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What does the Bible say about tattoos?

Can I have tattoos if I’m a Christian?

Jon Caldwell“I’m gonna get a new tattoo … black and stretching around my arm.” In high school, I heard these lyrics in a song, and to this day when I hear someone say they’re getting a new tattoo, those lyrics come to mind. It was also in high school that the idea of getting a tattoo started to take root, and then at 17 I got my first one (no, it wasn’t black and stretching around my arm).

I can remember sitting around a fire one night with a group of friends from youth. The topic of tattoos came up, and I exclaimed, “I’m getting one.” One of my friends responded with, “The Bible says you’re not supposed to get a tattoo.” At the time I had no real response other than to shrug my shoulders and say, “Oh, well.”

Does the Bible really say anything about tattoos?

He was referring to Leviticus 19:28:

“Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:28 ESV)

Five years after high school I went to Bible school and began to wonder what the Bible really had to say about tattoos. Are they really “forbidden?”

The answer is not a simple yes or no. Yes, Leviticus is clear in stating “do not mark your skin with tattoos.” However, Isaiah says (bold emphasis added),

“This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’ another will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and name himself by the name of Israel.” (Isaiah 44:5 ESV)

In Revelation 14:1 and 22:3-4 it speaks of the faithful servants being marked on their foreheads and the beast being marked on its heads in Revelation 13:1.

When discussions regarding tattoos come up in a Christian context, inevitably someone will start with Leviticus 19:28 and then will point to 1 Corinthians:

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own.” (1 Corinthians 6:19 ESV)

As the saying goes, “Context is king!” When looking at the verse in Leviticus, we have to take into consideration what was going on during this time.

Precept Austin’s commentary on Leviticus 19 says, “Cutting and tattooing were done by godless pagans of the land to which Israel would soon enter. And so God forbade His people from this practice, which they otherwise might be tempted to do in order to imitate them.”[1]

These practices were a way to mourn the dead and worship their idols. It wasn’t something God wanted the Israelites to do, nor does He want us to. God desires that in mourning we would turn to Him for our strength and joy.

In 1 Corinthians we find Paul writing to the people of Corinth and addressing the sexual sin prevalent at the time. On numerous occasions, we find Jesus pointing to the heart of the matter.

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matthew 15:18-20 ESV)

A few pages later in chapter 23, Jesus addresses the Pharisees:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28 ESV)

What comes from inside shows the true heart and the status of the temple we have for the Holy Spirit.

We can find numerous verses such as that in Revelation that speak of writings or marking on foreheads and hands. In Isaiah it is written that the Lord says,

“Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:16 ESV)Stanley Jones says:

E. Stanley Jones says:

“We are not chalked on God’s hands, nor painted on; we are graven. If we were chalked or painted on His hands, He could wash His hands of us. If we are graven on His hands, however, as a sculptor engraves a name in granite, then we are literally on His hands forever.”[2]

It speaks of a permanent marking on His palms – similar to that of a tattoo.

In March 2018 sermon, Joyce Meyers spoke on holiness and legalism. She entered into the discussion of tattoos, saying:

“In Isaiah 49, it says that God has a picture of you tattooed on the palm of his hand. How cool is that? If I got a tattoo, I would get one just to make religious demons mad.”[3]

The first thing I want to say is this is not the right reason to get a tattoo; our motive should always be pure and desiring to honour God, so doing something out of rebellion is not the way to do that. Having said that, I don’t think Joyce was serious when she said this – and if she were to get one, I feel confident her motives would be pure.

The issue regarding tattoos at its core comes down to a person’s heart and their motives in getting a tattoo. What and why a person is getting tattooed is what can make it right or wrong.

During my study of the topic during Bible school, I came to the following conclusion … In light of Leviticus 19:28 I would no longer get or consider getting a tattoo for the purpose of mourning something or someone. I would also not get something for superstitious reasons.

What’s Your Motive?

In considering the idea of getting tattoos, I spent time checking my motives, and asking the questions: Christian tattoo

  • Does this image or idea contradict anything found in the word of God?
  • Do I think God would look at this tattoo and be happy with it?

And I spent time praying about it.

You may be asking, what about the tattoos I already have? Like you, I had a few tattoos before I discovered this information. As I sought God about this question, I felt put to ease with His answer.

Choices we’ve already made are a part of our journey of life, and our journey has brought us to faith in Christ. Just like He doesn’t hold our past sins against us, He’s not upset with the tattoos we got before life change. He has created us anew and moving forward holds us to a new standard of the choices we make.

I came across a blog by Travis Scott during my study; he wrote this:

“When deciding on a new tattoo it is my personal policy that I must always choose something which points away from myself and points to my Creator and Redeemer. This way if and when someone asks me about one of my tattoos it is very hard for me to become vain in regards to my body art.”[4]

3 Questions to Ask

I think this is a great policy and I encourage you if you’re thinking of getting a tattoo to ask yourself the questions:

  • How is my heart?
  • Why do I want this?
  • Does this image or idea honour God?

Written by Jon Caldwell, Junior High Pastor


[1] https://www.preceptaustin.org/leviticus_19_commentary

[2] https://www.preceptaustin.org/inscribed_on_his_hands

[3] https://joycemeyer.org/everydayanswers/ea-teachings/what-god-says-about-tattoos

[4] https://ransomfellowship.org/article/decorating-or-desecrating-the-temple/

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