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What does the Bible say about getting tattoos?

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Consider how you will feel about the decision later in life.

Tattooing has been around for centuries and this practice has enjoyed a popular resurgence, especially among young people, in recent years. The reasons vary. Some get tattoos to show independence and rejection of parental values. Others get them because of peer pressure or because they believe they are stylish—a type of body adornment and beautification.

As for God’s instruction regarding tattoos, the Bible does not specifically address the modern practice of tattooing as body adornment. While Leviticus 19:28 Leviticus 19:28You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks on you: I am the LORD.
American King James Version×
says,

“You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord,” most scholars believe these practices were related to mourning for the dead.

Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary’s article on tattoos says,

“Any kind of self-laceration or marking of the body was prohibited among the Hebrew people. Such cuttings were associated with pagan cults that tattooed their followers while they mourned the dead” (1986).

Apparently, these people cut themselves and disfigured their bodies as a way of appeasing the anger of their gods and hoping to find some help for the deceased. God did not want His people getting involved in these pagan rituals because these practices led people away from Him. While death is always a sad time, God’s people are not to “sorrow as others who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 1 Thessalonians 4:13But I would not have you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning them which are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
American King James Version×
).

While it is unlikely that people today get tattoos to mourn the dead, there are other biblical principles that indicate that getting a tattoo is inappropriate for Christians.

Several scriptures instruct Christians to take special care of their bodies. For example, 1 Corinthians 3:17 1 Corinthians 3:17If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.
American King James Version×
says, “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” Also, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 19 What? know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own? 20 For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
American King James Version×
adds that our bodies belong to God, and that we are to glorify Him in body and spirit.

Unfortunately, dangerous diseases have been transmitted by improper sanitation of the needles used in tattooing. An article in the USA Weekend magazine of Aug. 5, 2001, quotes a study by the University of Texas showing that those who have been tattooed are nine times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C, a dangerous virus. The study urged those who have been tattooed in the last 10 years to be checked for the disease because it is often dormant for years before being detected. The dyes used in the tattooing process may also be detrimental to one’s health (Andrew Osborn, “Health Risks Warning on Body Art Dyes,” The Guardian , July 18, 2003).

King Solomon provides an additional lesson to be considered before making an important decision, saying, “The end of a thing is better than its beginning” (Ecclesiastes 7:8 Ecclesiastes 7:8Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
American King James Version×
). In other words, consider how you will feel about the decision years later.

For people who get tattoos when they are young, many later regret their decision. It is “estimated that between 17-50% eventually regret having their body tattoo” (tattooremovalinstitute.org). Many of these people eventually undergo operations to have their tattoos removed, but these procedures are not always successful. Scarring and skin variations commonly remain.

Finally, we should bear in mind that God wants Christians to come out of and be separate from the world around us (2 Corinthians 6:17 2 Corinthians 6:17Why come out from among them, and be you separate, said the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.
American King James Version×
; Revelation 18:4 Revelation 18:4And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues.
American King James Version×
). We are to reflect God’s values and His thinking. Because of these reasons, we strongly advise that people do not get tattoos. If a person already has a tattoo before becoming a Christian, he or she is not required to have it removed.

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    Comments

  • Built Ford Tough

    Besides the health risks of getting a tattoo, and for religious reasons not to get them, having a tattoo is just disgusting. The idea that someone would be willing to permanently scar themselves with these eyesores is beyond me.

  • triciabrown

    I think people still get them to mourn the dead. My friend who lost her husband several years ago got a tattoo to mourn him. She picked out a picture that best described him and had it stuck on her then put the day she lost him under it. If this is what you mean by mourning the dead then they still do it today cause there are lots more that I know that do this to mourn someone.

  • Steven Britt

    Yeah, it’s pretty common for people to get tattoos in honor of close friends or relatives that have died. Also, many people get “Christian” tattoos to honor God, but this is also misguided and directly contrary to Deuteronomy 12:30, which says not to worship God in the way that pagans worship their gods.

    As this article points out though, there are reasons why a Christian should not get a tattoo under any circumstances, even if they are planning to do it for purely aesthetic reasons.

  • emil65300p

    THE WORD OF GOD SAYS THAT WE ARE THE TEMPLE OF THE HOLY GHOST AND WE ARE NOT TO DEFILE THE TEMPLE IN ANYWAY………READ LEVITICUS 19:28.

