What You Need to Know: A Biblical Exploration of Tattoos

Body art has become more mainstream in recent years, as more people show off their tattoos with pride. But is tattooing against Christian beliefs? This post explores the history of tattooing in different cultures and how it relates to the Bible, focusing particularly on what it has to say about tattooing. Whether you are a Christian thinking about getting a tattoo or just looking to learn more about what the Bible has to say on the subject, read on to get a fresh perspective on this often-debated topic.

The History of Tattooing in Different Cultures

What You Need to Know: A Biblical Exploration of Tattoos

Tattooing has a long and rich history in many cultures around the world. The art of tattooing has been practiced in different forms for centuries, from tribal markings in ancient times to modern-day body art. In some cultures, tattoos have deep spiritual or religious significance, while in others they are used for decorative purposes or as a symbol of social status.

The practice of tattooing has been traced back to ancient Egypt, where mummies have been found with tattoos dating back to 2000 BCE. In Polynesian cultures, tattoos were used to mark important life events such as puberty, marriage, and death. Maori tribes in New Zealand have a rich tradition of tattooing, with intricate designs known as ‘moko’ which are used to tell the story of a person’s life.

In Japan, tattooing has a long history, with designs that range from traditional dragons and koi fish to more modern styles. Yin yang symbols, cherry blossoms, and samurai warriors are just a few examples of the traditional Japanese tattoo art.

Tattooing in the Western world can be traced back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries when sailors and soldiers started getting tattoos as a way to commemorate their travels and experiences. In the 1960s and 1970s, tattooing became popular among the counterculture movement in the United States, and by the 1990s it had become more mainstream.

While tattoos are becoming more accepted in many cultures today, there are still some parts of the world where they are frowned upon or even banned. Some religious traditions, including Judaism and Islam, view tattoos as a violation of the body, while in the Christian faith, there is a debate over whether tattoos are sinful or not.

Despite the varying views on tattoos in different cultures, one thing is clear – they have been an integral part of human expression and creativity throughout history.

person's hands with mehndi tattoos

The Bible and Tattoos: What Does Leviticus Say?

Tattoos have become increasingly popular in recent years, but what does the Bible have to say about them? One of the most commonly referenced passages when it comes to tattoos is found in Leviticus 19:28, which states, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.

At first glance, it may seem that this verse directly forbids tattooing, but it is important to understand the context in which it was written. In ancient times, tattoos were often associated with pagan rituals and practices, and the Israelites were warned against adopting these customs. The prohibition against “cuts on your body for the dead” was likely a reference to mourning practices in which people would cut or pierce themselves in order to express their grief.

Some scholars argue that the prohibition against tattoos in this verse is specifically related to mourning practices as well, and that it may not apply in a modern context. Others argue that the verse should still be taken literally, as it is part of God’s moral law.

Regardless of how one interprets Leviticus 19:28, it is important to remember that the Bible does not provide clear guidance on every aspect of modern life. We must look to other biblical principles, such as loving our neighbors and respecting our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, in order to make informed decisions about whether or not to get a tattoo.

Ultimately, while the Bible may not provide a clear answer about whether or not tattoos are permissible, it is important to approach the issue with wisdom and discernment, seeking God’s guidance and considering the potential impact of our actions on ourselves and those around us.

The New Testament Perspective on Tattoos

The New Testament of the Bible doesn’t directly address the issue of tattoos, unlike the Old Testament. However, it does mention the importance of taking care of our bodies and avoiding things that defile it:

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own.” – 1 Corinthians 6:19

This passage emphasizes the spiritual significance of our bodies and how we should treat them with respect. Some Christian scholars interpret this as a warning against getting tattoos because it could be seen as defacing or altering the body that God gave us. However, this is a matter of personal interpretation and not a clear mandate from the Bible.

That being said, the New Testament does highlight the importance of not causing offense or stumbling to others in our actions:

“Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” – Romans 14:13

This passage urges Christians to consider the impact of their actions on others. So, if getting a tattoo would cause offense or be a stumbling block for someone else’s faith, it may be wise to avoid it.

