What does the bible say about tattoos? Is it wrong for a Christian to get a tattoo?
There is only one instance in the entire Bible that mentions tattoos. It’s in the Old Testament in Leviticus chapter 19, but does it apply to us today?
Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:27-29)
It’s important to know that today we are no longer under the law of the Old Testament. Today we are under the grace of Jesus Christ.
So, what does that mean and how does it apply to tattoos?
…by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:6)
The law was fulfilled when Jesus died on the cross. Once He rose from the dead, we entered into a new era where we are now under grace. It is a new covenant.
This grace brings us freedom. However, it’s not an allowance for sin, instead it offers a provision for forgiveness. It allows us the freedom to worship God in Spirit and truth rather than being required to follow a bunch of rules. Salvation (going to heaven) is not accomplished by works as though a person were able to earn their way into heaven. Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ because he died for us so that our sins can be forgiven. This is the same reason why it’s ok for Christians to eat pork and shrimp even though the Old Testament says not to. We are no longer under the law but are now under grace. We have received freedom from sin through the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, according to the Bible we are free to get tattoos if we want. However, there are a couple of very big caveats. First is that God judges the heart and always looks at our inner motivations before looking at our external actions. So here’s an example of where the Bible would say that it is a sin to get a tattoo. Let’s say that a teenager wants to get one but her parents refuse. If the teen went behind her parents back to get one anyway, it would be a sin. God judges the heart, and in this example her heart wanted to disobey her parents which the Bible clearly speaks against. So the point is that we need to carefully consider our inner motivations for wanting a tattoo.
The other issue arises from the New Testament book of Romans in which Paul talks about why we shouldn’t do something that causes other Christians to stumble in their faith. Even if we’re doing something that isn’t wrong, if it causes someone else to call their own faith into question, than we shouldn’t be participating in that activity while those people are around us.
The verses are as follows and Paul is using the example of eating meat around people who thought it was a sin to do so:
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. (Romans 14:19-22)
So here’s how this applies to tattoos. How will you and your tattoo be perceived by new Christians and people who are coming to your church for the first time?
These new Christians and visitors to your church will be looking at you as an example of Christianity and what your church represents. Will your tattoo cause these people to be put off, offended, or in some other way hindered in their walk with God? If you had “666” tattooed on your forehead (an over-the-top example to illustrate my point) these people will likely run from the church building and never come back.
What does the Bible say about tattoos? It says we have freedom in Jesus Christ and can get a tattoo if we wish, however, that’s not the case if our motivation for wanting one is against God’s will. Also, getting one that’s obviously going to cause other Christians to be offended would also be wrong.
(photo credit: Flickr Creative Common, Grace by LearningLark)