For a long time Christians avoided tattoos, claiming they were a sin. Even now there are still many Christians who cling to that belief. As followers of Christ we must obey God’s commands. If the Bible says we are not to have tattoos then no amount of cultural acceptance will change the fact that it is wrong to have tattoos. But can we really say tattoos are wrong according to the Bible?
The most commonly used verse against tattoos is Leviticus 19:28. “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourself: I am the Lord.” Ironically, this verse that most people base their entire argument on is completely inapplicable to the argument against tattoos. First of all, the entire book of Leviticus was written for the Israelites. They were under a different set of rules than we are. They were under the old law that called for sacrifices and stoning of criminals.
Secondly, this verse is often quoted by itself but the immediately previous verse says, “You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard.” (Leviticus 19:27). The same passage also prohibits crossbreeding of cattle, wearing bended clothing, or sowing more than one type of seed in your fields. The commandments here are not for us. They were for the Israelites to keep them separate from the heathens around them.
So, if we throw that verse out of the argument then we can get down to the really applicable verses. While the Leviticus verse may not have any bearing on the issue there are verses in the Bible that can be applied to this question.
Let’s start with 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” This is the second verse people often use to argue against tattoos. Typically, I like to respond by telling them that if our body is the temple then tattoos are just stained glass windows. That humorous statement doesn’t tell us anything Biblical though, as funny as it is.
Our bodies are a temple and we are called to glorify God with our bodies. Therefore, we must decide if tattoos can be used to glorify God. Tattoos are just ink. They have no capability of glorifying God on their own. Just like a guitar, a bumper sticker, or a book. None of those things can glorify God on their own. They can be used to glorify God, however. If they can be used to glorify God then can a tattoo? I think so. They are simply expressions of ourselves or our beliefs. If a tattoo reflects the importance of our faith to us and we are not acting in a way that mars that testimony then it can be used to glorify God!
Another verse I think is applicable to this discussion is 1 Corinthians 7:4, “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” This verse is actually telling us that we should not sexually withhold ourselves from our spouse, however, I believe it is applicable here as well.
As the verse says, we do not have “authority” over our own bodies. Our spouse does. Our spouse is also the one who will be looking at our bodies every day. As such, it only seems fitting that we should consult them before permanently marking our bodies. This would also apply before we are married. What if your future spouse doesn’t like tattoos? It seems to me that the most respectful thing we can do is wait to let our spouse have some input before we get tatted up!
Realistically, I cannot find any biblical reason to say tattoos are inherently wrong. We are told to “not be conformed to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2) but there is nothing to say that tattoos are indeed of the world. That isn’t to say that some people won’t still feel convicted that tattoos are wrong for them. That’s why we are also given a guideline for how to handle situations in which our convictions disagree with those of another believer. In Romans 14 we are told to respect each other’s differences.
Based on the above Biblical wisdom I don’t believe it is possible for a believer to say that tattoos are sinful. Sure, some tattoos can be (dirty tattoos) but some can be tools to glorify God. What we can say is that some of us will differ in opinion on the matter and that doesn’t make either of us wrong.
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