What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos?

what does the bible say about tattoos

Tattoos have been a part of human culture for thousands of years, serving as marks of identity, rites of passage, and expressions of art. But what happens when body art meets spirituality? For many tattoo enthusiasts who are also devout Christians, this intersection raises an important question: What does the Bible say about tattoos?

While the modern world embraces tattoos with open arms, the Bible offers a more complex perspective. Whether you’re a seasoned tattoo aficionado, a tattoo artist looking to expand your knowledge, or someone contemplating their first ink, understanding the biblical viewpoint is crucial.

In this article, we’ll dive into the historical, cultural, and theological contexts of tattoos as seen through the lens of the Bible. We’ll tackle common questions, analyze key verses, and explore how different Christian denominations interpret these ancient texts today. Let’s embark on this enlightening journey and discover what the Bible really says about tattoos.

Key Takeaways

  • Historical Context: Tattoos have been practiced for millennia, but their acceptance has varied across cultures and eras.
  • Biblical References: The Bible, particularly Leviticus 19:28, has specific mentions of body markings that have sparked much debate.
  • Jesus’ Teachings: There are no direct references to tattoos in the teachings of Jesus, but his views on the body and purity offer some insights.
  • Theological Perspectives: Views on tattoos can differ widely among Christian theologians and denominations.
  • Inspiring Verses: Many Christians choose to tattoo Bible verses on their bodies as a form of personal expression and faith.
  • Personal Conviction: Ultimately, the decision to get a tattoo is a personal one, influenced by individual beliefs and interpretations of scripture.

The Historical Context of Tattoos

Before we delve into the biblical perspective, it’s essential to understand the broader historical context of tattoos. Tattoos have been a significant part of human culture for thousands of years, serving various purposes across different societies.

Origins and Evolution

Tattoos date back to ancient times, with evidence of their existence found on mummies and in historical records. For example, the ancient Egyptians used tattoos as markers of status and protection. Similarly, indigenous tribes in Africa, Polynesia, and the Americas used tattoos to signify rites of passage, social status, and tribal affiliation.

Tattoos in Biblical Times

In the context of the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, the cultural landscape was vastly different. The Israelites, the primary audience of many biblical texts, were living in a region surrounded by various cultures with differing practices and beliefs, including tattooing.

Leviticus 19:28 – This verse explicitly mentions tattoos: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.” This command was given to the Israelites as part of a broader set of laws intended to set them apart from their pagan neighbors, who often engaged in body marking as part of their religious practices.

Tattoos in Neighboring Cultures

Understanding the practices of neighboring cultures helps provide context to the biblical stance. For instance, the Egyptians and Canaanites, who lived near the Israelites, used tattoos in their religious and cultural rituals. These tattoos were often linked to idol worship or mourning rituals, which the Israelite laws sought to avoid.

Evolution of Tattoo Perception

Over time, the perception of tattoos has evolved significantly. What once might have been seen as a pagan practice is now embraced by many as a form of personal expression and art. This shift in perception raises questions about how ancient biblical directives apply in today’s context.

Modern Perspectives

Today, tattoos are prevalent across many cultures and social groups, including among Christians. The modern interpretation of biblical texts, including those about tattoos, often involves a deeper understanding of historical and cultural contexts. This helps reconcile ancient teachings with contemporary practices.

In the next sections, we’ll explore specific biblical references to tattoos and what they mean for Christians today. We’ll also address common questions and theological perspectives to provide a comprehensive understanding of this topic.

Are Tattoos Forbidden in the Bible?

One of the most frequently cited verses in discussions about tattoos is Leviticus 19:28: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.” This verse has sparked considerable debate among theologians and laypeople alike. To understand its implications, it’s crucial to delve into the context in which it was written.

Understanding Leviticus 19:28

Leviticus is part of the Old Testament, a section of the Bible that outlines various laws given to the Israelites. These laws were intended to set the Israelites apart from their neighboring cultures and to maintain ritual purity. The commandment against tattooing in Leviticus 19:28 is often interpreted as a prohibition against pagan practices, which included cutting the body and marking it with tattoos in honor of the dead or as part of idol worship.

Contextual Interpretation

When interpreting biblical texts, context is key. The cultural and historical context of ancient Israel was vastly different from today’s world. The Israelites were surrounded by pagan cultures that practiced body marking for religious reasons. By forbidding tattoos, the Israelites were distancing themselves from these practices and reinforcing their unique identity as a people devoted to God.

Modern Perspectives

Today, many Christian denominations interpret Leviticus 19:28 differently. Some view it as a timeless command, while others see it as a cultural directive specific to the Israelites’ context. The latter group argues that since modern tattoos are generally not associated with pagan rituals, the prohibition in Leviticus does not apply.

What Does Jesus Say About Tattoos?

