Tatoo, or not to Tatoo – That is the Question
It’s not that this is a huge topic that needs to be covered because of a particular personal issue or burning desire to speak up on the subject. But it has cropped up from time to time, and I wanted to share an extensive paper that was done on this topic by a friend of mine.
Allow me to introduce Claude Stauffer, Sr. Pastor of Calvary Chapel of Hope, in Amittyville, NY. Being a pastor in the Calvary Chapel fellowship of churches, claude and I, along with a group of as many as 300 other pastors have bentered thoughts and idea back and forth for a couple of years now. It’s always a blessing to see Claude weight in in topics, and his offering related to a recent discussion on tattoos not only mirrored ny thoughts and concerns on tatooing, but more then anything else, his heart for honoring God in all that we do, putting Him first, and seriously considering the effects of our actions on others, really made me stand up and take notice. He and I are kindred.
This little treatise may be longer than most of the posts here, but well worth the time to read it. You will be blessed. I give you, pator Claude:
The popularity of tattoos and body piercing is on the rise. There are television programs dedicated to “body art.” News media are always interested in a celebrities’ tattoos or body piercing. College and Professional athletes, fraternity and sorority members and gang members use tattoos and body piercing as signs of membership. Tattoos are popular in the contemporary music scene (both secular and Christian). What about all of this, what should the Christian do in response to the issue of tattoos and body piercing? What should our standard be for involvement in the things of the world?
The Bible says whatever a Christian does should be done to bring glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31). That should be understood in two ways. First, we should understand that what a Christian does reflects on the Lord. People formulate their opinions of God to a large extent based on the words and actions of His people. What we do can reflect poorly on the Lord (2 Samuel 12:14) or it can bring glory to God (Luke 5:26; 7:15; Acts 11:18; Galatians 1:24). Second, if what we do reflects on the Lord, then what we do should bring glory to Him. We bring glory to Him by winning others to Him and not doing anything that would hinder people from coming to Him (1 Corinthians 9:20, 21; 10:33b; Romans 14:1 – 15:2). The principle is to restrict and limit our liberties if it would hinder another in their pursuit of God (1 Corinthians 8:9-13). Our behavior as Christians should always be aimed at giving the greatest amount of glory to God. Our freedom is great in Christ, but it should never be used to cater to our flesh (self) (1 Corinthians 6:12; Galatians 5:13).
The Bible also says that all that we do should be done in the name of Jesus (Colossians 3:17). That means whatever we do should be done in a Christlike way. What we do should be done the way Jesus would do it. That means we should not act in selfishness but rather in sacrificial ways. We should always be mindful of how our behavior will affect others (Philippians 2:1-4). We should ask, “Do my words and actions bring people closer to Jesus or drive them away from Him?” We should ask, “Are my words and actions in line with the sacrificial servant character of Jesus?” (Philippians 2:5-11).
Glorifying God and doing what you do in the name of Jesus are the two primary considerations for the Christian to measure their words and actions in life. In light of these two considerations, how should we view tattooing and body piercing? Can they be done to the glory of God and in the name of Jesus? There are arguments in support of both sides of this issue. To reach a satisfactory biblical response requires we not only consider what we do, but also address why we do it. We need to consider not only end actions but also our motivational means to that end action. With God it’s never enough to say the ends justify the means. Tattooing and body piercing are things done on the surface, a style. But what is the substance behind them? Are there deeper underlying issues involved with this topic? That is what we need to discover.
There can be little doubt that historically, in the world, tattooing and body piercing are rooted in non-Christian people groups. Tattooing and body piercing is not something God ordained, it was something pagan people’s did (Isaiah 15:2; Jeremiah 16:16; 41:5). God views His people as “holy,” separate and distinct from unbelievers in the world. He therefore forbids His people from copying the practices of the pagan peoples around them. Holiness, being separate and distinct, was one of the main themes of God’s Law (Leviticus 11:44-45). Therefore, tattooing and body piercing, a worldly practice, was one of His prohibitions (Leviticus 19:28).
