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What the Bible Says About Tattoos


In Leviticus 19:28, the Bible clearly says, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord” (NIV). This biblical prohibition against tattoos appears plain and simple. Yet, in our day it’s been dragged into the fog in order to accommodate current fashion. Today’s tattoo craze has many a Christian attempting to circumvent the Scripture in order to conform to the world. Let’s look at some of the present-day paths that are being paved by the pernicious around this plain scriptural prohibition.

Many wannabe tattoo-getters dismiss the Bible’s prohibition against tattoos as something inapplicable to modern-day Christianity. According to them, this prohibition is part of the Old Testament’s ceremonial law; therefore, it is no longer binding on modern-day believers. Granted, the biblical context of this prohibition does include both ceremonial and moral laws that were given to ancient Israel. However, a few things must be carefully considered before carelessly tossing this prohibition upon the dustheap of antiquated admonitions.

First, as many Bible commentators and scholars have rightly observed, most of the precepts in the biblical context of this particular prohibition are moral rather than ceremonial. Some were definitely designed to distinguish Israel from the pagan nations of the ancient world. For instance, God’s chosen people were not to don the same kind of garments nor to cut their hair in the same fashion as ancient paganism’s practitioners (Leviticus 19:19, 27). Still, most of this passage’s precepts are moral rather than ceremonial; consequently, they are still binding on the people of God today. 

Second, just because something was prohibited in the ceremonial law of the Old Testament does not mean that it is permissible in the lives of modern-day believers. Take for example the prohibitions against offering your daughter as a temple prostitute or your children as burnt offerings to “Molech” (Leviticus 19:21, 29). The fact that these prohibitions were specifically directed against Israel’s participation in the abominable, idolatrous practices of ancient pagans does not mean that child sacrifice or child prostitution is permissible today as long as they are practiced independently of idolatry. Obviously, these practices are no less deplorable in the eyes of God when practiced apart from paganism. They are just as forbidden by God in modern times as they were in ancient times. 

The particular verse that contains the specific prohibition against tattoos also contains a prohibition against the pagan practice of bloodletting for the dead—“Do not cut your bodies for the dead.” Despite the fact that the phrase “for the dead” is only referring to the cutting of one’s flesh, many argue that tattooing is permissible as long as it is not done for the dead. If this is the case, then one could use the same line of logic to argue for the permissibility of all other forms of self mutilation that are not associated with lamenting the dead. Needless to say, such an argument is dishonest, not to mention the fact that it does horrible violence to the intent of the sacred text. 

Try as they may, there is no scriptural way for today’s tattoo-clad Christians to get around the divine prohibition against tattooing. To be honest with the biblical text is to admit that the gist of the Bible’s prohibition against tattooing was to distinguish the people of God from the world. As God declared Himself in Deuteronomy 14:2, “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto Himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.” 

In clear contrast to the above, today’s Christians are being motivated to get tattooed by their desire to conform to the world. In other words, instead of being peculiar and standing out from it, they want to conform to it and fit in with it. If you doubt this, ask yourself this question: “How many Christians today would want a tattoo if it was unfashionable to have one?"


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