Are Tattoos and Body Piercings Sinful?

send me
DJ Clementi’s tattoo from Isa. 6:8

This question comes up frequently.  I think this is because of the rise in popularity of tattoos and body piercings.  When I was a small boy, it seemed only gangsters and servicemen had tattoos.  Today, grandmothers, choir members, and even preachers are getting them.  Many, who would never have considered getting “inked,” are changing their minds. As well, body piercings are also becoming more popular.

Generally speaking, the most-oft quoted passage against tattoos is Lev. 19:28: You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord. (NKJV)

This verse seems to strictly forbid tattoos.  However, in context, I’m not so sure.  Leviticus 19 belongs to a larger passage of Scripture in which God is preparing Israel with various instructions to enter the Promised Land.  I believe that God is warning Israel not to mimic the idolatrous practices of the people who were living in Canaan.  I say this because in the preceding chapter, which is part of the same context, God warned Israel not to defile the [Promised] land with the “things” with which the previous nations had defiled themselves (Lev 18:24). I don’t believe that this suggests that a tattoo “defiles” a person, since Jesus made it clear that a person is not defiled by what goes into a body, but by what comes out of a person’s heart (Mk 7:20).  Rather, the warning against tattoos seems to be a warning against emulating a practice deeply woven into the sinful religion of a people God was about to judge.  Generally speaking, today’s tattoos have little to do with heathen worship.

There is another reason I believe the passage in Lev. 18:24 is not applicable: because there is nothing obviously inherently wrong with tattoos and piercings.  In other words, it is not like stealing, which is universally recognized as sinful.  Most early societies practiced tattoos/piercings. However, nearly all of these societies recognized other universal sins, like homicide, adultery, and giving false testimony.  This tells me that although God forbade Israel from taking on the tattoos of the pagan people whom they expelled from the Promised Land, that the tattoo itself was not necessarily immoral – or we would have intuitively known it.

I would like to pause and point out that that I personally see no difference between tattoos/piercings, and coloring one’s hair and nails, and wearing makeup.  Some of these body modifications are more permanent than others, but they are all attempts to adjust our appearance.  Some may be more socially acceptable than others, but their purposes likely do not vary.  If one is going to object to an eyebrow piercing, then they should object to false eyelashes.  If one is going to object to a tattoo, then they should object to other forms of body modifications like coloring one’s hair or doing one’s nails.

Although tattoos and piercings may not be inherently wrong, I believe that there still might be some circumstances in which they could be wrong. In other cases, it just might not be the wisest choice.  Below is a list of points that you may want to consider before getting inked or pierced.

  • Does this glorify God? As Christians we must be mindful that we are called to glorify God in “whatever” we do (1 Cor 10:31). Is your tattoo to glorify God or yourself?
  • Will it hinder my witness?  If Christians are called to “shock” society, then I believe it should be through our selfless love and forgiving spirit.  Will your body modifications increase or decrease your opportunities to form relationships?
  • Is this a wise use of my resources? Paul had no problem with women wearing jewelry in church, but warned against immodest or “costly array” (1 Tim 2:8-10).  What seemed to concern him was using too much “Kingdom” money for body decorations.

In the end, I believe that your decision to get inked or pierced is between you and God. If your overarching concern is to please God, then you need to make it a matter of prayer and seek His guidance.



Dane Cramer is a Christian blogger, backpacker, amateur filmmaker, volunteer jail chaplain and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us.



Leave a Reply