Are Tattoos Sinful?

Tattoos have become so common in American culture that most people probably do not even recognize the fact they exist. According to a Statista Survey conducted in 2017, 40% of Americans adults have a tattoo — and while it is common there seems to still be a taboo surrounding them in Christian circles. Those who believe tattoos are acceptable versus those who do not. I happen to be one of those people who believe they are acceptable — I have more ink than I can count and plan on getting even more.

I have loved the idea behind tattoos, not just how they look, but as a freedom of expression that I can proudly showcase to the world. Most of my tattoos are dedicated to my relationship with Jesus. I have Christian symbols, Bible verses, and murals dotted throughout my body. To some, this isn’t acceptable. I have had a handful of people over the years who tell me they don’t believe Christians should have tattoos — they think it is wrong, some even suggest it is sinful.

To an extent, I agree that some tattoos most definitely can be sinful in nature. For instance, a Swastika is not exactly an image of love and kindness, demons and satanic symbols do not honor God, nor do images of other gods or man-made religious figures. These are types of tattoos that I feel are sinful. It does not paint a pleasing image glorifying God. That does not mean that someone who denounces those things is still subject to the wrath of God, but an unbelieving person who dedicated their temple to sinful concepts does not honor God.

Your body belongs to God

“If God wanted you to have tattoos you would have been born with them” is a statement I have heard before. This statement contains many errors. For starters, it is a definitive statement. Making my decision to have a tattoo appear as an absolute need is incorrect. I could go the rest of my life without adding to my collection. Do I need tattoos? No. I want them. If God wanted you to have red hair, straight teeth, and a six-pack, He would have given you them. Do you see the error in this?

Yes, it is true that my body was purchased with a price we cannot fathom, yes it is true that God dwells in our temples. But as far as designing it? I like to think that He is okay with us, the current renters, to design it a little bit. As long as we do not pass the point of vanity.

A verse that is famously used to denounce tattoos is Leviticus 19:28, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.” While this would have been true, let’s say, a several thousand years ago, it is no longer the case. That doesn’t mean it needs to be dismissed as unimportant for no word in the Bible is such. We simply do not live under the Levitical Law. We are not bound by the same rules and regulations as the Levites — for we have freedom in Christ Jesus. Granted, “not everything we do is beneficial” so to use that freedom foolishly is not wise.

A point commonly missed by those who use this verse in this manner, is that if we were to read verse 27 it says, “do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard” and verse 19 states, “Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” You can see where I’m going — being selective and using only one verse to pass judgment on others is not wise. Especially if you yourself are guilty of violations committed in previous verses. I thank God we are not bound by Old Testament Law.

My own parents were somewhat anti-tattoo. They were worried about how I may be perceived by others. They are “old school” in the sense that growing up, the only people with tattoos were either criminals, rebels, or in a gang. Well, times have changed, and their perception has too. My Dad once told me that I single-handedly changed his whole view of tattoos. “You are covered in them. I used to look down on people with tattoos — but I look at you and you have never been in trouble, you have a job, you are career driven, you love Jesus — everything I thought about tattoos has been blown out of the water.”

I have friends, who are grown adults, whose parents cannot stand the idea of tattoos. Some even go as far as to say they would be kicked out of the house or their family for getting one. That is ridiculous. A decision to get a tattoo, one that affects nobody else, is worthy of being disowned for? I cannot relate.

A tattoo I got in October 2016. It’s now a full sleeve.

A difference of opinion

My tattoos tell stories and serve as reminders of who God is. I did not ever get a tattoo to show them off — in fact, most people would testify to the fact that I do not show them off. To be honest, they have been great conversation starters. The amount of people who take an interest in my body art is too great to count.

I have been stopped in airports, grocery stores, and in the workplace. I do not find it annoying as it is a great way for me to open up and share about Jesus. As corny as that sounds, it is true. I could spend all day giving examples. The point is that we are called to do everything, whether it is eating or drinking, for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31.) Would it be sinful for me to get tattoos so I can boast and brag about myself? Yes, for we have nothing to boast about other than the name of Jesus (Galatians 6:14.)

The freedom I have in Jesus to get a tattoo is the same freedom that gives a Christian vegan the option to not eat meat, or for a Christian to honor one day as Holy and not another. Romans 14:1–8 speaks extensively on this:

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Many disputes and disagreements would be solved by remembering this verse. When it comes to tattoos — if you believe they are not appropriate- then that’s fine. It doesn’t make you any more or less of a Christian than the person who has them all over their body. “Getting a tattoo is not a sin, per se. It is a matter of Christian freedom and should be guided by biblical principles and rooted in love” (Got We should not use something as small as body art to create stumbling blocks for other believers. My reaction to all of this; if you dislike tattoos, great, and that’s exactly why they aren’t on your body.

What do you think about tattoos?


Written by Marcus Donaldson

Marcus Donaldson has been following Christ since 2004. He grew up on True II Society and Gospel Gangstaz in Coventry, England. When not studying for his Master's Degree, he's wedding planning with his fiancée, watching the Boston Celtics, reading, playing Xbox, or adding to his tattoo collection.

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