Tattoos – what does the Bible really say?

Tattoos – what does the Bible really say? Written by Trevor Huthnance

Tattoos – what does the Bible really say?

It seems over the past decade or so, tattoos have burst from a sub-culture of our society into popular culture. TV shows based on the tattoo industry are springing up on major networks; social media pages for tattoo culture are numbering in the millions of followers, and you would be hard pressed to take a walk on the street and not see several people sporting leg tattoos or arm sleeves. Tattoos have become a mainstream part of society.

Does the bible have anything to say about tattoos and is it relevant for us today?

Questions often asked about this subject are: Is there a relationship between the ritual tattoos of ancient times and the "body art" of today? What biblical principles apply in deciding whether to get a tattoo or not?

Tattooing has been around for centuries and in recent years, this practice has enjoyed a popular resurgence, especially among young people. The reasons vary. Some get tattoos to show independence and rejection of parental values. Others get them because of peer pressure or because they believe they are stylish -- a type of body adornment and beautification. Some tattoos are outlandish in appearance and are for the specific purpose of drawing attention.

As for God's instruction regarding tattoos, the Bible does not specifically address the modern practice of tattooing as body adornment. While Leviticus 19:28 says, "You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord", most scholars believe these practices were related to mourning for the dead.

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary's article on tattoos says, "Any kind of self-laceration or marking of the body was prohibited among the Hebrew people. Such cuttings were associated with pagan cults that tattooed their followers while they mourned the dead (1986).”

Apparently, these people cut themselves and disfigured their bodies as a way of appeasing the anger of their gods and hoping to find some help for the deceased. God did not want His people getting involved in these pagan rituals because these practices led people away from Him. While death is always a sad time, God's people are not to "sorrow as others who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

We should also be aware that there are many health risks in modern day tattooing, including the risk of contracting Hepatitis B and re-actions to certain dyes.

For people who get tattoos when they are young, many later regret their decision. One survey in 2015 shows that 23% (nearly one in four people) regret having their body tattooed ( Some eventually undergo operations to have their tattoos removed, but these procedures are not always successful. Scarring and skin discolorations commonly remain.

While most of the current tattooing has no association with religious practices, and it is unlikely that people today get tattoos to mourn the dead, there are other biblical principles that indicate that getting a tattoo is not appropriate for Christians.

Several scriptures instruct Christians to take special care of their bodies. For example, 1 Corinthians 3:17 says, "If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are." Also, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 adds “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's".

There is always the thought that as God has given us a wonderful body with the potential to be His children forever, why would we use our bodies for graffiti?

Finally, we should bear in mind that God wants Christians to come out of and be separate from the world around us (2 Corinthians 6:14-17; Revelation 18:4). We are to reflect God's values and His thinking, not the world’s thinking. Because of these reasons, we strongly advise that people do not get tattoos.

If a person already has a tattoo before becoming a Christian, he or she does not need to have it removed. A person with a tattoo and who is genuinely seeking to love God and keep His commandments is following a path of life that is pleasing to God. God looks on the heart of the individual – not the physical tattoo.


Related Articles

Christianity: A Way of Life

Lesson 11
Christianity: A Way of Life

Is it acceptable to believe we are free to worship God as we wish, to refashion God in our own image? Or has God revealed an approach to life that He expects us to follow? Does it make any difference in the relationship we are supposed to have with Him? In this lesson we examine the answers to these questions and more from the Scriptures.

Bible Study Course

Bible Study Course

Free 12-lesson Bible Study Course from the United Church of God, Australia. The Bible is filled with advice to help you in your career, marriage, family relationships, finances, friendships, and every other major aspect of life. But for many people, understanding the Bible can be difficult. It doesn't have to be! Discover life's answers in this free Bible Study Course...

About the Author

Trevor Huthnance

Beyond Today Magazine

  • Can You Change the World?

    Can You Change the World?

    Can You Change the World?

    Much of life today seems beyond our control, with the world heading into worsening times. Each day brings news of some big event that impacts us—if not directly, at least weighing us down with serious concerns about the future. War continues in the Middle East and Ukraine. The Hamas atrocities against Israelis were shocking and horrifying. Israeli retaliation brought more scenes of suffering and death. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has ripped apart lives and threatens other European states. But what can we really do? Initial shock and prayers for peace give way to trying to get on with normal lives.

    Debt and inflation

    I read a lot about inflation eating away our savings and pushing many people to the edge of insolvency. Food and energy prices take increasing chunks of our monthly wages. The Bible talks about putting money into “a bag with holes” (Haggai 1:6)—a hole in your pocket in today’s language—as a sign of a sick and weak economy, as it is now.

Free Bible Guides

  • Guys, Girls and God

    Guys, Girls and God

    Build wonderful relationships with the opposite sex while you keep God in mind.

  • Overcoming Pornography Addiction

    Overcoming Pornography Addiction

    Pornography addiction is a real and very serious problem for people of all types and backgrounds. It may even be a serious problem for you. If you or someone to know is struggling with the sexual sin of porn addiction, this study aid can help break the chains of slavery to sin.

  • Making Life Work

    You probably already own the best self-help book ever published with practical guidance to help you achieve success in your career, friendships, finances, family and every other aspect of life.

  • Transforming Your Life

    Conversion is a process: God's calling, repentance, baptism, resurrection to immortality—the ultimate transformation!

  • Tools for Spiritual Growth

    Tools for Spiritual Growth

    What tools can you use to grow spiritually and build that all-important relationship with your Creator?