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Should a Christian get a tattoo?

Ed: TATTOOS are a form of body decoration, made by inserting ink into the skin. It’s an ancient practice, which has had many different forms in different cultures. For example, native Americans were often heavily tattooed as marks of their identity and social status, whereas in the Persian, Greek and Roman civilisations tattoos usually identified slaves and prisoners.

There’s just one mention of tattooing in the Bible, and it’s in the Law of Moses: ‘You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord’ (Leviticus 19:26-28). This commandment was referring specifically to the pagan customs of the Canaanites at the time, but strict Jews have always avoided tattooing. And although the Law of Moses does not apply to followers of Christ (Acts 15:19–20), it’s a fair deduction that God does not like tattoos.

The Bible does not just give straight commands, it gives principles. God wants us to exercise our intelligence and conscience when we make decisions. Here is some guidance that’s relevant when considering body art:

‘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’ (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). That tattoo, would it glorify God?

‘I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire’ (1 Timothy 2:8–9). How modest would that tattoo be? This applies of course to men and women. (And it’s a principle that extends to all the ways that followers of Christ present themselves, including clothing and hair styling.)

‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind’ (Romans 12:1–2). Would that tattoo show that you are holy to God, or conformed to the world?

Many tattoos are indelible, and they’re often regretted. A follower of Christ might be embarrassed by tattoos they had in their former life. But there’s no need: God is not concerned about anything we did before we were baptised, and nor should anyone else be: ‘You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God’ (1 Corinthians 6:11).

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