Q&A: Are Tattoos OK?

My husband and I were talking the other day, and he said he thought it would be sexy if I got a tattoo.  What does the Bible say about this?  I haven’t found anything about it in the Bible, unless you call it defiling the temple, and I’m not sure if it is or not.  What do you think?

Tattoos are becoming very popular. What used to be only something you would see on a sailor or member of a motor cycle gang is now becoming very common place, even for people in the church. There is a verse in Leviticus 19 which is often cited as God’s law against all tattoos. “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.” We do really need to take the time to understand what the Lord was saying in this because the previous verse says that men are not to shave the sides of their heads or beards either. What was God’s concern when he declared these things?

The Hebrew people were overtaking the land and all around them there were non-Jews who were taking part in practices which involved acts that showed their pagan worship of the sun god during their mourning of deceased loved ones. The four practices mentioned in this portion of scripture refer to those acts of mourning. Cutting, shaving or pulling out hair from the sides of the head. Cutting, shaving or pulling out the hair from the sides of the beard. Cutting marks on the body. And printing marks on the body, aka tattooing. There are other places in scripture where the trimming of the head or beard is commanded as an act of mourning (Numbers 6) so we need to perceive what God’s intention was when he said these things.

What I believe this portion of scripture teaches us about God’s concern for us is that He does not want us doing things as worship to false gods. In scriptural examples, so often two people did the same thing, but it was their heart that determined if it was acceptable or not. Cain and Able are a perfect example. They both brought offerings to the Lord, but they had radically different heart conditions. One was acceptable, one was not. We must do everything unto His glory. He wants His people set apart. When we mourn, He wants us to seek Him as our comforter.

All this context is vital to perceiving a godly response to the question, “Are tattoos OK?” It is easier to pile up all the evidence for and against and then place a yes or no judgement that would apply to all people, but that is not how I believe the Lord operates. The older I get, the less I see the world in black and white. I don’t think we can say that everyone is free to go ahead and get a tattoo. Neither do I think it is wise to say that tattoos are absolutely forbidden in all circumstances for all people. If I am convicted that it is not right for me to be tattooed, I ought not put that judgement on another person. And if I have been given freedom to be tattooed, I ought not look down on my sister or brother with pride because they do not have the freedom that I do. How many different examples could we give in this? Whether or not to consume alcohol. Whether or not to wear make up. Whether or not to marry. Whether or not to celebrate halloween. The list goes on and on and on. It’s endless and few things are black and white. The heart of worshipping other gods is sin, but how that plays out in your life is between you and the Lord.

So I can not give the woman who wrote in a definite yes, that she she go ahead and get a tattoo. Her relationship with the Lord is vastly different than mine, but what I can tell her how this question has played out in my life. It’s quite simple. I grew up believing that all tattoos showed that you were in rebellion to God. I no longer believe this to be true. I have come to the place where I would like to get a tattoo and I have received freedom from the Lord that it would be OK for me. The reason I haven’t is because my husband is not convinced he would want me to and since my body belongs to him as well, I will not get one without his blessing. So you can see that even though I have received freedom, I am choosing to honour my husband above my freedom.

I hope this has helped you.

25 Comments

  1. 11I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.”a He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

    king of kings and lord of lords.

    based off this scripture some think Jesus had a tattoo on his thigh.

  2. When it comes to permanent-stain tattoos,
    please consider Romans 12:1,
    where each of us is urged to present
    our body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…
    In the meantime, remember, everthing He has given is a gift!

  3. I agree with cinnamon sticks that it really does boil down to one’s own personal relationship with Christ and any convictions on the subject. I have a few friends who sport a tattoo (and my husband as well) and the one thing that stood out to me was that they carefully chose what they wanted the tattoo to be. In short, each one of them had a tattoo of something that meant a lot to them (Celtic knot, imperial dragon, etc.).

    I myself am planning on getting a tattoo in the near future. And like my friends and husband, it’s of something that means a lot to me. I’m not afraid of offending anyone with that (unless of course it was skulls or something really dark).

  4. I have several tattoos, and they all carry with them a deep personal meaning. One is for my deceased grandma, one I got with my best friend when I was younger (he has a matching one), one for my husband, and in a couple weeks I will be getting one for my mom. I love them all and could not ever see myself regretting them. None are visible unless I choose for them to be. Tattoos are incredibly special and meaningful. Its something that I have in honor of people that I love that can never be lost, stolen or taken from me, and I am never without them. Also, the one for my grandma is extra special because my brother has one for our grandpa, so our tats are connected and bond us as well.

