For a person getting a tattoo to disobey God, there would have to be verse of scripture that says “Do not get a tattoo.” Some would be surprised to find there is no such verse in the Bible.
I know, Leviticus 19:28 says not to get a tattoo. Shame on any Bible translation (and most of them do, sadly including the ESV) that renders any Hebrew word as “tattoo.” That commandment is about cutting, specifically involving a practice of worshiping the dead. You have to consider the context of the command; who God was talking to, the time period, and where they were. The Hebrews were meant to live (act, dress, eat, worship) differently than the many pagan, polytheistic cultures surrounding them.
Okay, for the sake of argument let’s say that in Lev. 19:28 God declares tattoos sinful. Leviticus also says not to round the corners of your beard (my goatee is sinful), not to eat shellfish, not the cut the hair of our temples, and so forth. If we are going to keep the Law we have to keep the WHOLE LAW which Paul describes as a burden we are not able to bear.
So getting tattoos is fine? I didn’t say that either. The goal for the Christian believer shouldn’t be to see exactly how much we can get away with, but in everything make decisions that will honor God. Is drinking one beer a sin? What about two beers? What if I drink but stop before I get drunk? Holding hands isn’t sinful; kissing isn’t sinful; what if we X, Y or Z? What can we do before it is sin? That line of thinking will lead to sin as the boundaries get blurry and keep migrating. Doing right involves more than simply not doing wrong.
Our bodies are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Smoking is bad for your temple. So is carrying 50 lbs. of extra body fat, but you probably won’t hear too many sermons from Baptist preachers on that topic. Will a tattoo help your witness? Will it bring glory and honor to God? To you? See it’s tough. Life is like that sometimes. Is it a sin to lie? Oh, an easy one. Yes, it is sinful to lie. Have you ever put presents in a stocking and pretended Santa Claus left them? Why is that not lying?
Life is full of tough choices, and the tattoo thing has no easy answer. Let’s make it just a little tougher. Let’s say a young man asks his youth pastor about getting a tattoo. The youth pastor has several himself, and everyone can plainly see a few of them. The youth leader, however, quotes Leviticus and goes on to explain his tattoos were from his wild days before he knew better. Even though he has tattoos, he has not gotten any more since becoming a Christian. A good Christian boy (or girl) would never go out and get one; that would be a sin. Now you have a moral dilemma. This scenario may reinforce the idea that it’s good to “live a little,” sow your wild oats or what have you, before settling down in the conservative Christian lifestyle. It may also come off as “Do as I say not as I do” to the kid that’s about to make some serious life choices.
Is it a sin to get a tattoo? That’s a tough one. The answer is more complicated than yes or no. You have to consider the Old Covenant, the New, and what your goals are. Are you seeking to bring glory and honor to God in all that you say and do? If that’s the case you might not even be asking.