Leviticus 19:28 states, “”You shall make no cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD.” Some say that this verse only refers to tattoos used in pagan burial customs. Others say this only prohibits the use of tattoos of foreign gods or idols. But one article that comments on this verse states:
For clarity it’s sometimes beneficial to discover what those, to whom the passage was written, understand it to mean. From Moses to today tattoos have been unacceptable in Jewish culture as explained by Rabbi Joshua Cypess: “For many years, a tattoo was a sign of religious rebellion, of going against the Torah and denying the existence of God.” 
The book of Deuteronomy contains God’s words of instruction to His people before they were to go into the Promised Land. Those instructions emphasize over and over the principle that God’s people were not to follow or copy the ways of the worldly pagans around them (Deuteronomy 7-12). This principle does not just apply to those under the Old Covenant Law but carries over to those under the New Testament. Indulging in and loving the things of the world puts us at odds with the Lord (1 John 2:15-17).
Those who argue that it’s okay to get a tattoo argue that under the New Testament we can pretty much disregard the Old Testament Laws. But under the New Testament we do not murder, blaspheme God or commit adultery. There are principles established by God in the Old Testament Law that still apply under the New Testament. The Law was given to direct God’s people to a way of life. We aren’t saved from our sin by keeping the Law of God. We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ (Galatians 2-4). The Holy Spirit pours love out into our hearts when we are saved (Romans 5:5). And that love poured back out into life enables us to fulfill God’s Law (Romans 13:10; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
In more recent history tattooing and body piercing are closely associated with being signs of a rebellious spirit. Tattoos and body piercing have traditionally been associated with outcasts, criminals and those who break the law. It’s only recently that tattoos and body piercing have been seen in a favorable light in society. This was not the case in past generations. Today a person seeking tattoos or body piercing may deny a rebellious spirit, but society sees these things as breaking with convention and going against established mores and practices. Society is becoming more and more receptive to tattoos and body piercing. These practices are becoming more “conventional.” Is this a sign that the world is better, more “tolerant,” or is it a sign of decline?
When we look at the recent history of the world we see a steady flow of pushing the boundaries of convention further and further. Secular society is constantly seeking to shake off what they see as the shackles of morality in order to indulge their sin. All true morality originates with God and His word. Therefore we see society moving further and further away from God. In the 1920s people began moving away from their traditional Christian upbringing and began to live with greater moral laxity. There were a lot of changes in what was and was not acceptable in society. Hence the title, “The roaring twenties.” In the 1930s and 40s the world was engulfed in World War II and with it came a host of changes. People began to question their faith because of the carnage of the war. Coupled with the liberalization of the church and moving away from trust in God’s word godly influence in society waned. This eventually led to initiating the removal of God and things associated with God from the public square. A landmark event to this end was the removal of the Bible and prayer from schools (in the 50s and 60s). There was an acceptable rebellion against God that began. With less of God’s influence the decline of society’s morals sped up.
In the 1950s slicked back hair, young ladies dressing in pants rather than skirts and young men discarding their suits and ties for T-shirts and jeans were seen as signs of rebellion. In the 1960s and 70s long hair, wearing bright colored clothing and worn bell-bottom jeans were the signs of rebellion of the day. In the 1980s people just lived to exalt themselves and “dance the night away.” Thus far in contemporary history the signs of rebellion were easily reversible. When we look back these signs of rebellion seem benign and laughable. But back then this was really big stuff, a major issue of each era.
From the 1990s to the present the signs of rebellion became more extreme and permanent. People were and are rebelling against the rebels of the past (their parents). It seems today’s generation of rebels are trying to show that their rebellion is deeper and more real. It’s as though this generation of rebels is saying, “I’ll show you, and I’ll rebel in a way that is more shocking and extreme than before.” They want to show that their rebelling is not just a passing fad, but is permanent. This is where tattoos and body piercing come in.
