Are tattoos okay?

Straight Talk

The Question

These two questions came in about the same time so I thought I’d handle them together. With the popularity of tattoos it is a timely issue.

In Revelation 19:16 we read that the name of Jesus as King of Kings was written in his forehead and thigh. Does that make it scriptural for Christians to tattoo their body like the worldly people? How do we reconcile the command in the Old Testament saying do not tattoo your body?

JO from London, United Kingdom

Does the Bible speak about Christians not getting tattoos and body piercing in the New Testament?

BB from Unknown City

The Answer
Part 1: Old and New Testament admonitions
Part 2: Before you tattoo…

Old and New Testament admonitions (Part 1)

I think the question of the first reader has a very interesting perspective that I never considered before. Does Jesus himself have a “tattoo” of sorts in Revelation 19:16? He does but the questioner’s quote is a little off. “And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.’” Therefore the marking is only on his thigh—not the forehead.

A mark on the forehead is mentioned a little farther on however. In Revelation 22:4 it says, “And they (meaning bond-servants of Jesus) will see His face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” Can these things be considered tattoos? Probably so because a tattoo is an indelible permanent mark on the skin and that’s what both of these references appear to be.

Therefore, are tattoos for Christians perfectly acceptable today? What about the admonition against it mentioned in the Old Testament? Let’s review that. Leviticus 19:28 says, “’You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.’” So that would mean NO tattoos, right?

Whenever we point to one of the Old Testament laws it is extremely important to understand why God required it. That can give us understanding about whether or how to apply it in New Testament times. In the case of tattoos, the Lord was forbidding his people from common pagan practices, which used cuttings and markings in fertility rites, worship of the dead and to secure attention or favor from a false deity. A tattoo might then have identified a person as in service to a certain god.

Notice how in the end of the verse in Leviticus it says, “I am the Lord” as if that’s the reason for forbidding the practice. He’s telling them: “If you do this kind of thing you are worshiping another god. That’s wrong because I alone am the Lord worthy of worship.”

If that is the case we need to fast forward to today and ask ourselves how and why tattoos are being used. To the extent that there is any demonic or pagan worship or significance behind having one then the practice would be just as forbidden as it was in Leviticus. However, much tattooing today is for decoration, a fashion statement or identity with a cause. There is a whole branch of tattoo aficionados devoted to Christian symbols only. In that case I think it is hard to claim that the Old Testament law still applies.

Before you tattoo… (Part 2)

Before you decide to get a tattoo OR make a judgment about someone who has one it’s a good thing to honestly ask yourself WHY you want one or WHY you object to one (if you do). Simply going along with the crowd is almost never a good idea. Neither is making snap judgments about people who do things outside your own cultural comfort zone.

Older people tend to be more conservative (or set in their ways) and may object to the next generation’s choices in fashion and style. That may include a strong aversion to tattoos and body piercing. That’s an okay choice to make for yourself but a problem arises if you attach moral implications to someone else who embraces what you despise. Be careful not to justify yourself with scripture that doesn’t really apply.

Can we object to tattoos based on scripture? Probably not as long as no symbols are used that have roots in paganism. Also, if any spirit of rebellion plays a part in the decision to tattoo, I think that is obviously wrong. Careful thought and wisdom should certainly be applied in deciding to permanently mark your body in any way. In a few years you may be stuck with something that is no longer “in” or that you now dislike.

Jesus said: “’The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the lord of the harvest to sent out laborers into His harvest.’” (Luke 10:2) In the final great harvest of souls many strange and unusual kinds of “fish” will seek the kingdom of God. Rather than inspect them for tattoos, far better that we just pull them into the boat and welcome them in Jesus name.

Note: After publication I have received some feedback suggesting tattooing is wrong based on this scripture: “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Does this scripture apply to marking or piercing our body? I would have to say no because of the context of the passage. Paul is chiding the Corinthian church for “jealousy and strife” and telling them that in that way they are acting “fleshly.” He discusses how “each man’s work will become evident” (Verse 13) in building on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

While we should carefully make decisions about the way we conduct our life in light of the indwelling Holy Spirit, I don’t think we can come to the conclusion that God forbids or even disapproves tattoos by citing this scripture.