Tattoos are something that are becoming more and more popular. I see celebrities with tattoos all the time on TV and online. As I walk around Nairobi, I see them more and more on lots of different people. But just because you see others having them does that mean you should have a tattoo? One thing that we desire to help you do as a Christian is to help you learn to filter all things through the word of God and leadings from the Spirit. As a follower of Jesus Christ, you want to filter your thoughts, your culture, your thinking, your music, your dress, and really everything that you do through the word of God. The reason is that naturally, you and I are sinful (Romans 3:23, Romans 3:9-10, Ephesians 2:1-3). We will walk in the flesh without even thinking about it if we’re not careful (Galatians 5:16-17) and that is the last thing that we want to do because it separates us from the highest possible joy we could have, a relationship with God (Psalm 16:11). That is why we want to think biblically even with questions about whether or not it is ok to get a tattoo, because to not do so hinders us from what is our greatest joy.
Leviticus 19:28, What the Bible Says
As a follower of Jesus Christ, we want to glorify God in everything that we do even if it is getting a tattoo (1 Corinthians 10:31). If that is your desire, then you consider your motives for getting a tattoo with more than the thought that “I want to. It’s my body, and I can do what I want. I think it’s cute. It will remind me of the truth.” With that stated, it is wise for us to consider the counsel of God on tattoos for us to maintain our joy with a relationship with God and for us to give him glory.
The only real scripture that mentions tattoos directly in the scriptures is Leviticus 19:28 which says “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.” This scripture should give us pause on whether or not we should get a tattoo as a believer. However, you may be rightly thinking and saying “what about the context?” Well, the literary context of this scripture shows us another verse which says “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard (Leviticus 19:27).” That verse is something that we do not practice in our New Testament times and seems to give us the go-ahead to get a tattoo.
Consider the Context
However, we also need to consider the historical context of Leviticus 19:28. Why would God give this command to the Israelites? He did it because he wanted the Israelites to be distinct from the other surrounding pagan nations that were around them. Both the tattoo (Leviticus 19:28) and the cutting of the hair (Leviticus 19:27) references were God’s way of helping the Israelites learn how to be distinct from pagan practices of the Canaanites around them. God wanted the Israelites to be holy, and that means to be different from them. The Caananites would get tattoos as a way of worshipping false gods. Are you getting a tattoo to worship false gods or something demonic? If so then don’t get one but, most likely that is not why you’re thinking of getting a tattoo. If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo there is a truth that we way can apply to our lives through Leviticus 19:28 still. When considering the big picture of God desiring the Israelites to be holy and distinct from surrounding pagan nations by not getting tattoos, we should ask ourselves the question…
“Is me getting a tattoo a sign that I am compromising with the surrounding culture that does not worship the true God? Is getting a tattoo something that helps me be holy and separate from the surrounding culture and make Jesus glorified through my distinctness?”
Another good question about Leviticus 19:28 will be to ask if this law applies to us as New Testament era Christians? Romans 7:4 tells us no, Old Testament law with verses such Leviticus 19:28 do not apply to us anymore, because we are not under the law as a list of rules to make us right with God. What makes us right with God as a New Testament Christ is to be brought into a proper relationship with God through faith in Christ, and evidence of that is bearing fruit for God (Romans 7:4). The fruit of God is the new way of the Spirit (Romans 7:6) which helps us to be obedient to God and see amazing spiritual fruit. The fruit that we will bear by being free from laws such as Leviticus 19:28 is right behaviour that will separate us from a pagan culture that surrounds us. Romans 7:4 is a powerful verse to give you the freedom to have a tattoo, but it is not a verse that you just throw around to justify a rebellious, sinful spirit either. Someone who is truly free to get a tattoo will ask the question…
“Is me getting a tattoo bearing fruit for God (Romans 7:4)? Is me getting a tattoo going to hinder me in any way from bearing fruit for God (Romans 7:4)?”
Other Thoughts On Tattoos
Other Biblical truths to consider as we decide whether or not to get a tattoo is 1 Timothy 2:9-10 which says, “women 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.” Peter says something similar in 1 Peter 3:3-4 which says, “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewellery, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” Both of these scriptures are written about women and what they wear whether it is clothing, jewellery, or something specific in their hair. They are not supposed to draw attention to themselves based on what they wear, but they should draw attention to their godliness, good works, and through a gentle and quiet spirit. This, in turn, draws attention to their Lord and Saviour, Jesus.
I would argue that the biblical truth from 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:3-4 applies not just to women, but also to men when considering a tattoo. A tattoo is something that we wear, and it’s adorning can draw attention not to our godliness, good works, and gentle and quiet spirit, but to the ink under our skin. Consider this before you get a tattoo and ask yourself…
“Is this tattoo I desire an expression of godliness? Is this tattoo I desire part of a gentle and tranquil spirit that is resting in God and is content with God’s goodness to me?
Consider the design and the impact that it can have on your testimony. Consider the message, and whether it is drawing attention to these qualities above and if it is not, then you probably shouldn’t get one.
Impact on Missions
I have travelled up country to the villages of Kenya many times. One time I was with a Mzungu friend who was a Christian radio DJ and loved Jesus. He had many tattoos on his arms and legs from before he was saved. He added one on his arms that told the story of his salvation. Sadly though whenever we were up country several people, there were amazed at his confession that Jesus was Lord of his life, but many of them were talking in their tribal language and looking at his tattoos. I could tell something was up, and I asked our local hosts what they were saying, and he told me that the people thought my friend must have been a devil worshipper before he was saved with all of his tattoos. Some of them even figured that even though he confessed Christ, he must have been hiding something and was not truly born again.
This made me realize that having a tattoo is something that can hinder missions. It is something that can hinder a testimony. It can hinder the gospel being preached. Some may argue rightly that having a tattoo could help them with sharing the gospel, but there are many places in the world where that is not true. Having a visible tattoo will hinder you from going anywhere in the world and effectively preaching the gospel. That is something that you should consider if you decided to get one.
In conclusion, getting a tattoo is something that you are free to do as a Christian (1 Corinthians 6:12). However, filter your decision through a biblical framework with the questions I asked above. Consider that it is possible that not getting a tattoo may be something that you honour God with your body with (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Maybe you’re one of those that already have a tattoo that is not an expression of godliness, of a gentle and tranquil spirit that is resting in God and is content with God’s goodness (1 Timothy 2:9-10, 1 Peter 3:3-4). I would encourage you to use it as part of your testimony and share how you used to be and what now the Lord Jesus has changed you to be. Let it be a visual reminder of how you have been entirely changed by the grace of God (2 Corinthians 5:17). Also, if you’re one of those that has a tattoo that is a reflection of the ideals of 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:3-4 then use it as a testimony for the grace of God, but only show people when discernibly wise to not hinder the message of the gospel.
Personally if one of you were to come to me and ask me if you should get a tattoo, I would advise you not to do it even though I could not biblically show you that it is definitely a sin to get one. Maybe I am weird and analogue in my thinking, but that is my opinion.
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