Body modification, including piercing, tattooing, scarring, branding, cutting, and outright mutilation, has been an increasing trend in recent years. Body piercing—the insertion of jewelry in various body parts—has graduated from the traditional ear lobe piercing to the piercing of noses, navels, nipples, tongues, eyebrows, cheeks, genitalia, and more. Many Christians have a piercing or two, and some have many more than two; no matter what the issue, it’s good to stop and consider what the Bible says.
We’ll begin with by acknowledging that the Bible does not specifically address body piercings as a sin, so dogmatism on the issue is unwarranted. If all body piercing is sinful, as some say, then even a diamond stud in a girl’s ear lobe is taboo. Such a stance goes too far, considering that earrings (and even nose rings) were accessories for Hebrew women: in an extended metaphor, God reminds Jerusalem of the lavish blessings He had bestowed on the people: “I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears” (Ezekiel 16:12). It’s unlikely that God would have used earrings (and nose rings) as a symbol of beauty and blessing if such jewelry were inherently sinful. See also Song of Solomon 1:10–11.
Also, we should consider what the Old Testament Law had to say about the related issue of cutting the flesh and marking the body. The command to Israel was “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:28). It seems the common practice among the nations surrounding Israel was to cut, lance, or somehow scar the body “for the dead”; that is, cutting oneself was part of a pagan mourning ritual or possibly a superstitious rite to aid the spirits of the departed. We see this type of behavior in action in Elijah’s day, as Baal-worshipers “slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed” (1 Kings 18:28). It is safe to say that, if a certain body piercing hints at paganism or honors a false philosophy, then it is sinful.
Forming a biblically informed opinion on body piercings requires us to examine the principles of the Word of God and ask ourselves some pertinent questions:
◦ What is my motivation for getting a body piercing? Our motives are important in any decision we make (Proverbs 16:2), especially something as permanent and potentially life-changing as a body piercing.
◦ Am I trying to find identity in a subculture? Body piercing has given rise to a definite subculture, and many people try to “find themselves” by joining the bodymod community. While joining a particular cultural group might help in evangelizing that group, to join simply to “find oneself” is not biblical. As believers, our identity is in Christ: “You died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3, NLT).
◦ Am I succumbing to peer pressure? Doing anything out of a desire to please one’s peers is spiritually hazardous. We are to follow the Lord Jesus (see John 21:21–22). Those who follow peer pressure in getting a body piercing find themselves in the ironic position of having proclaimed their uniqueness through conformity.
◦ Am I stressing appearance over substance? The Bible clearly emphasizes the inner spiritual qualities of a person and downplays the “outward adornment” (1 Peter 3:3–4). The majority of our effort should be directed at increasing in godliness, not grooming a particular look.
◦ Am I drawing undue attention to myself? Any item of clothing, accessory, or jewelry worn simply as a fashion statement runs the risk of feeding pride in that it draws attention to the wearer. Bringing public focus to certain body parts, pushing boundaries, or creating a flashy display is not a godly reason for a body piercing, especially when we have this command in Scripture: “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility” (1 Peter 5:5).
◦ Will this body piercing be an obstacle to ministry? It’s conceivable that, in some situations, having a body piercing will aid a believer in his witness to others. And, if the piercing is decorated with Christian-themed jewelry, it could be a conversation-starter that leads to spiritual themes. But, for others, certain types of body piercings may hinder attempts to share the gospel. We are Christ’s ambassadors, delivering God’s message to the world (2 Corinthians 5:20). We must consider what message the body piercing sends and whether it will aid or detract from representing Christ and sharing the gospel.
◦ Where do I draw the line? According to Guinness World Records, the record for total body piercings is 453 (male) and 462 (female). Those considering multiple piercings should be able to answer the question “how much is too much?” with specificity. At what point does body modification become extreme? How far can Christians go and still “honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:20)? Beyond piercings, questions should be asked about scarification, branding, facial flesh tunnels, skin implants, split tongues, pointed ears, sharpened teeth, and other things promoted within the modern bodymod community.
Of course, we could also ask where we draw the line on other, more socially acceptable body modifications such as breast implants, tummy tucks, face lifts, and such. Some of the same questions about motivation and appearance need honest answers if we are to do “all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
An important scriptural principle on issues the Bible does not specifically address is that, if there is room for doubt whether it pleases God, then it is best not to engage in that activity. Anything that does not come from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). Our bodies, as well as our souls, have been redeemed and belong to God (1 Corinthians 6:20, KJV). Since our bodies belong to God and are the temple of the Holy Spirit, we should make sure it is His will before we modify them with body piercings.