God Wants More For You. So Do We.

Is It a Sin for Christians to Get Tattoos?

Ask Pastor Alex, Ep. 34

This is the Ask Pastor Alex podcast with your host, Pastor Alex.
All right, welcome back to the podcast, everyone.
We’re here with another episode and another question.
And the question for this episode is, is it a sin for Christians to get tattoos?
That’s a good question.
And at the start of this episode, I feel the need to preface this response by letting everyone
know who’s never met me or seen me, that I do in fact have quite a few tattoos.
I have a half sleeve on my left arm.
I have a big tattoo on the inside of my right bicep and I have a small tattoo on my wrist.
But before you assume you know my position on tattoos, I would encourage you to keep
You see, tattoos are incredibly popular today.
And when you have a popular topic, a popular issue, you also have very passionate opinions.
When it comes to the issue of tattoos, I have found that people are quick to pick a side.
People are either all in in favor of tattoos or people are all opposed to tattoos.
They condemn tattoos completely.
But I often wonder how many of those people have taken the time to consider the issue
thoroughly and biblically.
And that is just to say that I know that many younger, especially younger Christians today
are interested in getting tattoos and they might have an idea that since other Christians
have tattoos, that it’s entirely okay.
It’s appropriate.
And they don’t even give it any thought besides, I see other Christians with tattoos, therefore
it must be okay.
Very few take the time to actually consider what the Bible has to say about it or think
through the issue thoroughly.
And in that same regard, those on the other side who are opposed to tattoos, I don’t know
that they have thought through what the Bible actually says or does not say about tattoos.
They can maybe quote a verse from the Old Testament, but very few of them have actually
done the historical research and looked at the historical context to understand what
that verse even means.
And so my encouragement for everybody is when it comes to any issue, we need to take the
time to slow down and look at what the Bible has to say about a particular issue.
So I did preface this episode by saying that I do have a lot of tattoos, but just to show
my hand at the very beginning of the episode, I personally believe Christians should not
get tattoos.
And again, this is coming from someone who not only has a lot of tattoos, but I got all
of my tattoos after the Lord saved me.
I’m not willing to call tattoos sinful, but this issue is what I would classify as a wisdom
Meaning I believe different Christians can come to different conclusions on this particular
So let’s dive in and see what the Bible actually has to say about tattoos.
And if you’re going to have this discussion, inevitably, and actually pretty quickly, you’re
going to encounter the book of Leviticus.
One reason that many people explicitly condemn tattoos and believe that they are sinful is
because of Leviticus 19.28.
Leviticus 19.28 says this, you shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo
I am the Lord.
Now, admittedly, at first glance, that would seem to be pretty clear.
We should not cut ourselves as an act of mourning for the dead or some sort of ritualistic activity,
but we also should not tattoo ourselves.
It is seemingly explicitly condemned here.
But is it so clear?
That’s the question we need to consider.
We don’t just need to read a verse.
We need to seek to understand a verse.
Why did the Lord inspire this?
Why did the Lord preserve this text?
What was the purpose in the first place?
Why did the Lord even give this command in the first place?
Well, first of all, remember that this is coming from the law section of the Bible,
which God gave to the Israelites to teach them how they were to live as His people in
the promised land.
One of the main purposes of the law was to provide guidelines for Israel to be distinct
from the surrounding nations.
That is, they were to be different from the other nations and not do what they do.
So, that’s the first thing that we need to keep in mind when we’re reading this passage.
But the second thing is we need to focus on that word tattoo.
The word tattoo in our English translations is actually a translation of two words in
Hebrew, titnu ka’aka, which literally means give marks, give marks.
So we translate that in English or at least some versions of the Bible have translated
that as a verb, to tattoo, when in reality it is two words in the Hebrew, which literally
mean give marks.
And the word that we need to focus on is ka’aka, marks.
Many of the Middle Eastern and Near Eastern cultures during that time would mark their
bodies using hot irons or brand themselves or have themselves branded.
This was sometimes part of pagan worship rituals.
Sometimes it was an act meant to honor the dead.
And almost always slaves were branded with the names of their master so that everyone
knew who they belonged to, much like we do with sheep and cattle and things like that
Furthermore, many people also received a brand with the name of the god they worshiped on
their bodies.
This does not align with the practice of modern day tattooing at all.
When we think of tattooing today, what the Bible is speaking of here in terms of giving
marks is not equivalent to what we understand modern tattooing today to be.
It’s much more akin to modern day branding, but the reasons for the brands back then and
today they are much different.
See the word used here for marks, or again as your translation might say, tattoos, it
was even often used to describe painting on the body.
So you would have to ask the question, well what about when churches do these festivals
and they do face painting and things like that?
Is that a sin?
Because this very word for marks or tattoos was used to describe painting on the body.
Now again, I don’t think that it is a sin.
I’m not condemning face painting.
