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What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos? A Comprehensive Analysis

The topic of tattoos and body modifications has been a subject of debate among Christians for decades. Many people wonder, "What does the Bible say about tattoos?" The answer is not as straightforward as one might think, as the Bible does not explicitly mention the word "tattoo."

However, there are several passages that address the broader concept of body modification and the importance of honoring God with our bodies.

In this comprehensive analysis, we will explore the key scriptures that relate to tattoos and body modifications, examine the historical and cultural context of these passages, and discuss the various interpretations and opinions held by Christian scholars and leaders.

By the end of this article, you will have a clearer understanding of what the Bible says about tattoos and how this applies to your personal faith journey.

Old Testament Passages on Body Modification

One of the most frequently cited passages when discussing tattoos and the Bible is Leviticus 19:28, which states, "You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord" (ESV). At first glance, this verse seems to provide a clear prohibition against tattoos. However, it is essential to consider the historical and cultural context of this passage.

In ancient Near Eastern cultures, it was common for people to engage in body modification practices as part of pagan worship rituals or as a way to mourn the dead.

These practices often involved cutting or marking the body as a sign of devotion to a particular deity or as a means of expressing grief. The Israelites, who had recently been delivered from slavery in Egypt, were surrounded by these pagan cultures and were in danger of adopting their practices.

God's command in Leviticus 19:28 was given to set the Israelites apart from their pagan neighbors and to emphasize the importance of honoring Him with their bodies.

The prohibition against cutting and tattooing was not meant to be a universal ban on all forms of body modification but rather a specific instruction for the Israelites in their historical and cultural context.

Another Old Testament passage that is sometimes referenced in discussions about tattoos is Deuteronomy 14:1, which states, "You are the sons of the Lord your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead" (ESV). Like Leviticus 19:28, this verse is addressing the practice of body modification in the context of pagan mourning rituals.

The Israelites were called to be a holy people, set apart for God's purposes. Engaging in the same mourning practices as their pagan neighbors would have blurred the lines between the Israelites and the surrounding cultures, compromising their witness and their relationship with God.

It is important to note that these Old Testament passages were given specifically to the Israelites as part of the Mosaic Law. Christians today are not bound by these same laws, as the New Testament teaches that Christ has fulfilled the Law (Romans 10:4).

However, these passages still provide valuable insight into God's desire for His people to honor Him with their bodies and to avoid practices associated with pagan worship.

New Testament Principles on Honoring God with Our Bodies

While the New Testament does not specifically address tattoos, there are several principles that can guide Christians in their decision-making regarding body modifications. One key passage is 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, which states, "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, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (ESV).

This passage emphasizes the idea that our bodies are not our own but rather belong to God. As Christians, we have been bought with the precious blood of Christ and have been given the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. Our bodies are now temples of the Holy Spirit, set apart for God's purposes.

The implications of this truth are significant. If our bodies belong to God, we have a responsibility to care for them and use them in ways that honor and glorify Him. This includes making wise choices about what we put into our bodies, how we treat our bodies, and how we present our bodies to the world.

In the context of tattoos and body modifications, this principle suggests that Christians should carefully consider whether these practices are consistent with honoring God with their bodies. While the Bible does not provide a clear "yes" or "no" answer to the question of tattoos, it does call us to be thoughtful and intentional about how we use and care for the bodies God has given us.

Another relevant New Testament passage is Romans 14, which addresses the issue of personal convictions and the importance of not judging others. In this chapter, Paul discusses the differing opinions among Christians regarding the observance of certain days and the eating of certain foods.

He concludes by stating, "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind" (Romans 14:5, ESV) and "Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God" (Romans 14:10, ESV).

These verses suggest that there may be room for differing opinions among Christians regarding issues like tattoos and that we should be cautious about judging others who hold different convictions. Some Christians may feel strongly that tattoos are not consistent with honoring God with their bodies, while others may see tattoos as a matter of personal preference and expression.

The key principle here is that each Christian must seek to follow their own conscience and convictions, based on their understanding of Scripture and their relationship with God.

We should be gracious and understanding towards those who hold different views, recognizing that we will all stand before God and give an account for our choices.

At the same time, this does not mean that all choices are equally honoring to God. Christians should still strive to make decisions that align with biblical principles and bring glory to God. This may involve seeking wisdom and guidance from mature believers, studying Scripture, and praying for discernment.

Interpretations and Opinions Among Christian Leaders

Christian leaders and scholars have expressed a range of opinions on the topic of tattoos and body modifications. Some argue that the Old Testament prohibitions against body modification still apply today and that Christians should avoid tattoos altogether.

Others believe that tattoos are a matter of personal conviction and that Christians have the freedom to make their own choices in this area.

