I have been asked on a few occasions what does the Bible say about tattoos? Well to be totally upfront and honest with you my readers, I have to say that I am not above prejudice on this matter. However I always try to take my own preferences and tastes and put them on the shelf when I speak about a subject but just in case they spill through in this article, let me just give you a little bit of background about where I come from and from what perspective I am speaking when I speak about what does the Bible say about tattoos?
I grew up at an early age in a very traditional American family that still had the 1950′s model of american life. My grandmother could be a very outspoken woman at the time and I clearly remember her saying that tattoos were for sailors and criminals. In those days, basically those were the only people who got tattoos and they were not the type of people she hung around with. Not only that but in that day and age, men were the only ones that even dared get a tattoo. Since we are at least in part a product of our environment and upbringing I still look and view tattoos from the same light. When I see tattoos, I do not see beauty or art but I see sailors and criminals. When I see them on women I see masculinity. I am not attracted to either sailors, criminals or men which is probably a good thing in the long run.
So what does the Bible say about Tattoos?
There is not a lot of direct biblical references to tattoos in the Bible. This is in part because the only people who practiced placing tattoos on their body during the times of the Bible were people outside the covenant of God. They were the people who practiced pagan religions. In Leviticus the Bible saysLeviticus 19:28 (NLT)28 “Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord.
Now on the surface that seems like a very blunt statement with no question about this subject doesn’t it? God said no! However as those of you who know me can attest to, I don’t always just look at what the Bible says without first asking the question why. Why does the Bible say this about tattoos. In order to understand that question you have to understand the culture of the day. Besides the barbaric nature of all the cultures of that time, the nation of Israel was a newly formed nation. This verse was part of the laws of Moses that were the building blocks for that nation. Part of what God was doing with the nation of Israel was setting them apart to live by a different set of values and standards than the people who surrounded them. By placing tattoos on their bodies, they were not being different from the world around them but they were letting the world dictate what values they would promote. This is why the Bible says not to mark your skin with tattoos.
What does the Bible say about tattoos today?
In our age and culture, tattoos do not have the same meaning as they did during the time of Moses. It is both an age of grace and an age where our separation from the world comes from the inside out rather than by an edict of law. So instead of telling you that tattoos are sin or that you are giving place to witchcraft or the occult by placing them on your body, I am instead going to ask you some questions that you will have to wrestle with the Lord about yourself.
- What is your motivation for getting a tattoo? Is your motivation for getting a tattoo so that you are more accepted by the world? Are you trying to look cool? Are you trying to prove something either to yourself or others? Is it some type of statement of non-conformity? If so, then when you quiet your heart and sincerely go before the Lord, do you think that He is pleased with that type of motivation?
- Do you think that this tattoo will make you more beautiful or attractive? Are you trying to improve upon what God has already called beautiful? Psalm 139:14 Is your desire to place markings on God’s creation due to some inner need that in all honesty will not be fulfilled no matter how many tattoos you get? Again, I am not pointing a finger at you or telling you what to do but before you get that tattoo don’t you think you should at least do some introspection and if there is a need for growth or healing of your inner image of yourself and how you view yourself then do that before making the life long decision of getting a tattoo?
- What is it that is drawing you to get a tattoo? What is it that is making you want to place in in your skin for the rest of your life? My dear reader, my question to you is not one about right or wrong, but about how you are going to be led. Is this really the Spirit of Jesus that is drawing you to place that tattoo on your body? Or is it something else. If it is something else, then the real question is not whether or not tattoos are allowed in the Bible, but whether you are going to be led by God or led by someone or something else. It is the same question we all face in many areas of our lives. Whether it is materialism, intellectualism, emotionalism, or any other type of ism, we have to choose what we are going to allow ourselves to be led by.
The Bible does not say enough about tattoos to make a hard and fast rule. There is just not enough evidence to make a case that tattoos are always sin, but there is enough evidence to make any sincere believer in Jesus stop and really think and pray about the reason and motivations why they want to get a tattoo. It is a life long choice. One that has a lot of potential of promising you something that it really won’t deliver and at least for me when faced with that type of choice, I study it real carefully because usually it is not something that comes from God. The promises of God are yes and Amen. Just like the promise of eternal life through Jesus.