What Does It Say In The Bible About Tattoos

Sacred Scriptures

The Holy Bible is not explicit in terms of permits and prohibits tattoos. There is no chapter or verse on the subject. Instead, it contains passages of varying interpretations that, in the end, offer an inconsistent and uncertain guideline on tattoos.
However, the Bible does contain scattered references to tattoos. The first mention of tattoos appears in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word translated as tattoo is ‘kawÂrâr’. It appears in chapter 19, verse 28 of Leviticus where God commands: “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourself”. The translators of ancient texts translated the word ‘kawÂrâr’ in two different terms: ‘cut’ and ‘mark’. Therefore, from this perspective we cannot be certain whether tattoos were allowed or forbidden.
On the other hand, some Talmudic commentaries indicate a more positive note on tattoos. It suggests that tattoos could help glorify God if they were to be inscribed on one’s body in a positive way. Moreover, tattoos were used as markers for identity in some biblical passages. One such example appears in Ezekiel 9:4-5, wherein six markings are described that identifies the righteous among the sinners.

Interpretations and Analyses

In the contemporary age, theologians have split into two camps with divergent interpretations of the verse in Leviticus. A minority group adheres to a strict interpretation of the verse and believes that solid and permanent tattoos are a desecration of the holy body, equating it to a form of self-mutilation. Meanwhile, a majority believes that bodies should be free to celebrate their personalities through body art or to pay tribute to their faith.
Some Biblical scholars even state that tattoos could potentially become a way for Christians to honour God. Professor of Old Testament John Tvedtnes notes that tattoos were commonplace in the Ancient Middle East and were used as marks of commitment to religious gods. Therefore, tattoos potentially could be used as marks of faith in Christianity.

Exploring Other Views

In order to decipher what the Bible says about tattooing, we must also delve into many other religions. In Judaism and Islam, tattoos are both accepted and forbidden by different factions within the faiths. Scholars of Islam often point to a few verses in the Qur’an to discuss tattoos. In Surah Al-Nisa, verse 119, Allah forbade tattoers and tattooees from entering Mecca. Some Muslim countries such as Egypt have imposed a punishment on those who get tattoos, while other countries like Tunisia are more relaxed on this issue.
In Hinduism, artistic markings on the body are a central part of the faith. Traditionally, devotees of a certain god or goddess receive a special inscription to express their loyalty. Hindus have tattoos to dedicate themselves to a certain god, and to pay tribute to their beloved deity. Christianity has more varied views, yet tattoos may be a symbol of strength of commitment and a sign of Christian expression.

Ethics of Tattoos

The Bible does not explicitly prohibit tattoos and in fact, there are blurred lines between religious condemnation and localization of relationships with God through this ancient faith-based practice. Therefore, an in-depth that involves discussing personal ethics is important to consider when deciding on getting a tattoo. It is important to assess the impact tattoos will have on one’s perspectives, the opinions of other individuals, and how a tattoo may adversely affect employment and personal relationships.

Artistic Expression

Regardless of one’s faith, there is no denying that tattoos are a centuries-old form of art. They are a powerful form of self-expression and can also be used to connect with heritage, spirituality and to a larger, global audience. Furthermore, tattoos don’t necessarily have to be of religious origin and can serve as a reminder for creativity, love and living life fully.
More and more, people around the world are embracing tattoos as a form of expression. There is an emerging market wherein tattoo artists specialize in various forms of art from traditional to modern. Individuals can opt to have samples of artwork or their own creative designs inked into their skin. As long as it is done respectfully and with artistic intention, tattoos can be a beautiful and meaningful form of expression.

Theological Debate

There is a growing scholarly and theological debate around the issue of tattoos and Christianity. While the Old Testament provides conflicting accounts of tattoos and their implications, the New Testament is mum on the subject. The best interpretation of this silence is that the New Testament supports tattooing as a form of expression as long as it is respectful and done with a good intention.
Ultimately, there is an immense variety of opinion on tattoos within Christian circles. Each individual is going to draw their own conclusions from their own values and beliefs. Whether one opts for a tattoo or not is ultimately up to one’s own conscience and discretion.

Psychological Implications

Tattoos are incredible markers of individuality, but they come with psychological implications as well. It’s important to be aware of the emotional impact of a tattoo before committing to having it permanently inked on your skin. People with tattoos may experience higher levels of psychological distress, increased worry and self consciousness, which can adversely affect their relationships and overall wellbeing.
Genuineness and authenticity is the key to self-expression. Quality tattoos come from the pure desire to express oneself in a creative and meaningful way. It is important to assess the potential long-term implications of a particular tattoo. When an individual is dedicated to a meaningful cause and they pursue it with discretion and mindfulness, a tattoo can become a meaningful part of their identity.

Social Context

The social context of one’s cultural environment plays an important role in the decision to get a tattoo. Social acceptance of tattoos varies significantly around the world, and often influences the policies of employers and educational institutions on tattoos. In some places, tattoos are highly visible and may be considered more socially acceptable than in others.
Tattoos also have different meanings in different cultures. For some, a tattoo may be a reminder to keep faith despite hardships, for others it could be a physiological symbol of belonging. Meanwhile, some consider tattoos to be a symbol of motivation, creativity and a sign of deep personal conviction, thus giving individuals with tattoos an empowered and confident outlook in life.

Global Influence

Tattoos have shaped cultures around the world and have become increasingly commonplace in recent years. Although the connection between religion and tattoos remains a source of conflict, it is clear that the practice has become more widespread and diverse.
Frankly, there is much to be said about tattoos in the Bible. Interpretations of the Bible and historical context can provide valuable insight and understanding of the moral perspectives on tattoos. All we can do is our best to bring awareness of the potential implications and to make conscientious decisions on tattoos based on our beliefs, social environment and situation.

Marcos Reyna is a Christian author and speaker. He is dedicated to helping create disciples of Christ through spreading the power of the gospel to others. He has written several books and articles on a variety of theological topics, including matters of faith, worship, biblical studies, practical ethics, and social justice. A trained theologian and devotee of spiritual writing, Marcos has a mission to spread Christian love everywhere. He lives with his family in Nashville, TN where he spends his days encouraging others to seek Christ's grace in all things.

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