  • hanko1959

    I have a tattoo of an eagle flying down with a rose in it’s claws. It is a sort of memorial to my ex-wife, because I had her nickname put with it. Is this wrong? I hope the Lord will not be offended by my doing this to my body. I don’t plan on getting any more.

  • katbird_27

    hanko1959 if you got the tattoo before you understood why it is wrong to do so. God will not be offended.

  • Tana

    I got one unfortunately when I was 16yrs old. I did not know it was in the Bible, I am sure I would not have done so if I had. I wasn’t really raised in a Christian home. My Mom had a bible, but we rarely went to church and when we did it was on Christmas and Easter. It didn’t seem much like church…..I wish I could remove the thing now.

    I can attest that people still use tatoos to mark themselves for the dead. My brother got a tattoo after out Mother passed away six years ago, and was angry that I didn’t do something similar to honor her.

  • hanko1959

    I just want to thank katbird_27 for her kind reply to my concern of getting a tattoo. I was not aware of this being in scriptures and I don’t feel bad about it. In fact, I am proud to be a person who still has deep love for another who hurt them in the past, but still honors them in this way. My ex-wife is still alive, but after our difficult divorce, I got the tattoo to show my love and respect for her and for her to move on with a more fulfilling, happy life, even if it is not with me. So, the tattoo is from love, which our Lord demands we all practice every day, Love thy neighbor as yourself. Our Lord is Love and I am sure He will understand why I did this to my body. Praise our Lord!

  • TLBauer3617

    We are all born into darkness. It is a loving and merciful God Who illuminates with the Light of His Word those things which we may have done in our lives out of ignorance or pride or foolishness.

    With respect to tattoos, clearly God has revealed that He does not want us to mark our bodies in that way. However, if we did so before coming to an understanding of this truth, God does not expect us to lop off the offending arm or leg or other such parts of our body. What God does expect, however, is that we repent of the attitude which led us to get the tattoo in the first place. The spiritual intent. Was it from rebellion to parental authority? Or pride? Or simply self-justification?

    Whatever the attitude, that is what God expects us to bring before Him. Is our understanding now complete? Is our attitude of repentance sincere (and all self-justification put away)? Do we accept the forgiveness which God offers?

    Is so … then move on … and don’t look back!

  • Nellie

    I personally do not think that young people know that it is a sin,or that they should not do this tatooing.Most of them are not even aware that it is described in the Bible for that matter!!I think that if they are made aware(Which is what I am going to do)that most of them would want to have it removed!!

  • David The Tattooed

    I am tattooed and a minister. I was tattooed while I was a youth minister. My tattoo is on my forearm facing me, it is a cross made of twisted thorns and says true love true freedom. I got this when I was going through a very tuff time in my life to always remind me that I can only have true love and true freedom when I stay focused on the cross and thorns. I think the meaning and the reason for a tattoo is what decides if it is a sin, like many other things in this world. My tattoo catches the interest of lots of people and leads to lots of conversation that sometimes bring people to Christ. Most of these people are people that I might not have ever spoke with but they came to me because they saw my tattoo while I was standing in line at the store or something like that. With that said I am not saying go get a random tattoo, I’m just saying if it brings others to Christ don’t call it a sin. Be thoughtfull and remember anything we do that does not glorify Christ is a sin.

  • amjd81

    First off, I’m a applauded by the judgmental things I’m reading here. I LOVE Jesus with all my heart and I have both arms sleeved; He sees my heart while you only see the body.

    All the sophomoric arguments here pertaining to tattoos “being wrong” are found in one place in Leviticus 19. Let me educate you on what else that chapter says:

    For starters, Leviticus 19:37 clearly states: “Therefore shall you observe ALL my statutes, and ALL my judgments, and do them: I am the LORD
    Which means you can’t just cherry pick the laws that work for you to use in judgment of others (or yourself) and then simply negate what you feel is non-essential. This is also supported by the New Testament in Galatians 5:2-4

    “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey THE WHOLE LAW. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace”

    to be circumcised meant to be like the Jews and practice their laws and ways. With that said, allow me to remind you what else Leviticus says:

    - Lev. 19:19 states “neither shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you”
    …%95 of what we wear is made with mixed garments and fabrics.

