Scripture and Tattoos
The main scripture verse that people use against tattoos is in Leviticus:
Leviticus 19:28 – “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.” (KJV)
While some believe the scripture is clear that the verse tells us not to cut on our bodies, which is what tattooing is, there is much more to interpreting this statement. In context this verse is discussing preparation for death in which many bodies were tattooed with pagan religious symbols. Since God’s commandments prohibit Jews and Christians from worshiping other gods, it would be logical that God would prohibit these death preparation tattoos.
However, it is also clear that many dictates of that particular time in history no longer apply. There are scriptures in the Old Testament that tell women to keep their heads covered at all time. Others tell people they cannot eat certain types of meat. Still others prohibit certain types of haircuts. They all had their purposes at the time. Yet, many of those rules no longer apply in the New Testament.
Yet, just clinging to the New Testament not directly prohibiting tattoos is not necessarily a clear approach, either. The New Testament does not directly prohibit things like bestiality or prostitution of a daughter, but Christian believe those things are sins. How do we know the fine line? Just saying that “Well, the New Testament doesn’t directly tell me it’s a sin, so I can do it,” is often looking for an easy out in a difficult decision.
Is It Only Banned for the Dead?
Others use the reference to the dead as justification for getting tattoos while alive. There is debate today regarding this reference. Many biblical scholars believe that there are two distinct acts being discussed in this scripture. There is the tattooing of the dead and then there is the marking of the living. Other scholars see it only as reference to the dead.
The Body is the Temple of God
There is little question that the Bible states clearly how our bodies are the Temple of God making it important that we care for our bodies with the same love we give to God. Christians against tattooing believe that this scripture from 1 Corinthians is another reason a person should not get a tattoo:
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (NIV)
This scripture does not ban tattoos, but it does bring up the question as to why a person wants to get a tattoo and which tattoos to get. As with some sin it is not the act but the intent that matters. If the act of getting tattoo is rebellion against parents, authority, etc. – then it is a sin. For instance, if your parents tell you not to get a tattoo and you do it to spite them, then getting a tattoo is sinful, because God’s commandment calls for you to “honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12).
The other question to ask yourself is if your tattoo is edifying God. Since tattooing is very much debated by biblical scholars, do you really want to take a chance on getting a tattoo that does not honor God? Are you getting a tattoo just to fit in or are you getting a tattoo to glorify the Lord? Remember, you are supposed to be in the world, not of the world. While many tattoos are beautiful, they tend to honor the world rather than God.
Getting a tattoo is something that should not be taken lightly. It is a well-debated issue in the Christian community, and there are differing opinions as to whether a tattoo is sinful or not. As a Christian, decisions need to be made with your eyes on God. So, if you do choose to get a tattoo, remember that, while man looks at the outside appearance, God looks at the heart.