What does the Bible Say
About Tattoos and Piercings?

Is it wrong to have a tattoo?  What does God think about that image of a horse on your ankle or the sleeve on your arm?  Are tattoos even mentioned in the Bible?  If you study piercings, what does the Bible say about them?  Are they a sin?  

There was a brother in Christ who had come and began worshipping with us years ago.  I noticed that he would always wear long sleeve shirts.  It turned out that he had a tattoo sleeve of a tribal design.  It was actually a beautiful and intricate design.  After having a discussion with him and showing him some Bible passages, he no longer felt self-conscience about showing off his artwork.  

If you have a tattoo or are thinking about getting inked, you need to know there is nothing morally or spiritually wrong with it – with a few exceptions.  If you are thinking about piercing your nose, eyebrow, or putting that stud in your tongue (ouch!), you need to know that it will not jeopardize your soul.  

Getting a tattoo used to mean that you were a biker, gang member, in prison, or in the military.  When I was growing up, those who had tattoos were not known for being good people.  I was told that employers did not want to hire someone who had tattoos or piercings.     

Today, they are much more common.  It seems that everyone and their mother are getting inked.  – Some tattoos are designed to reflect the different interests of the wearer.  Do you like horses?  There is a tat for that.  Do you enjoy “Hello Kitty?”  There’s a tat for that.  What is your favorite sports team?  Yes, there is a tat for whatever team you want to display.

Some tattoos are designed to be a form of art.  There are some beautiful and intricate patterns that are displayed like a sleeve on their arms.

Some tattoos are designed to display love and devotion such as the name of your spouse, children or other loved ones.  I have a friend who has tattooed the footprints of her three babies on her arm.   


What does the Bible say about all of this?


Tattoos and Piercings in the Old Testament

The word “tattoo” is only found one time in all the Bible.  In Leviticus 19.28, Moses writes these words...

Leviticus 19.28:  “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD.”

Combine this verse with previous verse, and there are four things that are forbidden in the Old Testament reference to your body.

  1. Leviticus 19.27:  “You shall not shave around the sides of your head.”
  2. Leviticus 19.27:  “Nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard.”
  3. Leviticus 19.28:  “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead.”
  4. Leviticus 19.28:  “Nor tattoo any marks on you.”

If this verse is to be used to condemn tattoos, then we would also have to condemn those who get certain kinds of haircuts and shave their beards in specific ways.  

What is this verse telling us?  There are three observations to keep in mind.


1.  These Law Were Given to Combat Idol Worship

The children of Israel had left Egypt after having been slaves for four hundred years.  As a result, they had adopted many of the customs and traditions of Egypt.  Among them was the worship of the Egyptian gods.  

After leaving Egypt, God led the children of Israel to the land of Canaan and gave them that land.  With the land, God also gave them a warning.


Deuteronomy 12:30,31:  “take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’  You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods."

The children of Israel were warned that when they come into the land that God was giving them, they were not to behave like the people who lived in the land before them.  Specifically, they were not to practice idolatry.  These other people would cut themselves for the dead and tattoo their bodies in honor of their false gods.

When we read this passage in Leviticus 19.28 that forbids tattoos, this was to prevent the children of Israel from imitating the other nations by tattooing their bodies in idol worship.  Israel was told, “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way.”  


2.  This was a Law Given Specifically to the Nation of Israel.

If we place this into its context, it takes us back to verse 1.

Leviticus 19.1:  "And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.’”

This chapter begins with God directing Moses to deliver a series of commands to Israel.  The nation of Israel was to be holy as God is holy.  He then gives a series of commands that tells Israel how to be holy.  Among those commands are to not get pierced or tattooed.  

When you come to the New Testament, such laws are no longer in effect.  Just as God does not expect us to build an ark as He commanded Noah, so God does not bind us to the laws that were directed specifically to the Jewish nation.  

Are there Bible verses which support this concept?  Indeed there are.


Ephesians 2:14,15:  “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace”

During Old Testament times, the Law of Moses given to the nation of Israel distinguished them from the rest of the world.  Thus the Law of Moses was a “middle wall of separation.”  It separated the Jews from everyone else.

When Christ came, He brought an end to the Law of Moses and instituted a Law to be applied to everyone  (Heb. 8.7,13).  

Guess what is not forbidden in the Law of Christ?  There is no law in the New Testament that prohibits tattoos.  

In the Bible, tattoos were only a sin and forbidden under the Law of Moses.  The Jews who lived under that law were not to get tattoos or piercings.  Such a prohibition is not found in the new Law of Christ contained in the New Testament.  

So be confident in that unicorn tattoo on your ankle.  You can feel good about that stud in your nose.  You don't have to fear eternal punishment because you tattooed that skull and crossbones on your shoulder.