Overall, the New Testament doesn’t offer a clear perspective on tattoos, but it does provide guidance on caring for our bodies and considering the impact of our actions on others.


  • The New Testament doesn’t directly address tattoos.
  • Some Christian scholars interpret passages about caring for our bodies as warnings against tattoos.
  • Christians are urged to consider the impact of their actions on others.
  • There is no clear mandate against tattoos in the New Testament.

What Do Christian Leaders and Scholars Say About Tattoos?

As tattoos have increased in popularity over the years, many Christian leaders and scholars have shared their perspectives on the topic. Some suggest that getting a tattoo is a sin, while others argue that as long as it is not done in rebellion against God, or in an attempt to elevate oneself, it is permissible.

One prominent argument made by those who view tattoos as a sin is based on Leviticus 19:28, which reads, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.” These individuals argue that since this verse specifically mentions tattoos as a forbidden action, Christians should not get tattoos.

However, others point out that this verse must be understood in the context of its time and culture. At the time Leviticus was written, tattoos were often associated with pagan rituals and idol worship. Thus, this verse may have served as a way to differentiate God’s people from the surrounding cultures. Since today tattoos do not necessarily have these same associations, some argue that this verse may not be applicable to Christians today.

Many Christian leaders have also shared their personal perspectives on tattoos. For example, Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church has stated that he believes tattoos are a personal decision and that individuals should consider their motives before getting inked. Similarly, author and speaker Francis Chan has shared that he does not have a problem with tattoos and feels they can be a valid form of self-expression.

In addition to personal perspectives, there have also been scholarly discussions about tattoos in a Christian context. For example, theologian Scot McKnight has written about how tattoos can be a way of expressing one’s faith and love for God. He argues that tattoos, like other forms of art, can be representative of the beauty and creativity of God’s creation.

Ultimately, the decision to get a tattoo will be a personal one for each Christian. There are valid arguments on both sides, and individuals should carefully consider their motives before getting permanent body art. As long as tattoos are not done in rebellion against God or in an attempt to elevate oneself above others, they can be a valid form of self-expression.

woman raising left hand

The Stigma of Tattoos in Christian Circles and How to Overcome It

In some Christian communities, tattoos carry a negative connotation, and people who have them may be viewed with suspicion or even ostracized. This stigma can make it difficult for someone who wants to express their faith through body art. If you’re considering getting a tattoo but are worried about how it might be perceived in your church or Christian community, here are some things to consider:

  1. Recognize that the stigma is based on cultural norms, not biblical teaching. While the Bible does discuss body modifications like circumcision and branding, there is no clear prohibition against tattoos. Leviticus 19:28 is often cited as a verse that condemns tattoos, but this interpretation has been challenged by scholars who debate the translation of the original Hebrew text. Understanding the historical and cultural context of Leviticus can shed light on the meaning of this passage and help you decide for yourself what it means for you.

  2. Consider the practical and aesthetic aspects of your tattoo. If you get a tattoo that is obviously offensive or vulgar, it’s understandable that people might react negatively to it. However, if your tattoo is well-designed, respectful, and has personal meaning to you, it may be easier for people to see it in a positive light. You may also want to consider placement – if you choose a tattoo that can be easily covered up in professional or formal settings, it may be less likely to cause problems.

  3. Talk to your pastor or spiritual advisor. If you’re concerned about how your tattoo might be received in your church or community, it’s worth having an open conversation with someone you trust. Ask for their perspective on tattoos and see if they can offer any guidance or advice. Ultimately, the decision to get a tattoo is a personal one, but it can be helpful to have input from someone who understands your spiritual background and context.

  4. Be prepared to explain your tattoo. If people are curious or unsure about your tattoo, be willing to talk about it with them. Share the significance it holds for you and how it connects to your faith. This can help dispel any misconceptions about tattoos and show others that body art can be a meaningful way to express one’s faith and identity.

  5. Remember that your relationship with God is not determined by your appearance. Ultimately, your worth and value as a person are not based on whether or not you have a tattoo. Just as clothes and hairstyles are a matter of personal preference, so too is body art. Your faith is about your heart and your actions, not about your outward appearance.