In an effort to shock and awe society, people have begun to express themselves with “body art.” Those who see themselves as victims of society are rebelling against it by expressing their pain in painful looking body piercing. For instance people don’t just pierce their ears for a “normal” size earring but through a series of procedures stretch the skin of their ear lobes until a very large thick ring can be inserted. Stretching the skin out of shape in this way used to be associated with people who did it to dissuade slave traders from capturing them and taking them far away from their families. Now it is a style to scare away the establishment. Body piercing has gone far beyond mere earrings or nose rings and now includes belly rings, eyebrow rings, tongue piercing and a host of other multiple piercing applications. There are those who go so far as to literally hang themselves up by hooks anchored in their physical flesh. Others cut themselves in a frenzy of bloodletting. Studies have shown how tattooing, body piercing and other associated practices have an addictive aspect to them. Some of these addictive practices end in suicide. A masochistic and sadistic mindset seems to permeate the world. We see it in the proliferation of violence and sex on television and in the movies. There seems to be no end in sight for what people will do to express their rebellion against what they perceive to be the injustices and inequalities of society and indeed, God.
Where does the Christian stand with all of this? Certainly these practices of the world represent a dark philosophical development. Christians should consider these things through the scriptural warning that states, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
The Christian should be concerned with what God and His word say about tattooing and body piercing. The Christian who neglects to consider what God says in His word is already on their way to becoming a prodigal. The Christian who does not care to consider God and His word is a prodigal. The prodigal sought out his inheritance from his father and then went out into the world to spend it (Luke 15:11-32). The same occurs when Christians use the inheritance of God’s gracious liberty in Christ to go off and selfishly spend it on indulging the things of this world. Hopefully those who indulge the world will come to the same conclusions as the prodigal of the Bible and run back to their Father. You can do a simple test to see where you are at by how you respond to this article. Do you care enough to look up the scripture references included herein, or is your mind made up and you really don’t care what God’s word says? If you look up the scriptures you are on the right track. If you don’t care to look them up, you need to check to see if there is a spiritual pulse in you.
There are some revealing questions that should be addressed by those considering or seeking tattoos and or body piercing. Before you run out to your local tattoo shop or get that piercing I encourage you to consider the questions that follow before you make that decision.
- Have you prayed about this? (Psalm 44:21; Proverbs 12:23).
- Have you asked the Lord to search your heart and reveal your motives (Psalm 139:23-24)?
- Have you found scriptural support for what you want to do? (Proverbs 21:2; 24:12).
- Will it glorify God? (1 Corinthians 10:31)
- Are you trying to resort to a worldly way to accomplish a heavenly purpose? That is not the way God works. With God the ends do not justify the means. Uzzah found this out the hard way when David attempted to move the Ark of the Covenant in a way not prescribed by God (2 Samuel 6). God uses Biblical ways to accomplish His plans (Psalm 1). .
- Is your motive to get a tattoo to be like the world? Is it to gain the world’s love and acceptance? Jesus said His disciples were not of the world and that the world would hate them as it hated Him (John 15:19; 17:14-17). What’s your relationship with the world?
- Are you interpreting God’s word in a way that allows you to go beyond empathy with the world in order to indulge your desire to fit into the world? (1 Corinthians 9:19-22)
- Is your desire for a tattoo or body piercing something birthed in the world or in God‘s word? Be honest. Did you get your desire for tattoos and or body piercing from reading God’s word or looking at the world? (1 John 2:15-16).
- God looks at the heart. Why do you seek to express yourself to God by marking your body when God is satisfied to look at your heart? (Psalm 44:21; Jeremiah 17:9-10; Romans 8:26-27; 2 Corinthians 3:3; 1 Peter 3:3-4).
- Jesus said to clean the inside of the cup and that those who adorn the outside only, are nothing more than hypocritical Pharisees (Matthew 23:25-28).
- If you want a tattoo, is your heart attitude, “I want a tattoo (or to pierce my body) and I’m going to get one no matter what anyone says. I’m going to do what I want to do”? That is rebellion. Rebellion is a sin (Job 34:37; Isaiah 65:2; 63:10).
- Have you sought the counsel of those around you who are godly? (Matthew 13:15; Acts 28:27). If God wanted you to get a tattoo He would move the hearts of those in authority around you (e.g. parents) to affirm His will for you?
- Would you defy those in authority over you? Would you disobey those you say you love in order to get a tattoo or body piercing? Is your getting a tattoo a submission to authority or rebellion against it? (John 14:21).