    - Lev. 19:26 “You shall not eat anything with the blood”
    …How many of you like a nice rare or medium-rare steak or hamburger?

    - Lev. 19:27 “You shall not shave around the sides of your heads, neither shall you disfigure the corners of your beard”
    ….We’re ALL guilty of this one!

    Still gonna hold tight to Leviticus 19:28? Ok, how many of you have your ears pierced? That same verse says not to cut yourself. What do you think a piercing is?

    You rest an incredulous argument on one verse to judge all tattoo’d believers and now I will show you 8 different verses that tell you that we are NO LONGER ACCOUNTABLE OR UNDER THE OLD LAW

    Don’t believe me? Well here’s a bunch of scriptures that can be found in your Bibles supporting this - look them up! I don’t have room to write them all out.

    Romans 6:14
    Romans 7:4
    Galatians 5:18
    2 Corinthians 3:14
    Colossians 2:14
    Hebrews 8:13
    Hebrews 10:9

    Much like the Pharisees, I’ll bet most of you don’t follow all these old laws yourself but you’ll use them to attack others? Ask God for deliverance from legalism:(

  • John1717

    Minister David- What God condemns something, I don’t believe your or my “thoughts/feelings” carry ANY weight in overruling it. Spots,stains,blemishes,defiled,unclean,marks,tattoos, etc… The Bible is VERY clear these are NOT the things of GOD, nor should we be proud to do them or participate in them (as the pagan culture does). Repent in your heart, your pride is a stubling block. I’m not as upset that you are forever tainted, as I am that your heart(words) still sounds rebellious.

    P.S. Killing babies in the womb(abortion) brings them to Christ; do you “think” that this also glorifies Christ? Is this not a sin? Think/Pray about it, If God commands his people NOT to do something(leviticus 19:28)… Should we ignore GOD and justify our disobedience? Gods precepts/laws should be written on your heart, not remembered from stain on your skin. Our body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. What God has made we must not Defile! Though your sins are as scarlet they shall be whiter than snow… All sin is Sin, no matter how we try to justify ours.

  • amjd81

    ya know, I’m only seeing one sided of comments here and my last comment didn’t even show up, so I hope that whoever screens these isn’t not allowing them to post. I’m posting bible verses to back my side of the discussion and as a Christian, I have as much a right to speak my mind on the subject, so I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t reject what I’m saying this time…

    Leviticus 19:37 says “Keep ALL my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the Lord.”

    tattoos are part of the law, but so is not eating rare meat or shaving. According to that verse, we have to follow all of the law or none at all.

    But Galatians 5: 2 - 4 states “It is I, Paul, who am telling you that if you have yourselves circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I declare to every man who has himself circumcised that he is bound to observe the entire law. You are separated from Christ, you who are trying to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.”. This means you

    David The Tattooed, I’m a tattooed guy and I love Jesus. Just remember Romans 8:1 says “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

  • David The Tattooed

    John 1717
    “I’m not as upset that you are forever tainted, as I am that your heart(words) still sounds rebellious.” I understand why you said this it’s a lack of understanding my intentions.

    Abortion is a completely different subject that does not pertain to this. Christ mentions on many occasions the intentions of the heart and mind.

    1st Please read amjd81’s comment.
    2nd Please look into the ways and reasons pagans mark them self.
    3rd Please look into who the pagans were not who they are.

  • David The Tattooed

    I’m a tattooed guy and I love Jesus. Just remember Romans 8:1 says “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

    Amen to that!!!

  • amjd81

    David The tattooed, are tattoo inherently evil? Doubtful… because Isaiah 49:16 says “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.”. An Engraving on a body part is a tattoo.

    The bible specifies not to “tattoo unto the dead” in Leviticus 19:28. BUT that chapter also instructs us:

    - not to shave. Lev. 19:27
    - not to eat red meat. Lev. 19:26
    - not to wear clothes made with two kinds of material. Lev. 19:19

    The New Testament, in Galatians 5: 2 - 4, is crystal clear that we are NOT to follow old law, but if we do we must not follow just one but keep ALL of them.

    Also, what a lot of people, that use Leviticus 19 to condemn tattoos, miss is at the very end of the chapter where it says in verse 37 “Keep ALL my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the Lord.”

    I chose to walk in the freedom of Christ and for me, these are permissible. For someone else, they may not be.

  • Norbert Z

    After reading the back and forth on this issue, it’s made me concider a much larger issue.

