Is It a Sin to Get a Tattoo? What the Bible Says & What They May Say About Your Faith


Is it sin to get a tattoo? This is a loaded question and the Internet is filled with bad answers.  Most of the answers I’ve read on the subject either toss out a few Bible verses without any context or express mere opinions that have no root in Scripture at all.

But is it sin to get a tattoo?  Well, why do you want one? What’s your motivation for getting a tattoo? Do you want one because you think it will enhance your looks? Do you want a tattoo because people will talk about it and you? Do want one because you think it brings out a particular feature in your personality?  Does it help you better express yourself without you having to brag?  And most importantly: Do you think it’s a sin to get a tattoo?

Answering yes to any of these questions should put to rest the question. Scripture informs us that our daily lives need to be focused on changing our heart and soul through our love for Jesus, and not obsessing about our appearances. Pride is pervasive in our world.  It takes all sorts of forms and worms into our hearts through a million ways.  It comes in by self-righteousness, ambition and even the seemingly trivial desire to get a tattoo.

We can talk all day about whether Leviticus 19:28 was rendered obsolete by the death of Christ and through Christian freedom. It was, but that doesn’t answer the question. We need to remember that the Law was replaced by the One who embodied the Law and he nailed it to the tree to free us from its demands that leads to eternal death and hell.  Jesus was the Law in Flesh and access to him comes only through faith in him.  And when it comes to faith, we don’t find it by puffing ourselves up. This is why the Scriptures urge us to consider that “everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). When Paul wrote these wonderful words, he did so contending with the ultimate questions of that day that surrounded the controversies about whether or not men should be circumcised and whether or not eating certain foods were sinful. His ultimate answer:  everything that doesn’t come from faith in sin, including tattoos if your motivation to get one is to overhaul your identity.  Our motivations matter in every decision we make.

So if getting a tattoo is done for reasons of self-esteem or to blend in with the world, you sin and you shouldn’t get a tattoo. And remember that faith is also loving Jesus enough that you obey his command to love your fellow brothers and sisters, and looking out for the interest of others.  If getting a tattoo is going to cause your brother or sister in the Lord to stumble and lose sight of Jesus (and these brothers and sisters also include mom and dad if they are believers) then you shouldn’t get a tattoo.

So is it a sin to get a tattoo?

I don’t find tattoos all that desirable, but I also don’t find them innately offensive. I have a friend who lives in Japan who has kanji characters tattooed down his spine. I cringe every time I think of how close the needle was to his spinal column and extra pain he endured given his tattoo was applied to such a sensitive part of his body.  But I don’t condemn my friend for his tattoo – I find it irrelevant for the most part.

What I do find offensive about tattoos are what they are symbolic of in the world. Tattoos are status symbols.  They’re also symbols for rebellion, false bravado and even death. Most people who want them want to be accepted by friends or family and to be thought of as tough or brave or independent or self-sufficient. People get them because they want to express themselves and change their identities, but very rarely do people get tattoos as means to infiltrate some people group to share the Gospel.  With a Gospel that urges us to become as dependent little children, I’m hard pressed to see their benefit for the Kingdom of God.  After all, how many tattoos of a crucified or risen Christ do you see out on the street?  Yes, we have freedom in Christ, but how does your tattoo further the cause of Christ’s Gospel in a lost world? Who gets the glory? How is Christ honored? And will the world see your joy for Jesus when they look at your tattoo? Or will they just see another narcissistic expression illustrating your self-love?

Just something to think about before the ink and needle.

9 Comments

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  1. 1
    Stan Butler

    I had a tat removed years ago. I’ve always been glad I did.
    I’ve been following and enjoying your blog for a while now and would like to invite you to visit and perhaps follow me back. Sorry I took so long for the invitation.

  2. 2
    Mark

    You don’t condemn your friend for getting a tattoo; does this say more about him or you, I wonder?

    And how frail is a persons’ faith in Christ that another human being *getting a tattoo* could cause them to lose sight of him? I mean, how small is he in that frail “believer’s” heart that some ink pushed beneath the skin of a human could make him fall from their vision?

    Here’s a spin on the theme; does loving your brothers and sisters stretch to not judging them, choosing *not* to be stumbled by them (and their tattoos) and giving them the grace to let them live their lives without coming under the scornful arch of our self-righteous eyebrow? Do you see the point; judgmentalism and frail consciences can be a stumbling block too. Perhaps that’s what Paul was getting at.

    Is this topic in any way related to our believing we have to *prove something* to Jesus? If so, wouldn’t *that* be a sin?

