I like to tell young people, that are asking about the Bible and tattoos, that they should get a bunch of body piercing instead. That way when they’re tired of the look they can just take it out. If you do it when you’re young enough, the holes should heal up fine. I also figure that once a young couple has a cute little baby, and the baby goes for that lip ring or eye ring that will be the end of that era. I know that’s not an adequate answer because it really doesn’t address the real question that is being asked, “What does the Bible say about getting tattoos?” Let’s give that one a try!
Many believe that the Bible prohibits all tattoos for believers citing a verse in the Book of Leviticus. Leviticus 19:27-28 “You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord.” Well, that seems pretty clear. But only at first glance. Most commentators agree that this passage is a specific warning to the Israelites not to mimic the practices of the Canaanites around them. This ‘cutting’ practice seems to be similar to what the prophets of Baal were doing on Mount Carmel (see 1 Kings 18.)
God would never put a mark on anyone, would He? Early in the Book of Genesis chapter 4, God put a mark on Cain, so that when others found him, they wouldn’t kill him. We’re not told exactly what this mark looked like, but it seems to be permanent. Isaiah 44:5 says, “One will say, 'I belong to the Lord'; another will call himself by the name of Jacob; still another will write on his hand, 'The Lord's,' and will take the name Israel.” God uses a similar image of what He does with us, putting our name on His hands. Isaiah 49:16 “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” There is another passage where God marks those that are troubled by the sin of the nation. Ezekiel 9:4 "Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it."
The Catholic Church until the 10th century had banned tattoos for Christians and deemed them 'devilish.' Later many would tattoo themselves during the Crusades and pilgrimages to Jerusalem, signifying that they were believers and wanted a Christina funeral.
Many are opposed to tattoos because they say in the Book of Revelation, that tattoos symbolize that you have taken ‘the mark of the beast.’ In actuality in the Book of Revelation, both believers and unbelievers are marked, but for different reasons. Revelation 7:3 says, "Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God."
Most people are surprised to learn that Jesus comes out of heaven, back to earth in the Book of Revelation with a mark on Him with His identity. Revelation 19:16 “On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
Why would a believer want to get a tattoo of Jesus? Some refer to tattooing as ‘inking,’ because of the permanence, while others refer to it as ‘branding,’ signifying ‘ownership.’ Many Christians are attracted to the concept of wearing a permanent display of ownership. The last several years have seen a massive increase in Christian tattoos. Some tattoo parlors are reporting that anywhere from 10-50% of their clients are asking for religious symbols. Many of these are born-again Christians “covering-up” some old tattoos that no longer represent the values of their life. Others are getting symbols to let the world know that they belong to God. Many people are seeing their skin as a canvas that loudly displays their faith, rather than hiding it under a bushel.
Christians that take this view of tattoos believe they are fulfilling a verse that others use against the wearing of 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; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” Tattooed believers say of this verse that they are displaying God’s ownership of their body and declaring his glory with the art they wear everyday.
After examining the scriptures, we see that the Bible speaks both positively and negatively about ‘tattoos.’
So should you get one? Wow! That depends on a lot of things. If your family doesn’t want you to get one, and if you are in your parents home and they don’t want you it, you shouldn’t. Honor your parents. Let face it some of the new tattoos look great! Especially some of the ‘sleeves.’ How will it look in 40 years? Hmmm… If you have any doubt in your mind at all, don’t do it! Be prayerful, thoughtful, forward looking and wise!
For more information and articles pro and con about Christians and tattoos see www.xtat.org
A PDF download of this article in a great handout format is availible for free @ www.revelation320.org under "Free Resources"