I’m just saying if we’re going to be literalistic and focus on what the Bible is actually saying
here, this word does often refer to painting on the body.
People would often paint their bodies for various reasons, but many of them had to do
with pagan worship practices or as a way to entreat favor from their gods.
So for instance, women would oftentimes paint their breasts and other areas as a fertility
practice to entreat the gods to bless them with fertility.
So when you look at what is actually being said here in the Hebrew in terms of giving
marks, none of these practices correspond to modern tattoo practices, at least not necessarily
and at least not in Western culture.
I mean, I think a lot of these practices that the Bible is talking about here are still
practiced in many Eastern cultures, but in Western culture, it does not align with modern
day tattooing.
So in opposition to all of these pagan idolatrous practices, the Lord forbids Israel from engaging
in those practices in order that they might be distinct from the surrounding nations.
Therefore, when we read this as Christians today, we need to understand that the principle
for Christians is the same today, that we are to be distinct from the unbelieving world
and not engaging in pagan idolatrous practices.
But the application of that principle is most likely different.
And so we would often ask the question, as we have in a previous episode, well, how can
I be distinct from the unbelieving world, those who are not believers?
What would that look like for me today?
What would the application for me look like today to not be like the rest of the world
and do the things that the rest of the world is doing?
So the principle is the same, but the application is most likely different.
So the Leviticus passage isn’t necessarily the death nail to tattoos that many think
it to be.
In fact, I would say that it doesn’t correspond to modern day tattooing at all.
However, here’s a caveat, before we go on thinking that we should all just get tatted
up, we need to remember the high view of the body that the Bible gives us.
So for instance, we read in 1 Corinthians chapter 6, verses 19 through 20, or do you
not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from
You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.
So glorify God in your body.
Now those verses tell us that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and that temple
is to be honored.
Now some push back here and they’ll say, well, my tattoos are the decorations for my temple,
just as Israel’s temple was decorated.
And listen to me, I get that.
However, the problem is God was the one who told the Israelites how to decorate the temple.
He gave them very specific instructions for what the temple was to look like and how they
were to furnish it and decorate it.
God hasn’t given us any instructions at all for decorating the temple that is our body.
In fact, His silence might be a strong indication that they are not to be decorated at all.
The other important point these verses teach us is that our bodies are not our own.
I hope you hear that and I hope you can hear the emphasis on that and understand the many,
many implications that comes with that phrase.
Our bodies are not our own.
As Christians, we are not our own.
Our bodies do not belong to us.
The Bible says that we were bought with a price.
And some people might push back and say, well, that’s just talking about our souls, how our
souls have been purchased in salvation.
And it is true that our souls were purchased by the blood of Christ.
He bought us.
But the verse says nothing about souls, does it?
It talks about bodies.
If Jesus just bought our souls, we would float around heaven as disembodied spirits for all
of eternity.
But as it is, He bought all of us, body and soul.
And that means that we have hope for a future resurrection, that we won’t be these disembodied
spirits, but that we will receive the resurrection body, these renewed, glorified bodies, and
we will dwell physically with the Lord forever.
So everything we are belongs to Jesus because He bought us, He purchased us.
We don’t get to do whatever we want with our bodies because they are not ours.
Another incredibly important passage for this topic is 1 Corinthians 3, 16 through 17.
This is what we read.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.
For God’s temple is holy and you are that temple.
Now there’s some overlap between these passages.
These verses here repeat a lot of what the previous verses taught us, but something new
is added here.
These verses tell us that we are not to destroy God’s temple, which is our bodies.
And here’s what’s interesting.
That word destroy is incredibly interesting, especially within the context of the temple.
The word destroy here means to damage or cause harm.
The Jews at the time believed that the temple was destroyed when anyone, even in the slightest
degree, damaged it or anything in it.
Well what is tattooing but damaging the body?
You sit there while someone uses a machine to poke thousands upon thousands of holes
into your body to the point where you bleed.
If you have tattoos, as I do, you know they hurt and they hurt bad.
You have to endure hours of pain and it is damaging and destroying the body.
It is causing intentional harm to the body.
And according to these verses, Christians are not to intentionally damage the body because
it is the temple of God.
So while the Bible might not explicitly condemn getting tattoos, as many people think it does
in Leviticus, the Bible does make it clear that our bodies and what we do with our bodies
matters to God.
Our bodies belong to God and we are not to intentionally, unnecessarily damage or harm
our bodies.
Now there are many rebuttals at this point as well, and what I want to do now is address
some of these common responses and rebuttals.
For instance, many people will say, but all my tattoos are Christian tattoos.
They’re meant to glorify God.
And what I would say is, hey, praise God for that.
All of mine are biblical in nature too.
What I would say to that though is the Bible specifically says to glorify God in your bodies,
which was your aim, so good job there, but it says right after that not to damage your
So there was probably a better, more honoring and obedient way to glorify God with your
body than getting a tattoo.
