Under the Law of Moses, the Israelites were commanded

You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:28)

Although the New Testament does not prohibit tattoos, many Christians object to tattoos because of this verse. After all, if God banned tattoos then, we should at least consider whether there it is right for a believer to have a tattoo now.

First, we need to understand why the law was given. Cutting oneself appears to have been a pagan practice to attract a god’s attention. For example, the prophets of Baal cut themselves when Elijah challenged them to demonstrate that Baal was real (1 Kings 18:28). To cut yourself “for the dead” was probably a way of warding off the spirits of the dead or of demonstrating your deep grief to your god. Similarly, tattoos were probably associated with pagan idolatry, and may have been used to protect a person from the spirits of the dead. Some evidence for this has been found in human remains in Scythia dating to the six century BC.

The Israelites were consistently told to avoid pagan worship, and to avoid practices that were associated with pagan worship (e.g., Leviticus 21:5). These days, tattoos are not associated with pagan worship, and so the reason behind the law is no longer relevant.

On the other hand, Paul tells us that we should treat our bodies as belonging to God.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20
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.

Permanently marking our bodies is not the best way to look after what God has given us, and so tattoos are probably best avoided.

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  • James

    What if you had tattoo’s before you were baptized, are they forgiven, and also what if you want to get one that symbolizes Christen faith like the fish emblem. Would that be a sin.

  • A Sister

    Dear James,
    We are told that when we come to Jesus in repentence and faith, ALL is forgiven. “All ” means everything! So rest assured that along with our mistakes, messes and bad choices, tattoos are included. When you were baptized, you were washed clean, brother, so don’t even spend a minute wondering. As for getting a tattoo now, like a Christian symbol, if “cutting your body” was wrong before, then it still is. But here’s something even better to think about–why not let your new (and improved) life be your “tattoo”? What I’m saying is that you can make a much louder statement to others about what you believe by “living the life” (and it’s hard!). You could even turn your old tattoos into a tool to share Christ with others–like when someone asks you about them, you could use that as a point to introduce what you were going thru when you got them and how you’ve found something so much better now. You know the Devil absolutely hates it when we use something not good (like the tats) into something good (like your witnessing to others). Look up Genesis 50 v20. I’m so glad you’re part of the family now. Stand strong my brother. Love in Christ, Connie