    If *not obsessing* about our appearance is important, would that include deciding not to obsess about getting – or even having – a tattoo? If our appearance isn’t important why would augmenting it with a tattoo matter? What if a Christian wanted a tattoo to symbolise a very personal event or date and the ink wouldn’t be visible to anyone? Side point – do I need to wear certain clothes to be acceptable to God, such as a suit and tie?

    And in terms of transforming my mind, do I do this on my own? Is it a mental exercise that uses the Bible as a treadmill or dumb bells? Or do I instead continually invite – and submit to – the Holy Spirit, putting my pride and my efforts aside and letting the Potter get his hands on my heart and mind and make me something worthy of his praise and glory?

    Related to that, which Bible did Paul and John and Timothy, for example, study in order to transform their minds?

    How many other things that are “symbolic of the world” do you find offensive? iPads? Skinny fit jeans? A Toyota Prius? After all, each is symbolic of the world and is systemic of the world. Oh, and they’re also status symbols. Does owning them – or wanting to own them – mean a person is a sinner? And does a Calvinist’s ire stretch to such things?

    …so many questions.

  3. 3
    Brad

    “You don’t condemn your friend for getting a tattoo; does this say more about him or you, I wonder?”

    Why does my statement have to say anything about either my friend or I? Why couldn’t it say more about both of us – in the context of the human heart’s knee-jerk propensity to judge external appearances first, then worry about the heart later, if at all? And this would be true whether I would automatically think someone is hopeless sinner should they have a tattoo or they think I’m a self-righteous prude for not having one. That we should worry about the heart first and always, was pretty much the thrust of my whole post Mark, so I’ll let that answer the avalanche of questions that follows the above quote. Peace.

    Brad

  4. 4
    eB

    Brad – I enjoyed reading your thoughts. This is something I struggle with because I want to patently say that tattoos are fine for Christians, because I personally like that look – yet something (or some One!) gives me pause. I think that the backlash over conservative Christian beliefs and past legalism ought not to make us automatically through the baby out with the bathwater in this matter. The past reasons for separation from worldly values and practices can sometimes be a good schoolmaster, which is what Paul said about the law. I know we all might interpret things somewhat differently regarding modesty, vanity and such – but as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, should we not be very serious about such matters? Well, I think so. There are many things about my schoolmaster that I don’t particularly like or agree with, but I learned the basics and things that were good for me that I only came to know or appreciate in retrospect. Your post was thoughtful, and I absolutely think it’s good to evaluate our true motives in such matters.

  5. 6
    Glenn

    I enjoy your articles, as I am always looking for others thoughts and opinions. I am heavily tattooed and I love Jesus Christ with all my heart and soul. I will continue to get tattoos because I like them. I am also a tattoo artist and I tattoo many people on a regular basis. I will tattoo anything the customer wants as long as it is not blasphemous and I will tell them flat out, “NO”. I suppose we could debate some of your questions as to wether it’s a sin to get tattooed but the bottom line is this….. Jesus knows your intent and that is all that matters. I really don’t see the difference between getting a tattoo and getting your hair permed or getting your eyebrows trimmed, etc…… if it’s because you want to be vain.
    When Jesus returns he will have written on his thigh, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” Tattoo? a mark nonetheless.
    Peace to you,
    Glenn

  6. 8
    bev reed

    We had a lesson on Romans 14 just recently. Instead of tattoos, we used the wearing of a bikini.
    Can you wear a bikini to/for the glory of God? Can you wear a bikini and not cause your fellow
    Christian to stumble? If so, go for it. As you said – check your motivation.

  7. 9
    Dawn

    I’ve thought of getting a tattoo for some years now. The only (very small) tattoo I would ever get is either a small cross, or “Jesus loves me”, or “faith hope love”

    It’s really just a personal thing, an expression and mark of how I feel and the new creation I have become since following Him. And hmm sure, like you mentioned, maybe it’ll be a talking point about the gospel when meeting non-believers? Yay if so. Boo if it means I’ve sinned.

    On another related note — Should I not put on make up because the motive is vanity and it might cause Christian brothers to stumble if I look too pretty? Should I not wear a nice dress because it’s narcissistic to dress up and might stir envy in women or lust in men? Should I not dine at a michelin star restaurant because I’m indulging in myself, people might look at me and think I’m craving social status to be seen there? I think there’s sin everywhere in this fallen world and easily found in everything that we do if you nitpick.

    In the end motives are a very grey area that only God can truly decipher to His standards. I believe the Spirit within us will prompt us. Pray and if God gives you peace with what you’re doing you should be fine. I think?

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