    When Paul wrote in 1Tim 1:8, But we know that the law is good, if a man uses it lawfully;

    When using the scriptures to validate a position, is it being applied for the good or is is being applied just for your own good?

  • KARS

    Keep in mind that many people have no idea about all the Bible rules. So don’t judge them in this subject. You didn’t know alot before yourselves.

  • Josephmurphy40

    AMJD81, Don’t take versus out of context. The laws that were being discussed (Romans 6:14, Romans 7:4, Galatians 5:18, 2 Corinthians 3:14, Colossians 2:14, Hebrews 8:13, and Hebrews 10:9)were pertaining to the sin offerings and sacrifices. Also Leviticus 20:27 is talking about an Arabic religious practice where they would actually shave the hair around their temples in such a way to pay homage to their gods, in other words an idolatrous practice. Finally, I do in fact only eat well done meat.

  • amjd81

    Norbert Z, that question could easily be redirected and used on anyone… even yourself.

    The definition of the word “Lawfully” is “legitimately: in a manner acceptable to common custom”. With that said, I’d like to point out that Paul also tells us that if we are to follow one or more parts of the law, by means of practice or observation, then we must adhere to them ALL. Galatians 5:3 - “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.”

    Romans 14: 1 - 4 says “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

    Ultimately, I shouldn’t have to defend or validate myself to you to a peer in the brotherhood, but I’m choosing to explain myself now. We are tattooed but we are still are believers. We should be loved, just as Jesus loves us. If anyone thinks Christians’ tattoos are wrong, fine… Then silently pray about to God, but don’t interrogate us about our “short-comings” when you most definitely have your own sins to worry about. Don’t put us in condemnation when even The One that has ALL the right to stand in judgement over all us chooses NOT to but rather accept us and love us. Romans 8:1 - “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”

    Galatians 15:14 - 15 says “The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other”

    Lastly, in answer to your question “When using the scriptures to validate a position, is it being applied for the good or is is being applied just for your own good?”

    You wouldn’t be able to know if I telling you the truth unless you could somehow can see my heart.

  • Norbert Z

    That’s the whole point of my comment and question amjd81, that it can be used on anyone even myself. (Actually the question was first thought about in reference to myself) It was presented so broad it can be used by either side of the issue.

    Also that question does not ask anyone to validate themself to another person. You choose to write to explain yourself.

    Here’s another contemplative question. In regards that a person shouldn’t have to defend or validate themself to others, should they then choose to want other’s to validate them? “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” John 12:43

    Lastly can a person know they are telling the truth without having their eyes opened to their own heart in the first place? Because if a person’s eyes aren’t open, they can’t be certain to even know how to love themself and treat the temple of their body. Basically all they may be doing is explaining completely wrong ideas about how other’s should “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

  • amjd81

    Josephmurphy40, wait, I’m “taking verses out of context”?? So it’s ok for everyone here to emphatically decree that getting tattooed is EVIL and use that to stand in judgement over other believers because of one verse Leviticus 19 (which is actually referring to memorializing the dead on the flesh), but when I talk about the other laws in the chapter and how it’s clear that you must follow ALL of them (in defense against the words of a BROTHER in Christ), then suddenly the laws have exceptions and I’m the one taking them “out of context”? riiiiight….

    When asked about the most important commandment to follow was, Jesus answered “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    Making people feel inferior or “bad Christians” because of what they do or don’t do doesn’t sound like love to me. In fact, the bible says that “Love IS patient and kind. Love IS NOT jealous or boastful OR proud OR rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance … love will last forever!”

    We, who are tattoo and saved by what Jesus and HIS life, death, and resurrection, are NOT accountable to you. We are accountable to the Lord God Almighty and will stand before Him one day to answer for what we have done. It is not your job to judge us; it is your job to love us.

    I’m sorry if me loving the Lord and having tattoos somehow bothers you, but much like many others, I don’t feel the same convictions you do and I chose to walk in freedom in that area. I don’t know what else to you

  • amjd81

    Norbert Z,

    RE: “In regards that a person shouldn’t have to defend or validate themself to others, should they then choose to want other’s to validate them? “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” John 12:43”

    I think I made myself clear the first time - I’m not looking for approval from anyone but God. I’ll share this with you. I’m not justifying myself with this, but for understanding sake, I want to tell you that I grew up in a very proper Christian home and church where looks would validate the heart. I’ve always been fond of tattoos, but I am especially glad that I have them now, because I’d rather face the persecution from other Christians and have favor only from God, for looking NOT fitting the A-typical Christian appearance on the outside and loving Jesus in my heart, rather than being commended for being a “good Christian” by the clothes that I wear and my outer appearance despite where my heart is at!

