SHORT ANSWER: Yes and no. I personally am still working through this question, but I am leaning pretty heavily towards yes it is wrong. However, even if getting a tattoo is, in fact, not a sin, there are still much bigger issues of the heart that often come into play that are clearly addressed in Scripture.
LONG ANSWER: This is a tough question for two reasons: (1) there is not clear, agreed upon teaching against it in the Bible and (2) there are godly Christians on both sides of the debate.
The Main Bible Verses and the Weak Arguments Against Tattoos
There are two Bible verses commonly used to teach against tattoos. Let’s look at each of them, the typical arguments, and the problems with those arguments.
Leviticus 19:28 – “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.” Some will argue that this verse clearly teaches against getting tattoos. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? But if we follow this command, then do we also need to follow the commands that surround it: don’t cut your sideburns (v. 27), don’t plant two kinds of seeds in a garden (v. 19), or don't stand up in the presence of old people (v. 32). We can’t simply follow one command and ignore the others. For more about properly understanding Leviticus, check out my post What's the meaning of Leviticus and what’s its relevance for Christians today?.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” Here’s an argument I actually heard taught from the pulpit: “Since your body is a temple, which is like our church, you wouldn’t spray paint the walls of our church, would you? Likewise, you shouldn’t get tattoos.” This seems like a far stretch from the original meaning of this passage, especially since it’s written in the context of avoiding sexual sin.
Compelling Arguments For and Against Tattoos
So, if these are weak arguments against tattoos; what would be strong arguments look like? Well, here are what I would consider to be good arguments on both sides of the debate:
- FOR: The article “Bible Support for Tattoos” from the ReligiousTattoos.net web site.
- AGAINST: My own post: “A Compelling Argument Against Tattoos”
Both of these articles are thorough, well thought out, and Biblically supported. I would encourage you to read both, be open to the Holy Spirit, and decide for yourself. (Obviously, since I wrote one of them, you can tell which direction I’m leaning.)
The More Pressing Heart Issues
I’ll be the first to admit that the Bible is not 100% clear on the subject of tattoos. BUT, the decision to get a tattoo is rarely made in a vacuum. There are usually a slew of underlying motivations and emotions driving the decision. Anybody considering getting a tattoo has to take a hard look at their motives and the state of their heart in the decision. So, in addition to asking “Is it okay for a Christian to get a tattoo" (which does not have a clear answer), you need to also ask "Is it okay for me to get a tattoo?" (which often has a much clearer answer).
My experience has been that many young people wanting a tattoo are actually doing it out of wrong motives. Some people want to rebel against their parents, culture, or the “system”. But the Bible is clear that children are to obey their parents (Eph. 6:1-3) and we are all to honor our parents (Exod. 20:12). Other people seem to want to push for their “right” to get a tattoo. This can be a dangerous mindset that directly goes against God’s will for believers. Christ calls his followers to lay down their rights (“deny yourself and lose your life” in Luke 9:23-24). Paul even directly challenges this emphasis on personal rights: “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive.” (1 Cor. 10:23)
My Advice: Examine Yourself
If you are a teenager or young adult considering a tattoo, I would highly encourage you to ask yourself the questions below. They were written by a youth pastor in California in his article “Tattoo And The Bible”. They provide an opportunity for you to be honest with yourself and with God.
- Am I legally of an age to get a tattoo?
- If I live with my parents, would my parents support my decision?
- Would I be defying the authority God gave my parents over me at my current age?
- Would I still want this particular image when I get older?
- What if my future mate wouldn't like having to see this image for a lifetime?
- Would this tattoo be in an area of my body that would be plainly visible? – Many people do unfairly judge people with tattoos as being “second-class.”
- Would this image bring God glory?
- Do I feel fully convinced that tattoos are allowable for Christians?
If you can answer each of these questions in a way that honors God, loves others, gives you peace, then maybe it’s okay for you to get a tattoo. Ultimately, that decision is between you and God.