3.  God had a Tattoo.

You may be surprised to learn that God had a tattoo.  If tattoos and piercings were sinful, would God have one?  

Through the prophet Isaiah, God said…

Isaiah 49.16:  “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.”


In context, God is promising the coming of His Son to save Israel  (Isa. 49.1-3).  However, only saving Israel “is too small a thing.”  So God promises that Christ would be “a light to the Gentiles that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth”  (Isa. 49.6).  Salvation through Christ would not just be for Israel.  It would be for everyone.

Because of His deliverance, He would set prisoners free  (v. 9), provide for His people  (vs. 10,11), and cause great singing and rejoicing  (v. 12,13).

There would be some who wonder if this salvation would ever come.  In fact, they might believe that “the LORD has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me”  (v. 14).  To them God assures, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands”  (v. 16).  

It is a statement meant to offer great comfort to a people who felt down and out.  Their name has been tattooed on the palm of God’s hand ensuring that they are always in His thoughts and under His care.  

Have you ever tattooed the name of someone you love on your hand, shoulder, or other part of your body?  This is what God has done to have the name of His people always before Him.

How comforting it is to know that God will never forget His people.  We are promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you”  (Heb. 13.5).  Will there be times when we are down and out?  Absolutely!  Will there be times when we feel alone?  Yes!  However, no matter how bad things get in our lives we know that God remembers us having our names tattooed on the palms of His hands.  


What about 1 Corinthians 6:19?

I can hear some of you yelling at your screen, "What about 1 Corinthians 6:19?  Doesn't this verse condemn tattoos and piercings?  Are we not supposed to defile the body, because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit?"

Let's take a look at this verse in context, and see what we are being told.

1 Corinthians 6.19:  “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?”

Does this passage forbid tattoos and piercings?

If you put this verse back into the context, you will find that the Holy Spirit is referring to something very specific.

  • 1 Corinthians 6.13:  “The body is not meant for sexual immorality”
  • 1 Corinthians 6.18:  “flee sexual immorality”
  • 1 Corinthians 6.18:  “The sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”

This is a passage that is addressing sexual immorality.  If you use your body to satisfy sexual appetites outside the boundaries of marriage  (Heb. 13.4), then you are defiling the temple of the Holy Spirit.  

If this verse was actually forbidding tattoos and piercings on the basis that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, then this would also forbid many other things, such as…

  • You cannot smoke.  (Smoking may be a nasty habit, but it is not a sin.)
  • You cannot eat unhealthy food.  Say goodbye to donuts and potato chips.
  • You cannot drink unhealthy beverages.  That means that soda would be a sin.
  • You would be required to exercise.  If the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, not taking care of the body with regular exercise would be sin.

Yet none of these things are sinful and forbidden in the Bible. 

1 Corinthians 6.19 does not prohibit anything that you do to the body that is unhealthy -- that includes getting a tattoo or piercing.  It prohibits using the body for sexual immorality.  

Your body is not to be used for sexual immorality.  It is to be used to glorify God.  (1 Cor. 6.20).  


When is a Tattoo or Piercing Sinful?

Is it possible that getting a tattoo or piercing can still be considered sinful?  Here are two things to consider.


1.  How does your tattoo or piercing affect your image?

You cannot control how people see you, but you can encourage others to see you as a godly person or as an ungodly person by the way you present yourself.  

The Holy Spirit directed the apostle Paul to write that women…

1 Timothy 2.9,10:  “should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works”


In another letter, we are told that our example will effect how people see us.

Philippians 2.15:  "that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

Our image is important.  It affects our influence.  It will impact how those around us see God.  So we are told to present ourselves to those around us in a way that is respectful.  How we appear to others is to send a message that we are godly.  

A tattoo is not sinful in and of itself.  But it can become sinful if it conveys a message of immorality.  Where is the tattoo located?  Is it in a place designed to draw people’s attention to certain body parts?  Is it a “tramp stamp?”  


2.  What is the image itself?

I have seen some images that should not be displayed in public. 

We are told in scripture that our language is to be clean.


Ephesians 5:3,4:   “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”

We are not to tell dirty jokes.  We are not to use profanity.  We are not to talk in a way that is dirty and crude.  This would apply both in what comes out of our mouths as well as what we write.  

Any image that is of a sexual nature, or conveys any kind of sinful action would be sin.  


When you study the Bible, tattoos and piercing were only forbidden by God in reference to the nation of Israel in Old Testament times.  Today, under the Law of Christ, no such prohibition exists. 

However, each of us must ask ourselves:  What does that tattoo or piercing say about me?  How does it affect how others view me or view God?  If you feel confident that your image will not be hurt because of the nature or location of your tattoos, then be confident that God does not condemn you for having them.


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