Bible Verses About Tattoos

In the modern society where body art is seen as a form of identity and expression, tattoos have become an important and popular topic for youth ministries. Some older Christians still hold a traditional viewpoint that tattoos are sinful, while the youth – even those raised in the church – have a very different opinion of ink.

But are all tattoos bad? Will I go to hell if I get one, or two, or three?

As an ancient book, the Bible doesn’t address the form of body art that is commonly used today. However, it does provide a scriptural basis for us to take a close look at how Christians should approach the subject.

Let me start by offering my humble OPINION. I don’t believe that tattoos are necessarily sinful. In fact, we wrote a blog post highlighting some amazing Christian-themed tattoos. However, your intent in getting a tattoo can be rooted in sin.

There are many tribal cultures across the world that incorporate body ink for various cultural reasons. For example, body art and branding are often used to identify tribal ranks. Some cultures use body art and paint to mark familial relationships. Yet, others use bodily markings to demarcate bravery and maturity in the same way that the military awards medals of honor. Surely we don’t want to condemn these cultures to hell simply because they don’t adhere to our forms of Christian culture, do we?

As we consider how we should approach the topic as Christians, we should remain sympathetic and try to understand cultural differences as we teach the word of God.

Bible Verses About Tattoos

Leviticus 19:28 says, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.” A modern interpretation of this text would clearly include such tattoos as skulls of remembrances of our deceased loved ones, but many times people get tattoos to express love for the living. For example, we all probably know a loving mother or father who got a tattoo of a newborn child as an expression of love. In these cases, the words of the scripture do not apply.

Moreover, recognizing that God knows the true desires of our hearts, should we judge those who derive joy and happiness from a portrait of a loved one memorialized on their skin? The topic becomes even more complicated when we consider that modern technology even provides the option to remove tattoos completely; an option that simply didn’t exist in old testament times.

Let’s take a look at a few more Bible verses to inform our perspective.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 New International Version (NIV)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Romans 12:1 New International Version (NIV)

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?

1 Corinthians 3:16 New International Version (NIV)

So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.

1 Kings 18:28 New International Version (NIV)

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.

1 Corinthians 10:21 New International Version (NIV)
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Do Christian Tattoos Honor God?

Many people view Christian-themed body art as an outward expression of what they feel in their hearts. Just as a religious t-shirt might convey a message of faith and Christianity, a faith-based tattoo may convey a similar message to a different social crowd.

Let’s be real for a moment. Getting a tattoo is a major decision and most people give it great consideration before getting one. If someone puts a cross on their arm, It’s safe to assume that they want others to know that they are followers of Christ. Are they desecrating their bodies or offering them as a living sacrifice? Your answer depends on YOUR perception.

Honoring God is a heartfelt emotion that can be expressed outwardly, but the true feeling comes from within. How we choose to express that honor can vary widely based on our personal life experience. In the same way that I would never judge someone’s praise, I refrain from passing judgment on others’ expression of love for God.

Just as many preachers interpret the word of God differently and express it in their sermons, our Christian journey is an individual affair and we should give others space to worship God in their own way. Why? Because only God truly knows their heart and their relationship with God is PERSONAL.

When I was a young boy growing up in church, I would always hear the pastor say, “Man looks on the outside, but God knows the heart.” I still believe that.

Let’s look at a few more verses.

You must not worship the Lord your God in their way.

Deuteronomy 12:4 New International Version (NIV)

You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them.

Leviticus 20:23 New International Version (NIV)

All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.

Proverbs 16:2 New International Version (NIV)

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,

1 Timothy 2:9 New International Version (NIV)

Is a Tattoo a Sin?

The most frequent question I hear on this subject is “Is a tattoo a sin?” I always respond with the acknowledgment that sin originates in the heart. Whether a tattoo is a sin depends on the motives of each individual. Many Christians make the mistake of attributing sins to others while excusing their own actions. That is precisely why we should leave judgment to God.

If we study the life of Jesus Christ on Earth, we see that Jesus encountered many people that we might judge as “sinful.” Yet, Jesus showed love and compassion to them all. If our intention is to be Christ-like, we should extend that same compassion to those who may interpret their Christian journey in ways that are different than our own.

Is a tattoo a sin? Only if your intentions are of a sinful nature. If your intentions are of a loving nature then it can be viewed as an act of love. If your intentions are of a defiant nature then it can be viewed as an act of defiance, which is sinful. Before you get a tattoo, take a deep look within yourself and ask the hard questions. Your answers will reveal your motives.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 New International Version (NIV)

and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:24 New International Version (NIV)

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;

1 Peter 1:14-15 New International Version (NIV)

Did Jesus Have a Tattoo?

Some people have made the mistake of misinterpreting the scriptures to indicate that Jesus had a tattoo on his thigh. This is false. Although the old testament speaks of bodily markings, there is nothing in the Bible that indicates that Jesus engaged in these acts. It is more likely that Jesus had “King of Kings” stitched into his garment.

On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

Revelation 19:16 New International Version (NIV)

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Matthew 5:17 New International Version (NIV)

Christians Should Not Judge People With Tattoos

One of the biggest excuses people use for staying away from the church is the judgment that they receive from Christians. While we uphold the standards established in the Bible, it is critical to effective discipleship that we withhold our personal judgment of others and approach them with love.

In Jeremiah 31:3, Jesus says “I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” This is the same love that we should extend to those who might interpret the scripture differently than ourselves.

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.

John 7:24 New International Version (NIV)

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7 New International Version (NIV)

Conclusion

If tattoos precluded us from entering the Kingdom of Heaven, there would be no need for Christians to reach out to those who have tattoos. But that is clearly not God’s way. Jesus encountered countless people with “sinful” ways, but He extended grace and mercy. Likewise, Christians should do the same.

If those with tattoos are yet eligible for salvation, getting a tattoo will not preclude you from living a Christian life. Look within yourself and make sure that your motives are pure. Seek the Lord for spiritual guidance and keep your intentions focused on God.

There are preachers, missionaries, evangelists, and powerful men and women of God who have tattoos. Just because we don’t see the tats doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Yet, the existence of ink does not prevent them from doing kingdom work. So it all boils down to perception and opinion. More importantly, it boils down to your heart and your personal relationship with God.

Your ink may be the catalyst that sparks a conversation about God. Your tat may be a tool that draws someone to Jesus Christ. Understand that the opinions of others are just that: opinions. In the same way, what I have written here are my opinions. I have tattoos and I am a believer who loves God.

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