Rarely a week goes by where I don’t get asked a question through various media about what the Bible says regarding tattoos. This has become a very contentious question among many Christians. Regardless of your opinion on this subject, we have to agree that it needs to be approached Biblically, not culturally or even traditionally. So, should Christians get tattoos?
Let me say right out of the gate that I belong to the tat-less team. Meaning, I have no ink on me. In fact, I have actually never considered getting a tattoo? Why do you ask?
It might be due in large part to my very conservative upbringing. My folks did not have any tattoos, and neither did they ever consider getting them. So, the question about whether I wanted to get one or not – actually never even came up or surfaced. It was not even something I even thought about.
I grew up in the former Soviet Union. Back then, there were only two people groups that I know of that actually had tattoos. It was usually guys who served in the Russian army or guys that served time behind bars. As far as I remember, if you did not fall in to one of those two categories – you probably did not consider getting a tattoo. Apart from those two groups, you would be hard pressed to find someone with a tattoo.
Now, keep in mind that this is just my experience from a country I once lived in. It has nothing to do with the United States. If you have a tattoo and have never been to the army, or have never spent any time behind bars – then that describes you and you have the right to make that choice.
I personally have many friends who have tattoos. I also have friends who do not have any tattoos and would never consider getting tattoos. I also have friends who are seriously considering getting tattoos. My prayerful desire is that this post will steer you personally into making the most God glorifying decision possible.
The question then remains – should Christians get tattoos? or, are tattoos sinful?
What The Bible Says About Tattoos:
The only Bible verse that specifically mentions tattoos is Leviticus 19:28. Some people oppose tattoos and cite this verse for their support. Here is the problem with using this verse as an argument that tattoos are a sin:
There are many commands in the Old Testament, and in the Book of Leviticus especially, that Christians do not obey. For example, Leviticus 19:27 gives us grooming tips for the hair. If we are going to use Leviticus 19:28 to outlaw tattoos, if we want to be consistent, we should outlaw everything else that the Old Testament Law forbids.
It is poor hermeneutics (Bible interpretation) and inconsistent to apply just one verse from Leviticus to the Christian, while not applying all others. In the same chapter, we are warned not to wear garments made out of two different materials. So much for the shirt and tie crowd positing themselves as the bastion of holiness. But I digress.
Here is the main point:
Jesus’ death fulfilled and completed the Law on our behalf, thereby ending its requisite of us trying to fulfill it (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:23-25; Eph. 2:15).
So The Bible Allows Christians To Get Tattoos?
Some will argue that since the Leviticus Law has been nullified by Jesus on the cross, we are no longer bound by it – including the removal of restrictions about getting tattoos. The problem with this line of thinking is that many things the Bible is silent on and does not specifically speak out against. The Bible not being vocal about a particular activity does not necessarily imply that it approves it or condones it.
Did Jesus Have A Tattoo?
Some people point to Revelation 19:16 to support an argument that Jesus had a tattoo. The text technically does not actually say that it is an actual tattoo. It could be something written in a non-permanent way. It could be metaphoric or symbolic, not literal. The reality is, we don’t definitively know. And even if this verse did really mean that Jesus had a tattoo, that is not sufficient justification or a blanket permission for all Christians to get tattoos.
So Should I Get A Tattoo?
The wrong question to ask is: Should I get a tattoo?
The right question to ask: What is my motivation behind me personally desiring to permanently mark up my body?
This question falls under the category of Christian liberty. Often, our Christian freedom puts us in an uncomfortable situation where we have to, through prayer and communion with God, search our heart and uncover our true motives for doing that which we desire to do. This is why many Christians make a mistake and go to one of the two extremes. Either they will get sleeves and cover their entire body with tattoos – or – another group who is ink-less will condemn and judge all those who have any tattoos at all.
Both extremes, legalism and licentiousness, are the wrong way to approach this subject.
Legalism makes you go back to fulfilling the law, which Jesus has already done, on your behalf. Licentiousness makes you focus on the freedom you have in Christ, while ignoring your brothers and sisters for whom Christ also died and was raised.
What Should I Do?
Paul writes to the Romans and says this: Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23).
Sometimes, if you have to ask a question if something is a sin, it probably is.
As Christians, we should never do anything unless we are absolutely convinced by the Holy Spirit that it is the right thing to do.
The Bible states that everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial for me (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23).
In addition, we should never do something just because someone else says it is right – or, it is right for them, personally.
Before you get a tattoo, here are some questions to consider:
- What is my primary motivation behind getting a tattoo?
- Will getting a tattoo propel me into a deeper relationship with Christ?
- Will getting a tattoo help me deliver a gospel-centered testimony to people?
- Will this help or hinder my witness of Christ to a watching world?
- What are the financial ramifications of me getting a tattoo?
- Who will my tattoo glorify?
- Who will my tattoo give attention to or give glory to?
- What would this tattoo say about me?
- Will I be OK with my future kids getting tattoos?
- What does my pastor say about this and have I asked or consulted with him?
- What does my spouse think about this?
- What do my parents say? Have I asked them about it? Am I respecting their decision if I am still living under their roof?
- Have I fully researched and considered the permanence of getting a tattoo?
- Am I wanting a tattoo out of spite because I am coming from a conservative background?
- Am I wanting a tattoo to prove something to my friends or to be more culturally relevant?
Ultimately, the answer to these questions are between you and Jesus.
Everything you do, including getting a tattoo or not getting a tattoo, should be done to render maximum glory to Jesus and to bring pure joy to the people that are in your life.
Question: Have you considered getting a tattoo? Do you have a tattoo? What principles and reasoning did you apply when you got it? What advice would you offer to someone thinking of getting a tattoo?