Can a Christian Have Tattoos or Body Piercings?

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,

What about tattoos and all those piercings? Are they Biblical?


Dear Thanks,

Tattoos are mentioned specifically by name in Leviticus 19:28: “‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.

Some, often parents of teenagers, read this verse and say, “The Bible says that getting a tattoo is wrong.” As far as many are concerned, the issue is settled. Tattoos are expressly forbidden by the Word of God.

Before we delve more deeply into a proper Biblical interpretation of this verse, let me give you my conclusions regarding the Biblical teaching regarding tattoos.

First, some people decorate themselves with body marks which purposely magnify things that are not of God like Satan, evil, false religions, killing, neo-Nazi symbols and such. These are an affront to the Lord Jesus and have no part in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5-7). Therefore, tattoos like those mentioned above are sinful to adorn our bodies.

Second, some people decorate themselves with distinctly Christian markings like crosses, Bible verses, Holy Spirit doves and other Christian symbols. Many glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, propagate evangelism, focus on the love of Christ and so forth. I see no harm in these types of tattoos. In fact, I think God relishes the advertisement.

Finally, some people have tattoos that are clearly neutral. One friend of mine is an airplane pilot and has a small airplane tattooed on her right ankle. One of my neighbors is a Dallas Cowboys football team fanatic. If having a Cowboy tattoo on his arm brings him joy, then rejoice with him. Sports, girlfriends, wives, butterflies, hobbies, etc. all fit into the neutral category.

Now, let’s see how I reached my conclusions.

While the passage in Leviticus says, “no tattoos,” it also says in Leviticus 19:27: “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” It declares in Leviticus 19:26: “Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it.” Of course, very few of us today believe that getting a haircut or enjoying a steak cooked rare is inherently evil. In the same way, tattoos are not inherently evil. However, tattoos that glorify Satan or evil are inherently wrong.

Proper interpretation of the Old Testament recognizes that there are three distinctly different types of commands and laws—and each must be interpreted accordingly.

First, some commands are eternal truths to be followed in every circumstance. For example, “you shall not steal … covet your neighbor’s wife … or commit adultery” are eternal truths (Exodus 20).

Second, religious laws set out the religion of the nation of Israel in the years before Christ. For example, observing the Sabbath (Leviticus 19:30) and circumcision are religious laws that Christians no longer follow for the simple fact that we are no longer following the Jewish religion. Tattoos, rare steaks, selling dogs, and haircuts fall all into the religious category.

Finally, governmental laws sustained the political organization and functioning of the nation. For example, God provided for a king to organize the government and placed laws and limits on his behavior (Deuteronomy 16:14-17). Cities of refuge were provided which helped in dealing with the issue of homicides (Numbers 35). All debts were canceled every seven years (Deuteronomy 15:1). Of course, we are not bound by any of the governmental laws of Israel because we are not governed by the Old Testament nation of Israel.

As Christians we observe the eternal truths; however, we have no reason to follow the religious laws nor the governmental laws of ancient Israel. They no longer apply to us. Paul confirmed this view in Galatians 4:10-11 as he dealt with new-born Christians who were struggling to give up their Old Testament religion and find freedom in Christ: “You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” Again, Paul reconfirmed our freedom in Galatians 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

As a result of the above, I believe that there are three categories of tattoos as I mentioned at the beginning of my answer.

By the way, in practicality,I think that the biggest concern regarding tattoos has to do with longevity. Once a tattoo is in place, it tends to be there for a very long time. What seemed so good at twenty-two may not at all seem good at thirty-four—or twenty-eight. Peer groups, interests, girlfriends and people change over time.” While commitment to Christ may well be a lifetime fulfillment, wanting a clean ankle may one day take precedence over the outline of an airplane. My friend would do anything to remove her ankle tattoo; but, she can’t afford the laser treatment.

I have a vivid memory of a golfing acquaintance I met on the first tee one day on the golf course. He had an enormous tattoo on his left forearm. Now, many years after application, it was so smeared and indistinct that I could not discern what it was. After lplaying the twelfth hole I asked, “Your tattoo looks like something you might get in the marines. Were you in the marines?”

“No, I got this when I was fifteen years old. It was the biggest mistake of my life.”

“Really! Why?”

“My friends and I were at the fair and on the spur of the moment, I decided to get a tattoo. When I got home that night my dad threw me out of the house. It was the greatest mistake of my life,” he repeated.

Well, Thanks, I hope my answer throws some insight into your question regarding tattoos. Should you decide to get one, feel free to sent me a picture. Stay in the neutral and Christian realm and you should look just fine.

Love, Roger

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