Many Christians wonder if it’s okay to have a tattoo. What does the Bible say about this issue?
The origin of the controversy surrounding Christians and tattoos comes from Leviticus 19:28 in the Old Testament: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.” The Jewish people were commanded not to get tattoos. Why not? This was a practice common among those who worshiped other gods during their time. God did not want his people to be associated with this practice.
But does this mean Christians should not have tattoos today? Not necessarily. First, Jesus came as a fulfillment of the Jewish law (Matthew 5:17). Christians are no longer bound to many of the ceremonial laws commanded to Israel. For example, God’s people are no longer required to offer animal sacrifices at the Jewish temple, nor do Jewish food laws apply to today’s Christians.
Second, Christians need to consider the motives behind desiring tattoo. Sometimes the desire for a tattoo is connected to fitting in with a certain group of people or other motives that may displease God.
Third, we should consider the practical consequences of a tattoo. Would this tattoo impact our witness? Would a particular tattoo cause problems with seeking certain jobs in the future?
Fourth, would getting a tattoo be dishonoring to our parents (applicable to some younger people desiring tattoos)? Ephesians 6:1-2 commands children to honor their parents. In some cases, the question of getting a tattoo would fall into this category.
Fifth, would the tattoo you desire be pleasing to God? For example, if the above questions are addressed, there remains the question of the topic of the tattoo. A cross or the name of Jesus would clearly be positive, but other tattoo choices could be harmful to our witness for Christ or disrespectful to our family and friends.
Finally, we should consider the impact a tattoo has on our lives as a “temple of God” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). If we are to honor God with our body, is a tattoo helpful or positive? What about multiple tattoos? How many tattoos are honoring to God?
There is no right answer to some of these questions that applies to every person. When it comes to gray matters such as tattoos, the apostle Paul wrote, “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind” (Romans 14:5).
With the lifetime decision of a tattoo, it is important to be “fully convinced” the decision is part of God’s will for our lives. Otherwise, it would be wiser to delay or decide against a tattoo and continue serving God without a tattoo or additional tattoos.
Dillon Burroughs serves as senior writer at The John Ankerberg Show and has written nearly 40 books on issues of faith and culture. He is also an associate editor for The Apologetics Bible for Students and has contributed to many works on apologetics and Christian worldview. Dillon is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and holds a PhD in Leadership from Piedmont International University. He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with his wife, Deborah, and their three children.
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