Is It a Sin to Get a Tattoo?

I was leaving a comment on another blog and it got out of control.  I decided to post instead and link to it.

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.

10 thoughts on “Is It a Sin to Get a Tattoo?

  1. One final thought: Paul said that all things were lawful for him, but not all things were profitable. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. He also warned us about offending others. I believe for instance that eating pork is not a sin; but if I were having a group of Ethiopian students over for supper (yes, that happens sometimes) I wouldn’t rub in their faces in it by covering everything with bacon. Ethiopian Orthodox Christians do not eat pork, just like Jews and Muslims do not. Arrogance? Than can be a sin too.

  2. Great points here Clark. I guess it depends in part on “what” is being tattooed on your body. Obviously some things would be a no-no. It has to be up to the individual what to do here. I know many Believers who have them, and many that got them after they had become believers, that is what I did as a matter of fact.

    Thanks for a great article on this subject, and I would point out one that is not judgmental. 🙂

    Blessings to you my friend

  3. Great points and I can certainly agree and certainly disagree. My personal thought would be not to get a tattoo because it scars the temple of Christ. Whether God is speaking in the Old or New Testament, and says don’t do it, we shouldn’t do it!

  4. I’m trying to grasp the ‘diversity clause’ in my own personal walk with Christ, Clark. I can make decisions for myself… as you state, “Is it profitable?” But times are a’ changin’ and I have to determine how I will respond to other’s choices in these matters. I like to think there’s some things out there that I can just conclude, “Who cares?” I think this is the mindset Paul alludes to in Romans 14. If my brother chooses to get a tattoo or drink a beer or x,y,z, should I even care enough to make it an issue? Then there are times when someone abuses the liberty and grace of believers, then someone should stand up and say, “Hey, your wrong!” such as Paul’s warning to the Galatians. Of course there is a whole bunch of blatant sin out there that I believe we are called to help all believers be free from by exposing it.

    What bothers me greatly is to see those who stand in grand protest against things like tattoos, and all the other xyz’s, only to go to a restaurant and treat a waitress like dirt, or care less about meeting needs around the community, or be the first to honk their horns in frustration during traffic. I especially like your point, “Doing right involves more than simply not doing wrong.” I guess I just feel there’s a whole lot bigger fish to fry than this one. By the way, there’s an eagle on my arm from 1979 while serving in the US Army. If I had it to do over, though, well…. Thanks for the fair and biblical assessment!

  5. I’ve written entire posts before over the issue of fighting the culture war. Is homosexuality a valid “alternative” lifestyle in the eyes of God? No. Am I wearing a sandwich board in the street protesting gay pride? No I am not. The Apostle Paul would have been surrounded by bisexuality in every Greek city, but he’s not protesting outside of public bath houses. Paul is going from city to city preaching the Gospel, planting churches and training pastors.

    We could gather the believers into the sanctuary, bar the doors, and preach about how everybody outside is going to hell. That isn’t Christ-like and it isn’t biblical, but that’s basically what some “Christians” are already doing. We have to engage the culture while being the salt and the light, and sometimes that’s a tough call.

  6. Personally, I can’t see WHY anyone would want to get a tattoo, but that isn’t the point. I suppose at least partly, it would depend on the tattoo. I have seen a neat little butterfly tatt on a ladies’ shoulder and thought it wasn’t much different from wearing a piece of jewellery – (and jewellery is another subject with some contention)

    I do believe that our appearance should be modest and acceptable in the society in which we live, but that we shouldn’t compromise our standards in any way.

    Personally, I’d rather Christians didn’t get tattooes, but I won’t be judgemental about those who do. I don’t believe the Scriptures say “Do not” so neither can I.

  7. Still, if I’m reading the third sentence of the third paragraph correctly, there should be greater outcry about piercings. That’s not the case where I live; the tattoo-wearers are the subject of more conversation.

  8. There probably should be more of an outcry against piercing. Body piercing, beyond the earlobes, is a relatively new thing in our culture. As such, I don’t think there is a stigma surrounding it, at least not one rooted in evangelical traditions. Tattoos are historically worn by sailors, ex-cons, motorcycle gang members, and other such elements of society. The “reputation” associated with being tattooed probably has a lot more to do with how church people feel about it than anything in the Bible.

  9. Well, as I said earlier, my understanding of God’s word is that we probably shouldn’t. It is not a salvation issue, however, if we are to be the salt and the light then we should present the temple of Christ as so. We are told not to conform to the world. Tattoo’s seem to be of the world at this time. Also, my son has tattoo’s all over his body, including his eye lids with a tear drop running from the corner of his eye. He came to Christ this past year and one of the struggles he had was satan was telling him stop! You can’t go to Jesus looking like that. Fortunately he ignored satan finally and he met his Savior. I believe the Word when it tells me satan came to steal, kill and destroy; our bodies included! Satan was using his appearance to hold my son back. So one less bullet we load in the chamber, one less shot satan has. It is not so much about tattoo’s as it is about not giving satan ammunition to make us feel unworthy. We war against powers and principalities, but until you come to Christ, that doesn’t make sense. My thoughts and God bless you.

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