The New Testament, which focuses on the teachings of Jesus and the early Christian church, does not explicitly mention tattoos. However, several principles from Jesus’ teachings can offer guidance on this issue.

New Testament Views

While Jesus never directly addressed tattoos, he spoke extensively about the importance of the inner self over outward appearances. In Matthew 15:11, Jesus says, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” This suggests a focus on one’s character and actions rather than external appearances.

Jesus’ Teachings on the Body

Jesus emphasized the importance of treating the body with respect. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul writes, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” This passage is often cited in discussions about tattoos, with some interpreting it as a call to avoid body modifications, while others see it as a call to ensure that any modifications honor God.

Are Tattoos a Sin?

The question of whether tattoos are a sin is complex and depends largely on individual beliefs and interpretations of scripture.

Theological Perspectives

Different Christian denominations and theologians offer varying perspectives on tattoos. Some hold that any form of body modification is a sin, citing verses like Leviticus 19:28 and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. Others believe that tattoos can be an acceptable form of self-expression, as long as they do not contradict one’s faith or moral values.

Personal Beliefs

Ultimately, the decision to get a tattoo is a personal one. Many Christians consider their motives and the content of the tattoo. Tattoos that reflect one’s faith or have significant personal meaning are often viewed more favorably than those seen as frivolous or contrary to Christian teachings.

Top Bible Verses About Tattoos

For Christians who choose to get tattoos, selecting a meaningful Bible verse can be a powerful way to express their faith.

Inspiring Scriptures

Popular Bible verses for tattoos often include messages of faith, strength, and love. Some favorites include:

  • Philippians 4:13: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
  • Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
  • Psalm 23:4: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”


Many Christians choose to share their stories and the significance behind their Bible verse tattoos. These personal testimonies often highlight how a particular verse has provided comfort, guidance, or inspiration in their lives.

Meaning of Leviticus Law on Tattoos

Leviticus 19:28 is often at the center of discussions about the biblical stance on tattoos.

Deep Dive into Leviticus

A detailed analysis of Leviticus 19:28 reveals that the prohibition was likely aimed at preventing the Israelites from engaging in pagan mourning rituals and idolatrous practices. The broader context of Leviticus includes various laws intended to distinguish the Israelites from surrounding cultures.

Broader Implications

While some Christians view Old Testament laws as binding, others believe that these laws were specific to the cultural and historical context of the Israelites. The New Testament emphasizes a new covenant through Jesus Christ, which some interpret as rendering certain Old Testament laws obsolete.

Bible Verses About Our Bodies

The Bible contains numerous verses that speak to the importance of caring for and honoring our bodies.

Biblical Teachings

Verses such as 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 remind Christians that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and should be treated with respect. Other passages, like Romans 12:1, urge believers to offer their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.

Application to Tattoos

These teachings can be interpreted in various ways regarding tattoos. Some Christians see tattoos as a form of honoring their bodies by expressing their faith and personal journey. Others may view tattoos as potentially defiling the body, depending on the content and intention behind the tattoo.

Inspiring Bible Verse Tattoos – Top Scriptures for Tattoos

Many Christians choose to tattoo Bible verses that hold personal significance or offer inspiration and strength.

Top Choices

Some of the most popular Bible verses for tattoos include:

  • Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  • Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
  • Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Meaning and Symbolism

These verses often resonate with believers due to their powerful messages of faith, trust, and divine support. They serve as constant reminders of God’s presence and promises in their lives.

What is a Good Bible Verse for a Tattoo?

Choosing a Bible verse for a tattoo is a deeply personal decision. Here are some tips and suggestions to help guide the process.


When selecting a verse, consider what message or theme is most meaningful to you. Think about your life experiences, challenges, and the aspects of your faith that are most important.

Verses to Consider

  • Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
  • Psalm 46:1: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
  • Matthew 19:26: “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'”

Is it a Sin to Get a Tattoo of a Cross?

The cross is one of the most powerful symbols in Christianity. Getting a tattoo of a cross raises specific questions about its appropriateness and significance.

Symbolism of the Cross

The cross represents the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and is a central symbol of the Christian faith. For many, a cross tattoo is a profound expression of their beliefs and a visible reminder of their commitment to follow Christ.

Religious and Cultural Views

Opinions on cross tattoos can vary. Some view it as a meaningful declaration of faith, while others may see it as an improper use of a sacred symbol. It’s essential to consider personal convictions and the views of one’s religious community when deciding to get a cross tattoo.


The Bible’s teachings on tattoos are complex and open to interpretation. While some scriptures seem to discourage the practice, others can be viewed as encouraging personal expression and honoring God through one’s body. Ultimately, the decision to get a tattoo is a personal one, influenced by individual beliefs, cultural context, and spiritual convictions.

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