Others will say, well, not only are all of mine Christian tattoos, but I specifically
got them to be a witnessing tool.
And, hey, once again, praise God for that.
That is one of the main reasons I got my tattoos, so that people would see my tattoos and they
would ask me about them and what they mean and I would be able to witness to them.
However, here’s what I would ask you.
Are there other ways to witness to others or initiate gospel conversations with others
that do not involve intentionally damaging the body?
Because if so, I think we should stick to those.
Another common response is one that we’ve already covered, which is my body is my temple
and I’m just decorating my temple.
And remember we said that God was the one who told the Israelites how to decorate the
temple and He has given us no such instructions concerning our bodies.
In fact, it’s really interesting.
The Bible tends to warn us against being overly adorned.
The Bible says in 1 Peter 3, 3, do not let your adorning be external.
Now, in the context, He was talking about women’s outward appearances, but the principle
itself still stands, that we should not let our adorning be outward.
So if you are a Christian considering getting a tattoo or wanting a tattoo, here are some
questions for you to consider before Him.
Why are you getting it?
Are you getting it because you just want to?
Are you getting it because you think it looks cool or they will make you look cool by having
And I would ask you, are those good reasons?
Shouldn’t your aim not be centered on vanity and further adorning your outward appearance
but seeking to glorify God?
And if your aim is to glorify God, my question to you then is, well, are there other more
biblical ways that you can do that?
Another thing to consider is that tattoos are ridiculously expensive.
I’ve spent a decade since I got my last tattoo, but back then, I believe it was about $60
just to open the package that the needle came in.
The way inflation has gone and with the economy, I can only imagine it’s much more than that
Many tattoo artists charge by the hour or they’ll give you a lump sum fee.
Tattoos are ridiculously expensive.
So my question to you is, will getting a tattoo be the best use of your finances?
Do you have debts that you should maybe address first and pay off first before spending that
amount of money on something like a tattoo?
Another question to consider is, well, what about your spouse?
If you’re married or even if you’re engaged, have you talked with your spouse about wanting
a tattoo, about getting a tattoo?
How do they feel about it?
Another question that I would ask you is, how are you going to reconcile the damage
a tattoo will do to your body with the Bible’s command to not intentionally damage or harm
the body unnecessarily?
Are you okay with disobeying the Lord’s word there?
Are you going to prioritize your desire or the Lord’s command?
Because what I’ve encountered very often is a lot of younger Christians who just want
to get a tattoo and they’ve never thought about this.
They’ve never considered what the Bible has to say.
And when I begin to ask them these questions, they say, well, I’m still going to do it anyways.
And I said, well, okay, that’s fine.
You can make your own decision.
But at the end of the day, how are you going to reconcile your decision to do what you
want to do because you like the way they look with the Lord’s explicit command not to intentionally
harm or damage the body unnecessarily?
It seems at that point like we’re okay with disobeying God as long as we get what we want.
And that is a bad place to be.
My final question would be, have you really even thought about this at all?
Have you taken these issues into consideration?
Have you prayed about this?
Have you sought the Lord’s wisdom in this?
Have you examined the various biblical passages about tattoos in the body and how God wants
us to honor the body and care for the body?
Have you even considered this in depth at all?
If not, I would encourage you to take the time to think long and hard about all these
issues and pray and seek the Lord’s wisdom.
Each Christian must examine the biblical evidence for themselves and wrestle with the implications
of all that we’ve covered here.
They need to think long and hard before getting a tattoo just because they want one or because
they think it looks cool.
They need to pray and seek the Lord’s guidance.
And they need wisdom.
And again, I want you to understand as you’re listening this, I don’t want you to think,
oh, well, he’s a bigot this or that.
This is coming from a guy who has a lot of tattoos and was very passionate about tattoos
and was planning on getting a full sleeve of tattoos until I was confronted with the
reality of what the Bible says about the body and how we aren’t to intentionally harm or
damage the body unnecessarily.
And the Lord convicted me right then and there.
And I had no way of reconciling my desire to get a tattoo with the reality that we aren’t
to intentionally and unnecessarily harm the body.
So while I can’t say that the Bible specifically condemns tattoos specifically as sinful, I
do think the issue is much more complex than most people are willing to admit.
Given the explicit prohibition against intentionally causing harm to and damaging the body unnecessarily,
it would be unwise and disobedient to do something that would cause intentional, unnecessary
harm to the body like getting a tattoo.
So again, I can’t say 100% that a tattoo itself is sinful, but I do think that it is disobedient
to intentionally and unnecessarily cause harm and damage the body because our bodies are
the temple of the living God and we are called to honor our bodies and glorify God in our
So I hope that answer is somewhat helpful.
At the end of the day, like I said, it is a wisdom issue that requires much prayer and
much guidance from the Lord, but I do appreciate the question and I look forward to answering
more in the future.