  5. I am glad this has come out. I was thinking the same thing with tattoo’s as was with piercings. Some of the tattoo’s I see are truly art to me and I love looking at them. My son has wanted piercings called snake bites which to me is not honoring but I can’t judge him for it because I really don’t know where his heart is with him and the Lord but when we get on the computer to look at different tattoo’s and piercings we enjoy ourselves and have fun. Myself, I have been looking into a small tattoo and more piercings in my ears and a stud in my nose. I am sure I would shock most of my Christian friends because I have not really mentioned my ideas about the subject much since I know how most feel about it. As far as my husband that is also why I haven’t done the tattoo yet because he also isn’t convinced that it is ok. He is ok with the nose stud but not too sure on a tattoo at this time either. Thank you for the background on the tattoos though I appreciate it because I also feel that God feels that we are all beautiful no matter what and as long as you are Glorifying Him then who is to say or judge what is right. Thats my thoughts. (this came out much longer than anticipated LOL)

  6. I truly believe it’s a heart issue. If you are doing it for the right reasons (read: pure intentions) then I really don’t think they are a problem. However, it is important to make sure you pray about getting one, if you choose to do so–since they’re a little difficult to remove!
    My husband has a tattoo of a phoenix on his shoulder. For him, it is deeply meaningful from his upbringing. I am hoping to get a tattoo as well relating to my life/pride of being a military wife.

  7. Phoenix on the shoulder? That’s what I’m hoping to get :). Well, a bit lower on the arm than shoulder-level, but still. Kinda cool. The theme of life, death, and rebirth means a lot to me.

  8. I have always wanted a tattoo got one 2 years ago and love it! It is on my hip so you dont see it but I have always wanted a cross on my ankle so last Oct I did get one and I love it but I will say now that everyone can see it I do wonder if people think a certain way about them! I will say that it hurt big time on my ankle I will not get another one to painful!!!!!!

  9. Amen!!! Not only that,but are we not the temple of the Holy Spirit and our bodies belong to God, bought and payed for by Christ on the Cross.

    1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (King James Version)
    19What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
    20For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

    When I think of how angry Christ became at those who would Defile His fathers house:

    John 2:15 (King James Version)
    15And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;

    I can’t even begin to Imagine how angry he would be with me, if I , caretaker of the Temple Of The Holy Spirit, began to poke holes in and draw pictures on that which belongs to Him.

    Via con Dios

  10. I can’t wait to get my tat! I have been wanting one for a while, and plan on getting it this year (hopefully). I have both my dh and my Heavenly Father’s blessing so I feel at peace about my decision! I’ll post back when I finally get it! 🙂

  11. Ari-chan, I can tell from reading your postings that you love God. Please, Please, research The Phoenix mythology and its associations to false teachings and false gods before putting that on His Temple

    Respectfully, Carp.

  12. Carp, with all respect, personally, just because I like something does not necessarily equate me believing everything about it and what it stands for. I like what the Phoenix represents, and I’m also a bit of a mythology buff, especially Greek. Even so, I don’t agree with a lot of what goes on in the myths and I don’t believe they actually happened. Still, I can enjoy the stories. That’s how I feel about the tattoo I want.

    I understand if you feel otherwise, and I’m not out to start a debate. Not everyone feels the same way about tattoos and piercings.

  13. Am with ya, Carp. Our bodies belong to Him!
    But would the Lord be angy? Or just hurt?

    PS
    Today’s AW Tozer daily devotional seems to apply:
    “The difficulty we modern Christians face is not misunderstanding the Bible,
    but persuading our untamed hearts to accept its plain instruction.”

  14. I’m going to have to agree, Ari-chan. My husband loves his tattoo, and he also loves the Lord. For him (and us) that particular design is very personal, as he was quite literally “reborn” from the ashes of his past–he was a refugee of a genocide and is now a successful member of our military and community.

    Tattoos are a very personal thing and I know many don’t agree with them (my mother being one of them), but ultimately, if you choose to get one, and what you choose to get, is between you, your spouse, and the Lord.

  15. I pose a question that I’ve learned from one of my mentors. Do those of you against tattoos also advocate other image alterations? Like makeup… do you wear it everyday so people think your eyelashes are actually longer than they are. Or those high waisted skirts, your figure looks more pleasant than it actually is? Or jewelry? Or other adornments. These things may not even be for other people’s image of you, but if those are also physical alterations, how are tattoos any different? If our bodies are temporary anyways, how are pictures or words on top of them, regardless of permanence, harmful? Are you as against tattoos as you are against foot binding or neck stretching or corset wearing? How natural do you go? Nail polish? anti-stylish clothing? I’m just interested in the distinctions we make between these things

  16. I agree, Jess.
    Personally, neither I nor my DH has a tattoo, and we both agree we don’t want one. We both know people that have them.
    Why is a tattoo “bad” — one of the earlier comments said (my paraphrase) God would be mad if I poke holes in his temple….. do you have pierced ears? If you don’t, good for you and your convictions, but if you do, what is the difference?
    Is the practice of tattooing itself bad, or is it more how people view “people who get tattoos” and the historical societal context, which I would argue really is no longer applicable?