Getting a tattoo as a Christian may require some courage and conviction, but it can also be a powerful symbol of your identity and faith. By understanding the cultural context of tattoos and being prepared to explain your choices to others, you can overcome the stigma and embrace this art form as a meaningful expression of your relationship with God.

Tattoos and Personal Expression of Faith

Tattoos have become a popular form of self-expression and personal style, including for people of faith. For many Christians, tattoos can reflect their beliefs and values, serving as a way to express their relationship with God and their faith journey.

One of the main concerns that Christians may have is whether it is a sin to get a tattoo. While some people may interpret certain scriptures as prohibiting tattoos, others argue that these passages may refer to specific cultural practices at the time and not necessarily a blanket prohibition on all forms of body art. Additionally, the concept of grace and the freedom that comes with it suggests that Christians are not bound by legalistic rules or restrictions.

For those who choose to get tattoos as a personal expression of faith, there are various biblical themes and symbols to draw from. Many tattoo designs may incorporate crosses, the ichthus (a symbol of Christianity), or verses and quotes from scripture. Others may choose designs that reflect their personal spiritual journey or revelation.

As with any form of art or personal expression, there is always the risk of misinterpretation or misunderstanding. Some Christians may be critical of tattoos or see them as a sign of rebellion or defiance. As a result, those who choose to get tattoos may face judgment or ostracism from certain church communities.

However, as the acceptance of tattoos in society has grown, more Christians are embracing this form of self-expression and embracing the idea that faith and tattoos are not mutually exclusive. In fact, some churches have even hosted tattoo events as a way to bring people together and celebrate their shared beliefs.

Ultimately, the decision to get a tattoo is a personal one and should be made with careful consideration of both the cultural and spiritual implications. For many people of faith, tattoos can serve as a way to honor their beliefs and share their faith journey with others. As long as the decision is made thoughtfully and with respect for one’s own beliefs and the beliefs of others, there is no reason that tattoos cannot be a meaningful and valuable form of personal expression for people of faith.

Final Thoughts on Tattoos in the Christian Context

As Christians who value the Bible as the foundation of their faith, it can be challenging to reconcile the practice of tattooing with the scriptural mandates of the Old and New Testaments. While most Christians agree that the Bible discourages tattooing in several passages, some argue that the context in which these prohibitions were written cannot be applied to modern-day body art.

Here are some final thoughts to help you navigate this subject as a Christian:

  1. Understanding the history and symbolism of tattoos can help inform your decision:

Tattoos have been part of various cultures for thousands of years. Sometimes, they held significant cultural or religious meaning meant for protection, social identity, or spiritual devotion. As such, embrace the opportunity to understand the history and symbolism associated with tattoo art.

  1. Respect cultural diversity:

For many people today, tattoos serve as an essential expression of faith, identity, and other deeply personal contexts. Before judging individuals with tattoos, understand why they have decided to get one. It can help you appreciate the diversity that exists in the world.

  1. Seek guidance from people you trust:

As with any personal decision, it is best to seek guidance from people you trust, including mentors, pastors, and reputable theologians. They can help you make informed decisions based on biblical principles while navigating the complexities of modern-day tattoo culture.

  1. Pray for guidance and discernment:

As a Christian, it is crucial to seek God’s guidance on all matters, including whether or not to get a tattoo. Prayer and discernment are critical before making any significant decisions. So, take time to reflect and pray for discernment before getting a tattoo.

  1. Understand the consequences of getting a tattoo

As much as the Bible does not explicitly endorse or prohibit tattoos, it helps to understand the implications that come with getting one. Getting a tattoo comes with lifelong consequences, as tattoos are permanent, and you will carry them for life. Ensure that any tattoo design aligns with your faith and values before getting a tattoo.

In conclusion, getting a tattoo is a personal decision, and as Christians, it’s crucial to seek God’s wisdom and discernment before choosing to get inked. Scripture offers several perspectives that can be applied to this topic, and seeking guidance from trusted leaders can help you make an informed decision. Ultimately, it’s vital to understand that tattoos are permanent, and it is best to make a choice that honors God, and His teachings.