Questions and Answers




            Perhaps you have heard of television shows like “Miami Ink, LA Ink, New York Ink.”  It is generally on the TLC channel.  It features a bunch of tattoo artists performing their work.  They are clearly quite talented in rendering images and designs on a person’s flesh.  So, there is obviously a fair amount of interest in tattoos.  But, does the Bible forbid tattoos?  Now, we are not asking did the Bible forbid a tattoo for the answer to that is clearly yes.  The question I think deals with whether it is inherently wrong under the law of Christ (i.e., the new covenant) for people to be tattooed.

            Let us first see what the law of Moses said about this subject and why it was forbidden.  In Leviticus 21:1-6 Moses was told to instruct the priests not to defile themselves.  They were not to “make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh” (21:5).  The reason given for this was so they would be holy to God and not profane the name of their God (21:6).  The practices mentioned in verse 5 were common among the Gentiles and God said not to do such things. Why?  Because it would defile them.  Why?  Because these were things that the Gentiles practiced in their worship of other things.

            This point is brought out clearly in Leviticus 19:28.  This verse deals with all the Israelites and not just the priests (19:23).  God commanded them saying, “You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:27-28—NKJV).  Please note tattoos were forbidden in connection with making cuttings in the flesh for the dead.  Reading further to verse 31 shows the prohibition against consulting the dead through mediums or spiritists.  Thus, these two passages in Leviticus show the forbidden practices were associated with witchcraft or sorcery, idolatry.  However, since Leviticus is part of the old law, it is no longer in force today.  Otherwise, it would be wrong for Christian men to go beardless!

            Now, in the New Testament, while we have no direct prohibition for either piercings or tattoos, we have some principles that would regulate such conduct.  For example: If modern tattoos indicate the tattooed person is trying to contact the dead or is seeking to gain favor from spirits then they would be idolatrous and evil.  However, it seems unlikely a tattoo of a rose or one that says Mom would fall in that category.  Some tattoos certainly would be inappropriate for Christians.   A tattoo of the devil would be sending the wrong message for a child of God.   While we do not know what the devil looks like, the traditional red devil is recognizable to most people.  Thus, a tattoo that is clearly identified with evil should not be on a Christian.  Third, tattoos advertising drug use and sexual immorality and other such things are wrong because they glamorize the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21).

            Now there are some who attempt to point out in 1 Cor. 6:19-20 that it forbids tattoos because our body is not our own, it is the temple and that we have been bought with a price.  However, these verses deal with pagan and sexual worship, which is idol worship.  It is not associated with tattooing and we must be so careful not to make a Scripture such as 1 Cor. 6:19-20 a catch all for everything.  Because, when we make these verses a catch all, we open it up to the point that people will argue that it is wrong for anyone to have their ear pierced, or wrong to get a shot from the doctor, or wrong to take any medicine seeing as how they all have side effects or its wrong to have a little belly and this list goes on and on.

            According to the New Testament,  it seems that a tattoo lies more in the realm of opinions.  Now, some attempt to bind and others may be prejudice going so far as to say, having a tattoo is as disgusting as having rats on your head or using bugs for toothpaste.  But look, we can argue if it is right or wrong, if it’s proper or not, if its shameful or not.  But ultimately those who desire a tattoo need to know that it is permanent (despite what laser surgery can do) and it will influence all who see it.

Robert Notgrass

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