Is it wrong to get a tattoo? Today’s question is one that might be considered to be in the ‘less significant question’ category. However, tattoos are becoming very popular, they have been over the last several years in particular, and a lot of people are getting them. They’re a fashion statement and so it’s no surprise that Christians might be wondering, “Should I get a tattoo? Is it okay?” I want to commend you if you’re asking that question and wondering about this, because before we do anything, we ought to ask the question, what does the Lord think about what I’m thinking about doing?
Let’s see if we can come up with an answer to this question from the Bible. If you search the Bible, you’re only going to find the word tattoo one time, and that’s in the New American Standard Version. In other versions, you may not even find it a single time. But, that single time, it’s found in the Old Testament in Leviticus 19, in the Law of Moses. Now, if you have been following my blog lately (or if you’ve been reading your Bible!) you know that Christians are not under the Law of Moses.
The Law of Moses was given to a specific group of people for a specific length of time. It was given to the descendants of Israel after God delivered them out of Egyptian bondage and it lasted only until Jesus’ death on the cross. That was the end of the Old Covenant, the end of the Mosaic Law. Christians are not obligated to keep the Law of Moses. We are, however, obligated to keep the law of Christ; that’s very, very plain. I might as well add this, we are obligated to keep the parts of the Law of Moses that were carried over into the Law of Christ, but for the most part, those that were carried over are the big time moral laws like ‘don’t commit adultery’, ‘don’t steal’, ‘don’t murder’, ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ etc. Those are laws from the Mosaic Law and also laws under the Law of Christ.
But if you read the Gospels, you’re not going to find Jesus saying anything prohibiting tattoos. You’re not going to find anything in the Epistles, written by the apostles, forbidding tattoos. If we read a prohibition in the Old Covenant and it’s not moral in nature, we are not obligated to keep it under the New Covenant. And the prohibition against tattoos doesn’t seem to be moral in nature. It doesn’t affect our relationships with others. We’re not harming other people.
You can get a tattoo and still love your neighbor as yourself. And I will qualify that statement at the very end, so stay with me! Let’s read from the Law of Moses, Leviticus 19:28. God says, “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead.” That’s the first half. We’re going read the second half which covers tattoos shortly, but apparently, this was a practice of some pagan culture in Canaan’s land. God said, “I don’t want you doing what they’re doing,” and they were cutting their bodies when somebody died, perhaps showing their sorrow for them.
This is a practice in some tribal culture today in parts of the world where, when somebody dies, to show your sorrow, you cut yourself and then you do what you can to prevent the cut from healing so that you always have a scar as a memorial to that dead person. It’s a way of showing your sorrow and reminding you of that person. But God said to Israel, “Don’t be doing that.”
He didn’t say why they shouldn’t that, so I don’t I know. I can speculate why; perhaps it’s because we’re created in God’s image and God doesn’t think it’s right for us to be marring what looks like Him. Maybe, or maybe it was offensive to God because it was borderline idolatry, like ancestor worship, and God said, “No, I don’t want you to be focused on the dead. I want you to be focused on Me and getting ready to stand before Me one day, not thinking about people that have already died.” But again, I don’t know.
But within the context of remembering the dead, of doing something for the dead, we keep on reading here, “Nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves.” The implication is that you would be tattooing yourself to remember the dead or to show your sorrows. So you’d burn yourself or you’d do something to put some kind of an imprint or mark on you. The word tattoo is how the New American Standard translates it. That may not even be the best possible word.
Regardless, God said don’t do either of these things. So first of all, in principle, I don’t think many people today are getting tattoos to remember the dead; although, I guess back years ago guys put tattoos on the side of their arm with the word “Mother” in the middle of a big heart. But often times the mother was still alive! I don’t think that this is something we have to consider. But, nevertheless, if in fact there is some principle in this verse that makes getting a tattoo offensive to God—it’s not said—but if there is, well, that’s something to think about and something that maybe you ought to pray about. But again, we’re not under the Law of Moses and so you can rest at least in that.
As we consider whether it’s right or wrong to get a tattoo, I’d just like to present a couple of thoughts to think about on a level that’s not necessarily quoting Bible verses. I think, first of all, if have a tattoo, you can’t change that very easily now. But if you’re thinking about getting a tattoo, you might want to ask yourself the question, “How have my tastes changed over the last 10 or 20 years, and are they likely to change in the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years?” Because, what’s fashionable to you right now may not seem fashionable in a few decades! I think that it’s fairly reasonable to think that way.
If you were going to go buy a coat and the salesperson said, “If you buy this particular coat, you have to sign a contract that you’re going to wear it for the rest of your life and be buried in it,” you would want to think a little bit before you bought that coat because you might like it at the moment, but you might not like it 10, 20, or 30 years from now.
On another level, I’d ask you to think about whether or not there’s something you could do that would be a better use of your money than getting that tattoo. You could lay up treasure in heaven with that money.
And then last but not least, I think people get tattoos because they feel in some ways it makes them more attractive to other people. If you’re considering a tattoo, you might want to ask yourself within your heart, “Why am I trying to make myself attractive in this way? Does it reveal anything about me that needs to be adjusted?” You could ask that question about many things. “Why am I doing this? Why am I buying these clothes instead of those clothes?”
Why do we want people to be looking at us and liking us? This is a much bigger question that I can cover in this “Little Lesson”, but I’ve tried to give you some of the salient points to think about when it comes to tattoos. All right, thanks so much for joining me. Hope to see you in my next Little Lesson. God bless!