  17. I would have to say Both. All through the Old Testiment we read how our sins hurt God, and how He is slow to anger. Sometimes it would take years and even generations before He punished His people. All Through the New Testiment we read how Christ was very forgiving and treated sinners with love and gentleness. Only on one occassion do we read where Christ got angry, and in my opinion went into a rage, making a scourge(a whip with many ends) and driving out those who would defile His Fathers House and turning over tables. The spirit of God no longer resides in a temple of mans making, but in a temple of His perfect creation. Who am I to improve upon that which He created.

  18. Well, “temporary” could be 90 seconds or 90 years, but with “image alterations”
    it’s always good to be able to get back to “natural” by the end of the day.
    (It prevents buyer’s remorse)

    And one answer for the orginal question at the top of the page…”unless you call it defiling the temple, and I’m not sure if it is or not. What do you think?”
    When in doubt, dont’t!

    The Lord has given us so many gifts, and surely we honor Him
    when we are good stewards, and when we do that which will move us
    closer to Him.
    In Philippians 4:8 were told, “…whatsoever things [are] pure, whatsoever things [are] lovely, whatsoever
    things [are] of good report; if [there be] any virtue, and if [there be] any
    praise, think on these things.”

    As far as “people who get tattoos” we should love them as much as those who don’t.
    But Amy Carmichael said, “Should I change Your will O Lord until it
    becomes the same as mine?” That’s something we should consider!

  19. “I am convicted that it is not right for me to be tattooed, I ought not put that judgement on another person. And if I have been given freedom to be tattooed, I ought not look down on my sister or brother with pride because they do not have the freedom that I do.”
    … i LOVE the way you said that. i get so many crankybutt repsonces from family / “christian friends” that cite that verse of “dont tattoo yourself” to me whenever i tell them i might want one. it’s hard to gain accurate perception of what God’s really telling people in the exact timeperiod–bible times were definatly not moderntimes. 😛

  20. Cinamon Sticks–great article! I love the discussions that ensue and the (overall) respectful atmosphere from commenters on this site.

    I have one small-ish tattoo–a black-outline ICTHUS on my right ankle. I thought long and hard about what design to get, meaning, placement, size, color. Finally went for it (It’s been almost 2 years now and I still love it!) I now consider myself “marked for Christ” in a way that is visible only if I choose to show it off–and I can never take the “mark of the beast” if I should live to see the Tribulation time!

    Funny story about my tattoo–the man who is now my DH was the first person at my church to react positively upon spotting the design 2 years ago–at that point, we barely knew each other!

  21. So, the dude & I were talking the other day and he commented on how he’s noticed that many dancers who have tattoos have them on their feet and many singers who have tattoos have them on their necks. He remarked that there seems to be a certain spirit in getting tattooed and even addictions. And this is all in regards to proclaimed Christians. It’s definitely something to consider long and hard before delving in and getting inked.

  22. Do you have earrings or wear makeup?

  23. As citizens of Heaven, it’s always a good idea to be wholesome.
    Instead of being wordly, God invites us to
    wholesomeness!

  24. Perhaps I can offer a unique perspective as a Christian and a working professional tattoo artist with a wonderful wife and family. Firstly most good tattoo artists these days have come a long way from the sailor prison work that our predecessors did. Tattooing requires years of training and practice and is a dedication to possibly the most difficult art form. I would not have been able to finish this training and to walk through the many stigmas surrounding the industry without Christ by my side, most tattoos are personal and looked at as a permanent and irreplaceable artform and not a wacky occult practice. But it is not for everyone. To make the long story short I am very tattooed my wife is very tattooed and we have a wonderful relationship, and never has this art taken me away from the spirit of Christ… And there are many incredibly talented Christian artists. If you were interested in knowing of one in your area that treats the client and the art as a Godly gift please let me know!!

  25. The way I look at it.. Jesus is coming back w/a tattoo on Jesus is coming back w/a tattoo on his thigh. I believe it’s in Rev 19. If it’s good enough for him it’s good enough for anyone!


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