Tips on Tatts


“To tatt or not to tatt,” that is the question, and one that is often asked particularly by young people. Is it wrong, meaning sinful, for a Christian to get a tattoo? The short answer is no, but in order to do justice to this issue we need to consider two basic questions.

First, why do some people say it’s a sin to tattoo your body?

This objection usually cites 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.”

While there are some who say the exact meaning of the Hebrew word for tattoo isn’t clear, I believe it would include today’s practice of tattooing. Brown, Driver, and Briggs (BDB), an authoritative Hebrew Lexicon, defines the word tattoo as “a deliberate deface or change in the skin of the body as a particular sign.” That is precisely what people are doing when they get a tattoo.

There are basically two ways to respond to this first question:

1) This was a requirement for Israel under the old covenant which no longer applies to us under the new covenant. Acts 15 records the apostle’s decision for what should be required for Gentile converts to Christianity. The bottom line, thankfully, was that we do not have to become Jews in order to be saved. If we were under the law, not only could we not get a tattoo, we could not wear two different kinds of cloth or trim the edges of our beards.

2) What was actually being forbidden here was the pagan practice of cutting or marking your body as a sign of mourning for the dead. This refers to the self-mutilation which was done to honor or appease pagan gods (see 1 Kings 18:24-29). Clearly, this is not what modern tattooing is about.

Second, how does the New Testament address this question?

Tattoos are not mentioned at all in the New Testament. Therefore, we must consider the scriptural principles of that inform our decisions and practices. At least two principles apply in the case of tattoos:

1) The Principle of Christian Liberty

In Romans, the apostle Paul thoroughly explains how we should live in Christian liberty. Weaker brothers and sisters may find fault with things more mature believers allow. For example, some 1st century Christians could eat meat sold in the market that had been sacrificed in a pagan temple. Other “weaker” believers thought it was wrong to do so.

Paul’s teaching on this focused on the person’s conscience. If you could eat such meat without violating your conscience, fine. It was not wrong. However, if eating such meat violated one’s conscience it became sin because “he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23) It’s a sin to violate your conscience. (On this point I would encourage you to carefully read Romans 14:1-15:2)

So now the question becomes, “will getting a tattoo offend a weaker brother?” I think the answer to this question depends on two things: visibility and message. Personally, I believe it could very well offend weaker Christians if the display dominates one’s appearance. It might be a problem if, when people see you, the first thing they notice is that you’re covered in tattoos. Getting a tattoo on your face, for example, would also be unnecessarily distracting.

Another thing that should be considered is the message. Some people have symbols or objects tattooed on their bodies that could be offensive to weaker Christians. Some tattoos, inked before the person became a Christian, may even be obscene. In that case, the person should be discipled to have it removed or adjusted. Paul’s personal rule for himself was one we should all follow: "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify." (1 Corinthians 10:23)

2) The Principle of Stewardship

This principle says that we do not belong to ourselves. As Christians we have been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ and belong to him. Our bodies are a stewardship held in trust to God and we are accountable to him. Therefore, we should seek to glorify God in our bodies (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). If you cannot, in good conscience, have your body tattooed to the glory of God, don’t do it.

Finally, two more things to consider on a practical level: First, is a tattoo something you should spend money on? Good tattoos are not cheap. If you are not in a solid financial state, spending money on a tattoo is poor stewardship. Second, if you are a parent, you have every right to deny a son or daughter a tattoo. You are responsible to draw lines where you believe they need to be drawn. However, be ready to give reasons for your prohibition.

“To tatt or not to tatt,” that is the question, and this may be the best answer.