- You may just like the way a tattoo looks but do you have the right to mark up that which does not belong to you? (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
- Where in scripture is a godly man or woman told by God to get a tattoo? Where in scripture does anyone but God (who owns us) or His particular representative mark us for anything other than a particular purpose of God? (Ezekiel 9; Revelation 14:1).
- Would you do something that would be easily misinterpreted as approving of a worldly way? Would you do something for cosmetic reasons that would cause others to stumble? (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8).
When we look at the Bible we find evidence that literally and in principle forbids marking the body (e.g. Leviticus 19:28). For those that insist we are free to do what we want under the New Testament consider this. In the Old Testament God marked His people with circumcision of the flesh. The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed. The New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. The New Testament is the best commentary on the Old Testament. In Romans 2:28-29 we are told that circumcision that is acceptable to God is not merely circumcision of our physical flesh, but a circumcision or cutting away of the fleshly nature (i.e. self-centered sinful nature) of our hearts. The new mark of God for those who are in Christ is the seal of the Spirit, which is a transformed cleansed-from-sin heart (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; John 6:27; Romans 8:9; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30; 2 Timothy 2:19). The more rudimentary and fundamental issue in all of this is, “What is the condition of your heart?”
Christian proponents of tattoos frequently refer to Revelation 19:16 which states, “And He [Jesus] has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” Their argument in support of tattoos is that this passage indicates that Jesus will have a tattoo, “written . . . on His thigh.” This may be the case but I would point out a few things to consider. There is no evidence that Jesus had a tattoo in the gospel or during His earthly ministry. The Greek preposition epi that is translated “on” in this verse cannot be definitively stated to mean indelibly marked on the skin of Jesus. There is a Greek preposition en which means “in” that the Spirit could have inspired John to use when writing this verse. This would have been a clearer statement in support of a tattoo. The use of epi leaves the door open to alternatives to a tattoo. There is no indication that any of those who return with Jesus have tattoos. Only Jesus can be said to possibly have a tattoo. If “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” is tattooed on Jesus thigh to set Him apart and mark Him particularly it does not follow that those who follow Him necessarily have license to or should even seek to be tattooed in a way that would make common that which is a holy expression on Jesus.
Finally, a wise godly man once said to me, “Everything has a price; sometimes we don’t realize how high it is.” Consider the following:
- “Here’s an interesting fact. It’s said that over 90% of the people who get a tattoo regret having done so within five years. The excitement of the moment wears off but tattoos don’t. The motto of a local tattoo parlor says it all, “Permanent proof of temporary insanity.””
- “Consider the health risks of tattooing. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, even in modern facilities, tattooing is not without risks. The two most significant ones are allergic responses to the pigments and exposure to blood-borne pathogens. The compounds used as pigments range from metal oxides to synthetic organic dyes. Cases of hypersensitivity to a pigment resulting in allergic responses have been reported but the incidence of such reactions is low. Since tattooing involves injections under the skin, poor infection control practices before, during and after the procedure by the tattooist and the consumer can lead to risk of bacterial and/or viral infection. There have been cases of hepatitis B transmission through tattooing. Transmission of hepatitis C and HIV are also possible with lack of proper sanitation – http://www.niehs.nih.gov/external/faq/tattoo.htm.”
- “Tattoos may be addictive. Once you get one, one never seems to be enough. http://www.mala.bc.ca/~soules/media112/zine99/tasha/news.htm” 
The Bible says just because something is lawful doesn’t mean we should indulge it. We should not do something that will prove addicting (1 Corinthians 6:12). We should focus on doing things which edify or build others and us up spiritually (1 Corinthians 10:23).
In light of this we should ask, “Is it really worth it?” Is getting a tattoo or having my body pierced worth risking my walk with the Lord in any way? Nothing is worth risking a single drop of closeness to the Lord. Greg Laurie once shared some questions we can ask to help us make good sound spiritual decisions. When you come to something that is questionable or really in any situation you should ask yourself five evaluative questions:
- Will it build me up spiritually? – 1 Corinthians 10:23; Hebrews 12:1-2
- Will it bring me under its power? – 1 Corinthians 6:12; Romans 6:14
- Do I have an uneasy feeling about it? – Romans 14:23
- Will it cause someone else to stumble? – Romans 14:15
- Will it bring glory to God? – 1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17, 23