Does the Bible Say Anything About Tattoos?
Yes, the Bible does address the issue of tattoos, but the mention is specific to the cultural and historical context of ancient Israel. The primary passage that’s often cited in relation to tattoos is from Leviticus:
“You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.” – Leviticus 19:28 (ESV)
Several things to consider about this verse…
Historical Context about Tattoos in the Bible
In the ancient Near East, it was common for pagan tribes to mark their bodies with tattoos and cuts as a form of mourning or to identify with a particular deity. God was establishing Israel as a distinct nation, separate from the idolatrous practices of their neighbors. This command can be seen as a directive against assimilating those pagan religious practices.
Cultural Relevance of Tattoos in Bible Times
The Old Testament Law, especially those found in Leviticus, was given specifically to the nation of Israel. Many of these regulations are not directly applicable to Christians today, as they were a part of the Mosaic covenant, which is distinct from the New Covenant established through Jesus Christ. For instance, the same book of Leviticus prohibits eating pork and shellfish, but most Christians today don’t adhere to these dietary laws.
“You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.”Leviticus 19:28
Christian Perspective on Tattoos
The New Testament does not specifically address tattoos. Thus, many Christians approach the issue from the perspective of conscience, cultural context, and personal conviction. Some Christians believe that since their bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), they should refrain from marking them with tattoos. Others believe that tattoos, if they are not idolatrous or used to promote ungodly behavior, can be a form of personal expression or even used to share one’s faith.
What Other Bible Verses do People Reference about Tattoos?
Avoiding Worldly Conformity
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2. Some Christians argue that getting a tattoo for the sake of fashion or worldly acceptance could be seen as conforming to the world.
Considering the Weaker Brother
“It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” – Romans 14:21. The broader context of Romans 14 discusses Christian liberty and the importance of not causing a “weaker” believer to stumble because of one’s freedoms. Some might argue that tattoos could be a stumbling block for others, especially in cultures or denominations where they’re frowned upon.
While none of these verses directly address tattoos, they offer general principles that some Christians might consider when making a decision about getting a tattoo. As always, interpreting and applying biblical principles often involves considering the cultural, personal, and broader theological contexts.
Closing Thoughts about Tattoos and the Bible
In summary, while the Old Testament prohibits tattoos within a specific cultural and historical context, there’s a diverse range of opinions among Christians today regarding their appropriateness. It’s important for each individual to carefully consider their reasons for getting a tattoo and to respect the convictions of others on the matter.
Leviticus 19:28 is the only definitive Bible verse about tattoos, and it is clearly speaking about “tattoos and marking” for the dead.
I personally have multiple tattoos. One is a cover-up of a decades old Army tattoo I received when I was 21 years old. The cover up is a cross logo and a representation of the Armor of God. A second tattoo I received when I was married, which is 1/2 of the scripture, “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:6) While this tattoo is not a covenant of my marriage, it is a reminder of the covenant of my marriage.
I’ve seen people with tattoos go to church and be judged for their tattoos. From someone who grew up as the son of a church leader, it saddens me. In this case, the one who judged by outward appearance was in sin, not the one who bore the tattoos. If Jesus of 2000+ years ago walked into some of today’s churches with long hair and tattered clothing, He would likely be judged as many people are judged today by their outward appearance.
Tattoos are outward and can be seen by anyone. The heart is inward and can only be seen by God.