    The Bible says that if we know God then we DO know love. If love is measured only by action, as in “destroying our temple” (body), than brother, you are as guilty as the rest of us for the bible says that if you love me, you will obey me. So unless you’ve never sinned before, you are no different than me.

    Also in further response to your question about love. It’s by grace and my faith in Jesus that I CAN love my neighbor. It has nothing to do with what I do or don’t do, but what HE can do through me.

    God bless

  • Sabrina Peabody

    Hi there,

    Just wanted to remind everyone to please remember the comment policy and to respond keeping Galatians 5:22-23 in mind. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

    Sabrina Peabody
    UCG.org Web Team

  • Norbert Z

    Sabrina, something to keep in mind about what are the fruits of the Spirit mentioned v. 22-23. It’s also to understand what are NOT the fruits of the Spirit mentioned in the previous verses 19-21.

    In my view when looking at those fruits, what should people make of “idolatry”? In relevance towards having “christian tatoos”.

    Amjd81, when comments like yours, “So unless you’ve never sinned before, you are no different than me” are made within the context you provided. It’s been my experience from numerous posts on other christian forums, the discussion can mostly just go downhill.

  • tuck

    I tried to post something earlier but technology got the best of me. I have 2 tatoos, I was a pround young soldier when I got them but I know that this and many other things done as a young man were sins of my youth. I won’t argue whether or not tatoos are good/bad. I don’t see a voice of love on this commentary. I sense an angry sarcastic person who isn’t sorry at all and wants to prove everyone wrong. That isn’t how Christ operated. He planted the seed, he never forced it to grow. The thing that concerns me the most is what this commentary has exploded into. It sounds like someone believes that actions don’t have consequences, or we are no longer held accountable?? Did I read correctly? If you believe that we are no longer held accountable, you need to go back to the basics & keep in mind that the bible does not contradict itself.

  • dziwczyna

    I got tattoos in my teens, which years later I now regret.

    I have to be very careful of the clothes that I wear, as I feel it’s inappropriate for work and church for them to be revealed. Even on non-work/church days I don’t like them to be revealed. I think they are extremely unattractive and unfeminine as well.

    It’s a bit more complicated than it seems to get them removed, as there are concerns that laser surgery can cause cancer.

    One poster mentioned they like not fitting into the typical Christian appearance. As a Christian we are commanded to shine our lights, and tattoos can give a wrong impression of who we really are and people can look down on us. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t following Christ, but following Christ is a full-time job that requires us to constantly check both our outward and inward appearance. We are special, and should be proud to look like Christians!

  • cassie1213

    Wouldn’t laser surgery be like a tattoo? It does leave scars!

    I have tattoos and a couple can be seen and I dont hide them from ppl and tht includes my ppl that I go to church with, there are many at our church with them and this doesnt make them any less of a believer in GOD, our pastor does not condemn them in any way as some of our elders have tattoos. We as CHRISTIAN’S are NOT to judge others as that it for God to do, so whatever the reason is that someone gets a tattoo is for them to answer to GOD, and just because I have them doesn’t mean I will ever stop loving GOD. We all have sinned and always do as we are not our lord an anyway, we are here to preach his word and study the Bible.

  • KARS

    Cassie we are called from all kinds of walks of life. So of us come in the church with tattoes, tainted pasts, surgery scars for laser surgeries (like me for instance), or just plan sillyiness on our part as a child trying out crazy stunts with a “crash and burn” and scars to show for it. After we are called it’s up to use to make better decisions. For those of us growing up in the church; the example is taught with it’s do’s’ and don’t’s but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the individual will heed any warnings given. We have freedom of choice. Will we or will we not. In the end we all must repent and move on. Persecution comes in many forms whether we make right or wrong choices. In the end we all answer to God our Father. So like the Bible says. Before you judge your brother look at yourself for you may just find you have the exact same problem. Here is an old saying I heard Great Grandma say; “Look who is calling the kettle black.”

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