Tattoos are more popular than ever in many parts of the world. The number of people with tattoos has increased dramatically in recent years. Tattoos are not just for delinquents or rebels anymore. The edginess of rebellion historically associated with tattoos is starting to wear off.
The New Testament does not say anything about whether or not a believer in Jesus Christ should get a tattoo. Therefore, we cannot say that getting a tattoo is a sin. Because of Scripture’s silence, getting inked falls under the category of a “gray area,” and believers should follow their convictions in the matter, respecting those who may have different convictions.
Here are some general biblical principles that may apply to getting a tattoo:
◦ Children are to honor and obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1–2). For a minor to get a tattoo in violation of his or her parents’ wishes is biblically unsupportable. Tattoos born of rebellion are sinful.
◦ “Outward adornment” is not as important as the development of the “inner self” and should not be the focus of a Christian (1 Peter 3:3–4). A person who desires a tattoo to garner attention or draw admiration has a vain, sinful focus on self.
◦ God sees the heart, and our motivation for anything we do should be to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Motivations for getting a tattoo such as “to fit in,” “to stand out,” etc., fall short of the glory of God. The tattoo itself may not be a sin, but the motivation in getting it might be.
◦ Our bodies, as well as our souls, have been redeemed and belong to God. The believer’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). How much modification of that temple is appropriate? Is there a line that should not be crossed? Is there a point at which the proliferation of tattoos on one body ceases to be art and starts becoming sinful mutilation? This should be a matter of individual reflection and honest prayer.
◦ We are Christ’s ambassadors, delivering God’s message to the world (2 Corinthians 5:20). What message does the tattoo send, and will it aid or detract from representing Christ and sharing the gospel?
◦ Whatever does not come from faith is sin (Romans 14:23), so the person getting the tattoo should be fully convinced that it is God’s will for him or her.
We cannot leave the discussion of tattoos without looking at the Old Testament law that prohibited tattoos: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:28). The reason for the prohibition of tattoos in this passage is not stated, but it is likely that tattooing was a pagan practice connected with idolatry and superstition. It was probably common for the pagans to mark their skin with the name of a false god or with a symbol honoring some idol. God demanded that His children be different. As He reminded them in the same verse, “I am the LORD.” The Israelites belonged to Him; they were His workmanship, and they should not bear the name of a false god on their bodies. While New Testament believers are not under the Mosaic Law, we can take from this command the principle that, if a Christian chooses to get a tattoo, it should never be for superstitious reasons or to promote worldly philosophy. The bottom line is that getting a tattoo is not a sin, per se. It is a matter of Christian freedom and should be guided by biblical principles and rooted in love.