Bible Answer

Should a Christian get a tattoo?

Are tattoos permitted for a Christian? There are two verses that everyone quotes to say tattoos are wrong (i.e., Leviticus 19:28 & 1Cor 6:19). What do you say? 

Simply put, there is no specific restriction in scripture against a Christian getting a tattoo.

Looking at the verses you cited, the passage from Leviticus is found in the Law of the Old Covenant, and therefore it is not binding on a Christian under the New Covenant. Christians are not under the Law (see Rom 6:14; Gal 4:4-5; 5:18).

To those who believe that Christians should avoid tattoos because of Lev 19:28, you might ask them are they prepared to observe the verse immediately prior in Lev 19:27: “You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard.” If not, then why do they require a Christian to keep one part of the Law but not keep all of it? This is an example of the self-contradictory legalism that weakens the Church and confuses the faithful. As James says in 2:10, either we keep the entire Law or we have become guilty of violating all of it.

Secondly, the teaching in 1Cor 6 addresses avoiding immorality committed with the body. Specifcally, Paul was talking about prostitution, and his comment in 1Cor 6:19 instructs the Corinthian church to abstain from participating in immoral practices involving idol worship and debauchery of various kinds.

Does Paul's general statement that we should glorify God with our bodies automatically make tattoos wrong? We would argue no it doesn't. For example, a tattoo could be designed to glorify God by displaying the phrase, "Jesus is Lord" or perhaps a scripture verse, etc. In that sense, a tattoo becomes just another way to adorn the body, like earrings or makeup. Can we really claim that Scripture teaches is it less godly for a Christian to place a butterfly tattoo on her ankle than to pierce an ear or wear makeup or dye her hair?

On the other hand, if the Christian chooses an inappropriate tattoo (e.g., crude language or unholy images), then the tatoo would be wrong in the same way that leud or revealing clothing is wrong. The bottom line is the intent and the message of our actions matter, but not necessarily the form.

The mere existence of a tattoo isn't wrong by itself, and it doesn't violate specific scriptural mandates for the Christian. Nevertheless, the Christian should practice love toward God and his neighbor when deciding whether to obtain a tatoo and what design to select.