The issue of tattoos in Christianity is highly controversial. Some churches say tattoos amount to desecrating the temple of God (our bodies) while others are more lax about it. This post explains what the Bible says about tattoos as well as piercings and other types of body modifications.
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What Does The Bible Say About Tattoos
The controversy over whether it’s a sin for Christians to have tattoos mostly comes down to one verse in the Old Testament – Leviticus 19:28
You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.
Some Catholics interpret this as an explicit condemnation against tattoos. But for a majority of believers, it’s not so clear cut.
That’s because it’s part of the Levitical laws handed to the Israelites. And as with other Jewish ceremonial laws in the Old Testament, they are not binding on Christians who follow the New Covenant.
There are plenty of other laws in the Old Testament that we pretty ignore. For instance, the preceding verse to the one on tattoos forbids certain styles of shaving.
Leviticus 19:27 You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.
Most Catholics don’t walk around with long beards in keeping with the old law.
There are many similar ceremonial laws in the Torah, but we don’t follow them to the letter because they were only binding to the Jewish people, and not all Christians.
The only Old Testament laws we follow are moral laws about cheating, murder, adultery – and these are repeated in the New Testament.
Here’s Romans 7:6 on the old law.
But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
In the New Testament, there isn’t a single verse that prohibits having tattoos.
Tattoos Are A Personal Decision
Most churches do not forbid tattoos. Even the Catholic church doesn’t prohibit it.
The stand of most church leaders and theologians say that tattoos are a personal decision. It’s up to you to determine the prudence and morality of getting a tattoo.
As 1 Corinthians 10:23 says;
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
Before getting a tattoo, consider the following:
- Is it a wise thing to do? Pray to God for wisdom. For instance, getting a tattoo of your girlfriend or boyfriend might not be so smart a few months down the line when you part ways.
- What is the tattoo about? Getting a tattoo is not a sin but the kind of tattoo you get could violate morality. For example, a sexually explicit tattoo or a tattoo that insults someone or a group of people.
- Most importantly, ask yourself whether there’s a risk your tattoo might cause someone else to stumble. This is called the sin of scandal and Jesus was very clear on it.
Mathew 18:6 If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
Romans 14:15-16 also puts it well.
For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.
If you getting tattoos makes a young believer more likely to sin (e.g. if they take your tattoos as a sign that other things like sex before marriage are permissible), then you are committing a sin.
What Does The Bible Say About Piercings & Body Modifications?
What we’ve discussed about tattoos also applies to piercings and body modifications.
Ancient Israelites were generally forbidden from body modifications as they were associated with pagans.
The same Leviticus 19:28 we mentioned says ‘you shall not make any cuts on your body’.
But that’s no longer binding. What you do to your body is not automatically a sin whether it’s a tattoo, a piercing, cutting your earlobes and so on.
What matters is your intention for doing it and whether it makes your fellow believer stumble.
As with many other cultural issues that Christians often debate about, the Bible doesn’t offer an easy answer.
Often, we have to search within ourselves to decide if a certain decision is one that God would be happy about.
We have to listen to our conscience and do what’s best for the community of believers.
If you are thinking about getting a tattoo or a piercing, it’s not a sin. But before you do it, ask yourself why you are doing it and the effect it will have on the people around you.