Should a Christian get a tattoo? Is there anything in the Bible that restricts or permit’s a Christian to have a tattoo? How can we know for sure since the Bible is silent about tattoos? Is it a sin to have a tattoo according to biblical principles? What about a Christian symbol like a cross for a tattoo? Surely that would be acceptable wouldn’t it?
The Bible is Silent
There are many gray areas in a Christian’s life. There are many things that are not listed in the Bible that are not recommended for the Christian. Search any concordance and you will not find restrictions on abortions, on gambling, or on tattoos. So how do we know whether a thing is sin or not if the Bible is silent on a particular issue?
There are certain principles that are laid down in the Bible that we can apply to gray areas in a believer’s life. For example, the Bible does not say, “Thou shall not gamble” but we understand that this activity is not what a godly person does. The Bible does not mention that abortion is wrong, but the principle of loving your neighbor as yourself, that children are a gift of God, and that God is the giver of life and only He has the right to take a life is understood. But let’s try to focus on what the Bible teaches in the area of a believer having a tattoo.
Bible Verses on Tattoos?
There actually are some references on tattoos in Leviticus 19:28: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.” But if you read the entire chapter, this is referring to pagan rituals that where performed over the burial of their dead. This verse is prohibiting worldly, pagan rituals that the nations outside of Israel had as tradition.
Tattoos are not a recent trend for humans. These date back to the ancient Egyptian civilizations and beyond. Many ancient people have had tattoos as a custom and even Native North American Indians. But I could not find any example of ancient Israel having tattoos so does this mean that Christians are not permitted to have them?
Romans 14 and What is Permitted
Romans chapter 14 is an excellent chapter that covers things that are not specifically addressed in scripture. For example, Romans 14:23 says, “But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” I would say that if it causes your brother to stumble and cause an offense or might make a non-believer question the believers authenticity in Christ, then it would appear that we should prohibit such a thing or activity in our own lives while not judging those who are persuaded that it is okay for them. And verse 23 is also saying that if we think it is a sin for us, and it is not from faith, then it would be sinful if we think it is. God leaves some room for maneuvering in the sense that if it bothers our conscience or if we feel it might offend others, then it is best that we abstain from whatever it might be.
Romans 14:15 gives us a parameter on unnamed things in the Bible and whether we should or should not abstain, “If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.” Paul is taking about foods here, but in verse 20 he makes a very important point, “but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.” If we think something like a tattoo and especially what the tattoo is a picture of, we can make some Christians and non-Christians stumble in their belief of your sincerity of faith. If they might see it as sin then it would be wise that we abstain from it since we are taught to abstain from even the appearance of evil (I Thess. 5:22).
In Essentials, Unity
While we should not needlessly cause someone to stumble or be an offense to them, neither should we be judging someone just because they have a tattoo, or they drink wine or drink beer, or smoke cigarettes, and so on. Again, we return to Romans 14 in verse 13 and apply the biblical principle: “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” A famous Christian dogma is appropriate for whether someone has a tattoo or not or whether one should have a tattoo or not: “in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.”
Judging by Appearances
At work I once hesitated to share the gospel with a machinist because he was covered in tattoos, drove a Harley, and chewed tobacco. When I finally did muster up the courage to witness to him, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he was already a born-again. Sadly, I had prejudged him by his outward appearance; something that God never does. Incidentally, this made it much easier for him to witness of Christ to other bikers and live out the principle that Paul lived, “to be all things to all men” (I Cor 9:22). Its not easy to remove tattoos by the way and besides, God is no respecter of persons and He looks at the heart and not at the outward appearance so neither should I. Personally I would not get a tattoo because my wife, children, and grandchildren might be a little surprised to see me wearing one. Others in my congregation might be shocked to see their pastor with a skull and cross bones on his shoulder or a cross on his forearm. But I will not sit in judgment if a believer or a non-believer has one or if they don‘t have one. God wills all men to be saved (I Tim 2:4) and accepts all of men, as long as they believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.
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