tattoo is wise or helpful or a positive addition to your Christian witness. I cannot not say it is wrong to have a tattoo of a Bible verse or of the cross or some other wholesome image.

Here are a few questions you should ask before getting a tattoo:

1. How does my heart and my conscience convict me? Do I have freedom in Christ and a clear conscience before the Lord regarding the decision to get a tattoo?
2. Am I passing judgment on a brother or sister because I don’t have freedom in Christ to receive a tattoo?
3. Will I still want this tattoo years from now?
4. Will my parents and family approve, and/or will my future spouse want me to have this tattoo?
5. Will I cause a weaker brother to stumble if I receive a tattoo?
6. Is my decision based on faith and will the result be glorifying to God?

Chuck Colson discusses this issue in Would Jesus Get a Tattoo?  See also Marked Men. Doug Wilson has written a series of lively blog posts about tattoos. You may not agree with him, but he’s fun to read.

The questioner wants to do if getting a tattoo is a “gray area” for the Christian. The answer is yes. I do believe that many tattoos are inappropriate for the believer. Don’t put anything on your body that you’ll be ashamed of when you stand before the Lord. Having said that, I don’t believe that all tattoos can be condemned. It is, finally, a matter of Christian conscience.

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