The Old Testament
As a widely shared belief, tattoos are not typically associated with Christianity, due to the general assumption that the Bible speaks against it. But in fact, the Bible is largely silent on the subject of tattoos, as neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament make any explicit mention of tattoos. Although the Bible does not directly address the issue of tattoos, the Old Testament can be used to explore the question.
In Leviticus 19:28, God is said to command the Israelites: “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves”. This scripture does seem to forbid any kind of physical marking for mourning or any other purpose. This can be understood as an expression of God’s will for his people to not enter into any cultic practices relating to their pagan neighbours.
The text in Leviticus does not refer to tattoos in any of its other meanings, such as adornment or identity. Some theologians have used this to argue that tattoos should still be avoided, as they claim that Leviticus applies to all of God’s people, not just the ancient Israelites. Others may read the same text differently, pointing out that the issue of tattoos is not addressed in the New Testament.
The New Testament
In the New Testament, there is only one passage that immediately appears to be related to the question of tattoos. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul writes, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body”. This seems to suggest that a Christian’s body belongs to God and should not be marred in any way.
On the other hand, Paul explicitly rejects any practices related to those of the pagan cults, such as eating food sacrificed to idols. As tattoos were not part of this cultural context, it is possible to interpret 1 Corinthians as not necessarily addressing tattoos, but instead referring more generally to any inappropriate bodily modification. Some contemporary theologians take this view, arguing that tattoos are not primarily a spiritual issue.
There is also the question of tattoos from the viewpoint of Judaism. The Talmud, which is a collection of ancient Jewish legal decisions, does address tattoos. It states that if a person gets a tattoo for promiscuity, or any other less than admirable act, it is considered to be self-mutilation and is forbidden. However, in general, tattoos are not considered to be forbidden in Judaism and many Jews do have tattoos.
Perspectives From Experts
Experts in Christian theology have expressed a variety of perspectives on the subject of tattoos. Theologian Robert A. J. Gagnon holds the view that tattoos can and should be avoided, arguing that no adornments should be made to the body that may evoke “cultic customs, idolatry, or other immoral practices”.
Another theologian, Ken Jones, offers a more neutral viewpoint on tattoos, arguing that while they should always be approached with caution, they should also be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. For example, he points out that tattoos can serve an important role in “identifying and making visible problems that a person is grappling with”.
Theological perspectives vary, but the consensus among leading Christian theologians appears to be that there is no clear prohibition on tattoos in Scripture. While some may see tattoos as explicitly forbidden, others may be comfortable with them in certain settings. Regardless of one’s perspective on the issue of tattoos, the important point for Christians to consider is that whatever adornment is chosen should be done in a way that honours God: it should not be used to engage in cultic customs, idolatry or other immoral practices.
What About Now?
Given the lack of clear Biblical interpretation on tattoos, a more practical approach may be taken to guide believers today. Recent studies have indicated that tattoos may be associated with certain health risks and could even result in a permanent scar, depending on the tattoo. Additionally, tattoos can be a source of social stigma in some circles, so it may be wise to consider how one’s tattoos will be perceived by others.
For believers, tattoo decisions should be made with prayer and respected input from Christian elders, pastors and friends. Ultimately, while the Bible may not provide a direct answer to the question of tattoos, prayerful study of Scripture should help believers to discern the best decision for themselves.
Tattoos can have aesthetic purpose as well. Many people have found tattoos to be a meaningful form of self-expression and prefer them to traditional forms of body art. Tattoos can be as simple or as complex as the artist desires, allowing for a great degree of customisation.
In addition, tattoos are often used to commemorate special occasions- such as the birth of a child, a wedding, and various anniversaries- as well as to commemorate lost loved ones. The permanence of the body art may be viewed as a way to pay tribute to those who have shaped our lives and help to ensure that their memory is not forgotten.
Health and Safety Considerations
Before getting a tattoo, it is important to consider some of the health and safety risks associated with the process. It is important to ensure that the tattoo artist is knowledgeable and follows certain safety precautions, such as wearing gloves, making sure that all needles are sterile, and using fresh, disposable ink. Additionally, it is important to make sure that the area is properly cleaned and protected before and after the tattoo.
It is also important to recognize that tattoos may cause irritation and pain during, and after, the application process. It may take a significant amount of time for the area to heal, and there is a risk of infection and allergic reactions. Additionally, some people may develop an itching or burning sensation, as the body adjusts to the new tattoo.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, making the decision to get a tattoo is a personal one and should never be taken lightly. As there is no explicit mention of tattooing in the Bible, believers are left to trust in the Holy Spirit for guidance for their particular situation. While tattoos have become increasingly popular in recent years, it is important to carefully weigh all factors before making the commitment to get a tattoo.