Body tattoos show up very often in today’s culture. Once, these body etchings were limited to sailors and gang members, but this counter cultural phenomenon is tempting many to have ink injected into their skin. Is it right for a Christian to put marks on his or her body? Would God want you to use your skin as a billboard for your current philosophy of life? What if you change your mind? Tattoos are often painful and expensive to remove. Can we discover any principles in the pages of the Bible? Christianity is a way of life. Christians practice what the Bible teaches, for it is written three times in scripture that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3 Deuteronomy 8:3And he humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD does man live.
American King James Version×, Matthew 4:4 Matthew 4:4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
American King James Version×, and Luke 4:4 Luke 4:4And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.
American King James Version×). So, it is only natural that a Christian would study the Bible to see if it has anything to say on the matter of wearing tattoos. This guide will lead you to discover the Biblical principles that apply to tattooing one’s body.
Why Wear a Tattoo?
People claim to get tattooed for various reasons: For membership in a gang or group, to be cool or even to show independence or rebellion. What other reasons, if any, do you know for acquiring a tattoo?
LEVITICUS 19:28 — “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD.”
COMMENT: Bible scholars recognize that the context of the above verse is that of ways to worship God. Just as members of certain gangs today wear an identifying tattoo specific to their gang, worshipers of certain gods had tattoos to identify what god they worshiped. Children’s transferable stickers or “tattoos” are not true tattoos as they wash off. Likewise the stamp that amusement parks often place on the hand to allow re-entry is not a violation of the commandment. The red dot that an Indian woman will place on her forehead when she marries (but removes should she become a widow) is not a tattoo. (However, any false religious significance given to the dot would violate the first of the Ten Commandments. The URL for the discussion guide on the First Commandment is www.ucg.org/teenstudy/1stcommandment.htm .)
1. Some feel that by having a tattoo of a Christian symbol or slogan (e.g. a cross, “Praise the Lord,” “John 3:16 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
American King James Version×;) they honor God. Some say it reminds them of their commitment and making that commitment publicly known. What does the above verse teach us about using tattoos to worship or glorify the true God?
2. Do you think the principle of worship found in John 4:23-24 John 4:23-24 23 But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him.
24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
American King James Version×would apply to wearing a religious tattoo? Why or why not?
JEREMIAH 31:19 — “Surely, after my turning, I repented; And after I was instructed, I struck myself on the thigh; I was ashamed, yes, even humiliated, Because I bore the reproach of my youth.’”
3. Some want to be “in.” Would you say wearing tattoos is a fad? Are all fads sensible? What criteria do you use to decide which ones to follow?
4. Fashions change, so one day tattoos will be out of style. How long do tattoos remain on the skin?
5. When tattoos are no longer chic, how would one feel who has one? Do Jeremiah’s words come close to describing the feeling?
6. People change their minds about what is attractive. Have you ever changed your mind about a clothing style or hairstyle, and then made the change in wardrobe or hairstyle? How hard are tattoos to remove? How painful? How costly?
7. When should we allow the values (including fashions) of the world around us to determine our behavior? Before answering, read and consider James 4:4 James 4:4You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
American King James Version×and 1 John 2:15-17 1 John 2:15-17 15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God stays for ever.
American King James Version×.
8. Which do you think is wiser: to do something that is permanent but will be popular for only a season, or to not adopt the popular, but passing, fad?
EXODUS 20:12 — “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.”
Another reason some teens get a tattoo is to rebel against their parents. One recent article stated:
“For college students anxious to rebel against their parents’ fashion sensibilities, getting a tattoo or piercing may be the modern-day equivalent of the 1960s-era fascination with long hair and love beads.” (“Piercings Are A Girl’s Best Friend? Body Art Study Shows Gender Preferences”; Source: University of Florida, 2004-12-09, URL: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/12/041203084256.htm )
9. What does God think of that attitude—i.e. rebelling against one’s parents?
10. What benefit is there to honoring one’s parents? Why do you suppose that is?
1 CORINTHIANS 6:19-20 — “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
1. To whom does your body belong?
2. How should we treat our bodies? Does a Christian have an obligation to God regarding caring for his flesh, or is a Christian free to decide what he will do to his flesh?
3. If the body is the temple of God, what do you think of the analogy of a tattooed body being like a temple with graffiti on its walls?
4. There is some evidence tattoos can have negative consequences on one’s health*—enough evidence for some states and local communities to have regulations for tattooing facilities, and enough evidence to raise concerns by the European Commission. Is taking unnecessary risks to our health showing proper care for the temple of the Holy Spirit? Why or why not?
1. Hypersensitivity to the red dye, cinnabar which contains mercury (a known brain contaminant).
2. Photosensitivity to the yellow pigment, cadmium (another toxic metal).
3. Uptake of tattoo pigments by the lymph nodes has been documented, but the long-term effects are unknown.
4. Reports of transmission of syphilis and cutaneous tuberculosis have occurred.
5. Rare complications may include malignant malanomas, basal cell carcinomas, and granulomas at the design site.
6. The most well-known infection from tattooing is hepatitis, which has been transmitted from tattoos. In one study, tattooing accounted for 41% of hepatitis C infections.
1 CORINTHIANS 10:31 — “…whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
1. In light of 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×(quoted above), do you believe God is glorified by having a tattoo?
2. Who should we try in all things to please?
3. Instead of thinking negatively of what one can’t do, think about how a person can apply this principle (doing all to God’s glory) positively. That is, what are some things a person could do to glorify God in one’s: Appearance, Dress, Body and Attitude
1. What is the popular opinion among your peers regarding tattoos?
2. Characterize God’s point of view of tattoos based upon what you’ve learned from the Bible.
3. If a friend asked you for advice concerning whether he or she ought to get a tattoo, what would you say?