One prominent Christian leader who has spoken out against tattoos is John MacArthur, a pastor and author. In a 2016 article, MacArthur argued that Christians should not get tattoos because they are a form of "self-mutilation" and are often associated with pagan practices.

He also pointed to the New Testament principle of honoring God with our bodies as a reason to avoid tattoos.

MacArthur's view represents a more conservative perspective on the issue of tattoos.

He sees tattoos as inherently problematic, both because of their historical association with pagan practices and because he believes they violate the principle of honoring God with our bodies.

Other Christian leaders, however, have taken a more nuanced approach to the topic of tattoos.

In a 2013 article, pastor and author John Piper acknowledged the differing opinions among Christians and emphasized the importance of personal conviction. He suggested that Christians should ask themselves whether getting a tattoo would be a "faith-filled act of worship" and whether it would be consistent with their witness for Christ.

Piper's perspective allows for more individual freedom and discretion when it comes to tattoos. He recognizes that Christians may have different convictions on this issue and that the key question is whether a tattoo would be honoring to God and consistent with one's faith.

Other Christian leaders have expressed similar views, emphasizing the importance of personal conviction and the need to consider the motivations behind getting a tattoo. Some have suggested that tattoos can even be used as a means of expressing one's faith or sharing the gospel, if done in a thoughtful and appropriate way.

Ultimately, the diversity of opinions among Christian leaders reflects the complexity of the issue and the absence of a clear, universal teaching in Scripture. While some may feel strongly that tattoos are always wrong, others see the issue as a matter of personal conviction and discernment.

Factors to Consider When Making a Decision About Tattoos

If you are a Christian considering getting a tattoo, there are several factors to keep in mind as you make your decision:

  1. Your motives: It is important to honestly examine your reasons for wanting a tattoo. Are you seeking to express your faith or honor God in some way? Or are you motivated by a desire to fit in, rebel against authority, or draw attention to yourself? The Bible teaches that our motives matter and that we should seek to do all things for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

  2. The content of the tattoo: The message or image conveyed by a tattoo is also significant. As Christians, we are called to think on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). A tattoo that promotes violence, sexuality, or other ungodly themes would be inconsistent with this command.

  3. The permanence of tattoos: Tattoos are a form of permanent body modification, and this is an important factor to consider. While it is possible to remove tattoos, the process is often painful, expensive, and not always entirely successful. Christians should carefully weigh the long-term implications of their decision and consider whether they are prepared to live with the tattoo for the rest of their lives.

  4. The potential impact on your witness: As Christians, we are called to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16) and to live in a way that points others to Christ. It is worth considering how a tattoo might be perceived by others and whether it could be a stumbling block or barrier to sharing the gospel. While we should not be controlled by the opinions of others, we should also be sensitive to how our choices might impact our witness.

  5. Your personal convictions: Ultimately, the decision to get a tattoo is a matter of personal conviction. Christians should pray for wisdom, study Scripture, and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as they make this decision. If you have doubts or reservations about getting a tattoo, it may be best to err on the side of caution and refrain from doing so.

These factors provide a helpful framework for thinking through the decision to get a tattoo as a Christian. By considering your motives, the content of the tattoo, the permanence of the decision, the potential impact on your witness, and your personal convictions, you can make a wise and God-honoring choice.


In conclusion, the question of what the Bible says about tattoos is complex and multifaceted. While the Old Testament contains some prohibitions against body modification, these passages must be understood in their historical and cultural context.

The New Testament does not specifically address tattoos but does provide principles for honoring God with our bodies and making decisions based on personal conviction.

Ultimately, the decision to get a tattoo is a personal one that each Christian must make based on their own understanding of biblical principles and their relationship with God. It is important to approach this decision with prayer, wisdom, and a desire to honor God in all things.

As Christians, we should strive to live in a way that brings glory to God and points others to Christ. This means carefully considering our choices and seeking to align our lives with biblical principles. Whether or not we choose to get tattoos, we can all seek to honor God with our bodies and our lives, using the gifts and talents He has given us to make a positive impact in the world.

At the same time, we should be gracious and understanding towards those who hold different convictions on this issue.

The Bible teaches that we will all stand before God and give an account for our choices, and it is not our place to judge or condemn others who may have different views.

Ultimately, the most important thing is our relationship with God and our desire to live in a way that pleases Him.

As we seek His will and guidance in all areas of our lives, including the decision to get a tattoo, we can trust that He will lead us in the way we should go.

If you are considering getting a tattoo, take the time to pray, study Scripture, and seek wise counsel from mature believers.

Consider the factors discussed in this article and ask yourself whether getting a tattoo would be consistent with honoring God with your body and your life. And whatever decision you make, do so with a heart that is fully surrendered to God and a desire to bring glory to His name.

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