Is it a sin to get a tattoo?

The only Bible verse that explicitly mentions tattoos is Leviticus 19:28, "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD." With this verse in mind, I want to point out flaws in both sides of the argument. Some who oppose tattoos will point to Leviticus 19:28 and say "case closed, it is a sin to get a tattoo." The problem with this line of reasoning is that there are many commands in the Old Testament Law, and in the Book of Leviticus especially, that Christians do not obey. For example, the verse immediately prior states, "Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard" (Leviticus 19:27). If we are going to use Leviticus 19:28 to outlaw tattoos, we should also outlaw everything else that the Old Testament Law forbids. Also, the mention of cutting your body for the dead perhaps identifies a pagan ritual as the true problem, not necessarily the tattoo itself. The key point is this: Jesus' death fulfilled and completed the Law, ending its requirements on us (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15). Therefore, the law against tattoos is not binding on followers of Jesus Christ.

As a result of the inapplicability of Leviticus 19:28, some will argue that since the Bible does not speak against tattoos in a New Covenant context, it is acceptable to get tattoos. The problem with this line of reasoning is that there are many things the Bible does not specifically speak against. The Bible being silent on an activity does not necessarily indicate approval of that activity.

Some who approve of Christians getting tattoos will also point to Revelation 19:16 and claim that Jesus has a tattoo, "On His robe and on His thigh He has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS." The text does not say that it will be a tattoo. It could be written by a magic marker for all we know, or it could be a henna (non-permanent) tattoo, or it could be metaphoric/symbolic, not literal. Whatever the case, Revelation 19:16 does not say Jesus has a tattoo. Even if it did, it would not be blanket permission for Christians to get tattoos.

So, if arguments from both sides are flawed, what is the answer regarding tattoos? For me, this issue seems to be primarily a struggle with Christian freedom. It would be so much easier if we just had an exhaustive list of do's and don'ts. Christian freedom is uncomfortable because it forces us to truly examine our motives. That is why Christians tend to go to one extreme or the other, legalism or antinomianism. Legalism is easier because it provides us with the list of do's and don'ts. Antinomianism is easier because it focuses on the "freedom" in "Christian freedom" while ignoring the "Christian."

Perhaps the most applicable verse on the question of whether getting a tattoo is a sin would be Romans 14:23, "For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." Sometimes, if you have to ask the question of whether something is right or wrong, it is a sign that it is wrong. As Christians, we should never do anything unless we are absolutely convinced that it is right. Further, we should never do something just because someone else says it is right. If you are absolutely convinced that getting a tattoo will be pleasing to God, honoring to God, and an increase in your being a light to the world – I will not bar the entrance to the tattoo parlor, nor will I claim that you have sinned by getting a tattoo. Ultimately, it is between you and God.

I seriously doubt I will ever get a tattoo. I am just not convinced that it is right to permanently mark my body with a tattoo. Speaking of Christian freedom, 1 Corinthians 6:12 states, "Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial" (see also 1 Corinthians 10:23). Might tattoos be permissible? Maybe. But, I am not fully convinced they are beneficial. For me, then, it would be a sin to get a tattoo because there is doubt, not faith (Romans 14:23).

S. Michael Houdmann

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Is it a sin to get a tattoo?