Is it OK for Christians to get Tattoos?

Is it OK for Christians to get Tattoos?

A lot people are getting tattoos. Our friends have tattoos. Celebrities have tattoos. Pastors even have tattoos.

It seems like “everyone” has one. It is a trendy thing to do. Someone told me recently that 40% of people in the US between the ages of 20 & 40 have a tattoo. (But I think I smelled alcohol on his breath so I need to fact check that.)

Tattoos are a form of art and personal expression. When you see someone’s tat we ask, “why did you get that? or what does that mean?”  Usually there is a reason they chose that particular tattoo.

People often ask me, Is it ok for a Christian to get a tattoo?’ Some leaders say, yes it’s fine, and some say, no, it’s wrong. Others say it’s ok, as long as it’s not an inappropriate picture like a naked person, a demonic symbol or a Miami Heat logo.

As a follower of Jesus we have to ask a few questions in any area that we are making a decision.

  1. Does the Bible address this specific situation?
  2. If the Bible does not address it specifically, does this action or decision honor God or dishonor Him? Or, Is it simply a personal decision?
  3. Is there a biblical principal that I would violate if I made this decision?
  4. How could the action I take negatively affect others? Is it offensive?

First of all, what does the Bible say about tattoos? There are a couple of verses to consider. One is found in Leviticus 19.28 NIV. It says, Do not cut your body for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourself, I am the Lord.

This verse is dealing with Israel, who had just escaped Egyptian captivity and traditions they might foolishly continue embracing without the instruction of God. Some people would put a tattoo of a pagan god of Egypt on their body. God was telling them, ‘Now that I have rescued you, don’t continue to take on any of the pagan practices of Egypt and use them now’.

If we are trying to say that this scripture is telling Christians today not to have tattoos, we should also obey other verses in chapter 19 which tell us:

  • “Do not eat meat that has not been drained of its blood,” (verse 27)     
  • “Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards.”
  • “Stand up in the presence of the aged.”

We eat meats and get haircuts without fear of participating in pagan worship or a practice forbidden in scripture. In those days, customs were associated with pagan rites and rituals. Today they are not. And, if you do not stand when I enter the room (aged) then you need to repent.

The reality is that this scripture does not apply to the question about tattoos that we are talking about. We have to look deeper into the word as we interpret it.

When scripture does not specifically address a certain question, it is probably not a black and white issue in God’s eyes. He does make clear to us the important issues.  From a scriptural perspective, we cannot say categorically that getting a tattoo is wrong.

Whether you get a tattoo or not is ultimately between you and God. It is not a “black and white” topic; because the scripture does not specifically forbid it.   But, if you are considering getting a tattoo or you already have one – here’s a few things to think about:

1. People can be very judgmental. People can look at the outside appearance, disregard the inside and make judgments about you. You may be considered rebellious, shallow or irresponsible, even though it’s unfair. If your tat is visible – ask yourself if it could be an issue that hinders relationships or even keeps you from getting hired for a job?

2. Does this tattoo send a message that you want to promote?   Is it in a place on your body you want it to be – forever? Is it a size you want – forever?

3. Will you still want this tattoo a few years from now? A tattoo you get when you are 19 years old will look very different when you are 64. A ship on ‘rock hard abs’ may look cool now but when you are 60 it could look like the ship is sinking. Think about the long-term aspect of this decision; remember, permanent is a long time. If you get a tattoo that reads “I love Mia” but you end up marrying Wendy – that could be…well… awkward.

4. If you are a young person, living with your mom & dad, and they say ‘no’ to your tattoo idea, then you should wait until another time in life when it’s appropriate to make the decision yourself without dishonoring your parents. If your employer or pastor does not like it and you want to work with them, then there is no point in protesting.

5. Will my decision in any way be dishonoring to God? If you got a tattoo before you became a Christian and it is dishonoring or inappropriate – consider having it removed or altered.

Lastly, if you are still against tattoos, you have a right to your opinion.

I don’t mean any disrespect to the person who taught you to believe that the scripture in Leviticus relates to the tattoo question we are discussing, but in this case, scripture would be taken out of context to substantiate that opinion. We must be careful that we do not pass judgment on another believer. Ask yourself, ‘Am I letting a small issue like tattoos hinder a good friendship?’

After all – it’s ink on skin.

What are your thoughts and comments?

Grant MuirheadComment