By Nikki Dabney
I got a tattoo on my 20th birthday, and I’ve been asked this question a lot: are Christians allowed to get tattoos?
Leviticus 19:28 says, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves.” At first glance, this is a pretty clear command in which case I need to make a tattoo removal appointment or chop my arm off ASAP (just kidding that’s really intense). However, like with all Scripture, this verse needs to be read in context.
Throughout Leviticus, God tells the Israelites how to be holy- which means set apart. He did not want them acting like the other nations. As you read through Leviticus, you see that God’s commands have to do with health and cleanliness.
- In Leviticus 11, God lists the animals the Israelites cannot eat, such as pigs and reptiles.
- Chapter 12 says that women were ceremonially unclean for 40 or 80 days after giving birth and that sons needed to be circumcised after eight days.
- In Chapter 13, God explains how to deal with mold and handle someone who comes down with a skin disease like leprosy.
- Chapter 18 forbids various sexual practices, like incest.
All of these commands make sense for a nation that did not have refrigerators, antibiotics, or advanced sterilization techniques. So when Leviticus 19:28 says to not tattoo yourself, it is understood to be a wisdom issue, not a sin issue.
God was looking out for the health of the Israelites, but now, as we know, properly getting a tattoo is a safe and sanitary process (although unfortunately painful).
God was looking out for the health of the Israelites, but also their reputation. During that time, Egyptians would cut their bodies for the dead, so God didn’t want the Israelites to do this because He didn’t want it to appear like they were worshipping dead people. In our culture, it’s not assumed that people with tattoos worship dead people. (If you’re concerned, don’t worry. I don’t.)
Another verse people like to reference is 1 Corinthians 6:19, which says our body is a holy temple. Again, this verse needs to be read in context. Paul is specifically talking about sexual immorality and how it is an internal sin, not tattoos.
So now we know Christians CAN get tattoos, but SHOULD we?
As Christians, we should only do anything if it glorifies God (1 Corinthians 10:31). So before you get a tattoo, you should be fully convinced that it is honoring to Christ (Romans 14:22).
In my case, I got my tattoo as a personal reminder that my salvation is only through Jesus’ grace and that He is my only hope in this life. And every time people ask me about it, I get to share the Gospel and talk about how good my God is.
- Always dig into Scripture.
- Do not make any decision without earnestly praying about it and seeking wisdom.
- This is about your heart and motive, not legality.
- Anything that will lead even one person to find Jesus or fall in love with Him more – whether that’s ink on your wrist or anything else – is worth doing.
“I do all this for the sake of the Gospel.” -1 Corinthians 9:23