Someone recently asked me if getting a tattoo was a sin. My initial thought was, “Absolutely, not!” But, as I reflected and sought to turn down the voice of culture and tune into the Scriptures, I found that obtaining a clear answer to that question was more difficult than I first thought it would be.
Tattooing is only explicitly mentioned in Leviticus 19:27. The context of that passage is specific to pagan worship; thus, it is the marking of the body related to pagan worship that is being forbidden.
As a result of that text, my temptation was to explain that so long as the tattoo is not in connection with pagan worship, it is okay; however, after further reflection on Christian obligation and thinking through a variety of other passages, I concluded that other considerations must be taken into account in determining whether or not a particular tattoo is sinful.
So, here are those other considerations:
- My body is not my own.
As a believer in Christ, my body is a temple of the Lord and has been purchased at a very high price (1 Cor 6:19-20). As a result, I need to ensure that what I’m doing with my body can be done in a worshipful manner that brings him honor and glory.
As a spouse, my body in part belongs to my spouse (1 Cor 7:4); thus, if I am doing something to my body with which my spouse is uncomfortable, I need to pause and reconsider.
As a neighbor, I have a responsibility to consider how my actions impact those around me. If my tattoo is going to negatively impact those around me, I need to reconsider that action.
- Rebellion is sinful.
All types of different authorities exist such as governments, military leaders, bosses, parents, etc. If the authority over me says that I cannot get a tattoo or a particular type of tattoo, then for me to get that tattoo is sinful.
- Symbols have meaning.
To walk into a tattoo studio and ignorantly pick a design off the wall simply because it is “cool” is foolish. I must be sure that the symbol I select does not unintentionally causes me to participate in or promote the worship of pagan gods. Ignorance is not an excuse.
So, are tattoos sinful? Not inherently, but they can be.
That being said, I’ve also found three questions that have helped go even further in determining whether or not I need to get a particular tattoo.
- Why do I want it?
Motives are important and can tell me a lot about whether or not I need to be pursuing a particular end.
- Will I be okay with this tattoo when I’m 75?
The older I get, the more I notice strange things happening to my body. My body is shifting and stretching in ways I will not discuss here, but the question is legitimate. Will I be okay if my cross looks like a catapult or my dolphin looks like a whale later in life?
- Will this limit or assist how God wants to use me in the future?
Even though tattoos can be removed to some degree, they are fairly permanent. I need to reflect on how this tattoo may or may not allow me to serve for the glory of God in the context in which he has placed me.