Can Christians Get Tattoos?

Jan Walker

My right wrist gets a lot of attention. Whether I am paying for a purchase at a gas station or returning a menu to a server, my wrist often becomes a topic of conversation with total strangers.

Many people notice the tattoo I have on the inside of my right wrist. It’s just two simple lines intertwined, but they represent an important part of my life. My tattoo represents my battle with anorexia. The tattoo is the recovery symbol for eating disorders. Its placement on my right hand — the hand I eat with — is a reminder that my recovery is three-times-a-day journey.

I did not make the decision to get a tattoo lightly. Nor was the public reception of my new tattoo taken lightly. Reactions varied from mild shock to complete disappointment; my father was devastated I would never have a career in banking thanks to my tattoo, despite the fact I have worked in higher education for 15 years and never once even sniffed at a banking career.

People who would never ask me about my faith will ask me about my tattoo.

The most surprising reactions to my decision to get inked came from other Christians. The most common verse quoted to me was Leviticus 19:28: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.” Other reactions were admonitions that my body was not my own; it belonged to God and I had no right to alter it (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

What the Bible Says About Tattoos

Was my tattoo sinful? Had I disobeyed God? Should any Christian ever get a tattoo, or is this strictly forbidden in the Bible?

While the Bible does instruct the Hebrew people to avoid marking their bodies, it was written at a time in which pagan cults used tattooing as a way to appease their gods. In Leviticus, God was speaking to a culture that was very different from our modern one. The verses prior to that verse also warn against eating meat (verse 26) and against trimming one’s hair (verse 27). Most Christians today regularly eat meat and get haircuts, but the verse about tattooing remains strongly contemplated.

Yet when we look at Old Testament laws and practices, we must do so through the lens of Jesus. He gives us a new way to understand the law because He fulfilled it (Matthew 5:17-20). Jesus completed the requirements of the law because we could never live up to it. Because of Him, we have a good relationship with God (Romans 10:4-13).

So is Getting a Tattoo a Sin?

It depends. Revisiting 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 is a great reminder when considering a tattoo: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

The most important question to ask is, “Will having a tattoo honor God?”

My tattoo allows me to have great conversations with people I normally would not get an opportunity to share Christ with. People who would never ask me about my faith will ask me about my tattoo. I can share how Christ walked with me during my treatment and recovery process. During my battle with anorexia, my body did not honor God — it honored the scale, clothing size labels and calorie counting apps. My tattoo represents a body turned back over to God, and the life He desires for me.

If your motives are to glorify His work in your life (Romans 14:23), the tattoo can be an excellent conversation starter. Just as we are commanded to do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), we can view the act of tattooing in the same manner.

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