Is it OK to Get A Tattoo? What if I Already Have One?

January 9, 2012

Someone asked me about recently whether I thought that God, according to the Bible, has an issue with tattoos.  Some look to Leviticus 19:28 for the answer.  Here’s what it says:

“‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.”

In that verse, God is warning the Israelites not to be like the pagans around them.  They were given lots of instructions on what to do and what not to do.  Verse 28, taken by itself certainly seems to call tattoos a sin if it is read out of context.

In the same chapter, however, the Israelites were also warned against cutting off the sides of their hair and the tips of their beards.  The Israelites were also instructed not to reap the edges of their land or to go over their fields for harvest a second time.  I don’t know any farmers that keep these practices and I haven’t seen many goofy looking Christ-Followers that only cut the middle of their hair.

In my opinion If we look at this chapter in context, these laws were for the Israelites as they were in danger of conforming to their pagan neighbor’s religions and attitudes.  I don’t believe it is prohibiting tattoos today.  If we believe that, we also have to change our grooming habits and grow a beard.

If you are considering getting a tat, one question to ask yourself is, “Why do I want a tattoo?”  If it is to relate to the world and become more like the world, I would look at Romans 12:2.  It says:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

If you are a Christ-follower, are you considering a tat to be like the world?  That seems to be along the same lines and reasoning that the Israelites had for getting tats.  If that is your motives, then I think Romans 12:2 is the answer.  It is a sin to conform to be like the world.

Maybe the reason for the tat was to become a really cool art gallery or to tell a story.  Was it to draw attention to yourself?  I have to leave that between you and God.  Only you know why you got the tat.

Some Christ-followers have gotten tats to relate to the world to reach a certain group.  I think of 1 Corinthians 9:22 when I hear that reason:

“To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”

I’ve seen crosses and other types of tats that were meant to start conversations or relate and reach other people with tats.  I have also known HEAVILY tatted people that I believe have hearts for God and are in God’s will.  The ink, in my opinion, is neutral.  What is the tat, what are the motives, and what is the situation seems to be the issue.

God looks at the heart underneath the ink.

In Romans 14, Paul talks about whether it was ok to eat meat that had been sacrificed by idols.  Some who had come out of the pagan lifestyle considered the eating the meat to be a sin.  Other Christ-Followers felt free to do that before God.  Paul says in this chapter that eating the meat was not a sin but if it caused some new believers to stumble, then he would never eat the meat again.  Paul said that it just wasn’t worth the casualty and confusion that it would cause the other people.

I don’t know what your environment, family, and Christ-Following friends are like, but in some circles tats could cause an issue, just like eating the sacrificed meat was with the group in Romans 14. (This could also mean that you don’t get a tattoo because you are honoring your parents and their wishes.)

Finally, even if your ink is something that isn’t honoring to God but you got it before you became a Christ-Follower, (or maybe you had a rebellious period but you have repented)  God is a forgiving God.  He forgives and perhaps you can use it to tell people of the changes that He has made in your life.

That’s my humble opinion of what the Scriptures say. Do you have a different interpretation of the Scripture?  I’d love to hear it.

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6 Responses to “Is it OK to Get A Tattoo? What if I Already Have One?”

  1. Patty smith said

    I have a tattoo. It is of a cross and the rose of Sharon. My daughter designed it for me. It is in an area that most people do not see. It is special to me because she designed it and because it is the cross and reminds me to keep the faith. One of the neatest tattoos I have ever seen was at a womans conference ib Atlanta. A young man at one of the booths had the 23rd Psalm. Tattooed on his forearm. It was, as you mentioned, a way to testify to those around him. When someone asks “what does your tattoo say” he has his opening.
    My daughter is a very godly young lady and she has number of tattoos but when clothed, you can’t see any of them except Hawaii on her foot. I don’t like a lot of the nasty tattoos I see, but I think tasteful tattoos with meaning are ok. I don’t believe our Lord is going to rebuke someone for a tattoo. Just my opinion.

    • eddiepoole said

      Thanks for reading my blog and commenting, Patty! Sounds like your daughter is an awesome young lady. You’ve obviously done a great job raising her. Sounds like the young man from the conference had the right motivation with his tattoo of the 23rd Psalm. I have seen them lead to spiritual conversations that lift up Jesus if the motivation is right.

  2. Roy McKinnon said

    Wow Eddie, killer tat! I always thought you were going to keep those to your self and not show them off….. well when you have great art I guess you just need to share?

    • eddiepoole said

      Glad you like them Roy! lol No, they aren’t my tats! I actually considered an earring in college pretty seriously. I was playing in a Christian Rock band and thought the earring would play into the image but my dad didn’t want me to do get one. I didn’t get it out of respect to him.

  3. Nathan Smith said

    Good write up Eddie. I do think the motivation is the key. Most tattoos symbolize, reference, or relate to death or pain and in that regard the original intent of Leviticus is applicable since that was the same motivation of the pagan traditions (Luck, favor, spirits of loved ones, protection, mysticism, etc.) For the Christian I think it is a bit contradictory to serve a Savior who removes and remembers our sin and pain no more and brings us to victory and hope to have mementos of past pain or to rely on spirits of loved ones to protect us or keep us. Christ is about moving us forward out of the past. The other trend I tend to see with tattoos is the motivation to draw attention to ones self or “express” individualism. The scripture actually leads us the other way. Bottom line is I don’t think it is an absolute no, but most scriptural principles lead us away from the practice.

    • eddiepoole said

      Thanks for the comments, Nathan! As I wrote in another response, I don’t have tats and would prefer that my kids not get them either. It does all come down to motivation. Good comments!

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