These are my notes from teaching some teens on this topic in my church. This is a debated issue, but I believe Scripture is sufficient to answer whether or not Christians should get tattoos. Here is what I believe Scripture says about the matter:
- At the very least, tattoos or any other modification of our anatomy should not be identified with paganism or worldliness (Leviticus 19:28; cf. Leviticus 21:5; Deuteronomy 14:1–2). Sometimes physical alterations were allowable but had a distinctly God-given purpose (Genesis 4:15; Exodus 21:1–6). Even shaving one’s hair was temporary, as would be the mourning with which it was associated (Job 1:20; Isaiah 22:12).
- Though speaking to women concerning clothing and hair, 1 Peter 3:3–4 and 1 Timothy 2:9–10 give a principle for all Christians—God is more concerned with our hearts and actions than our outward, physical appearance. Good works and words are what best adorn the temple of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:20). Bringing the eyes of others to look at something else is simply a distraction.
- The Bible speaks against worldliness (1 John 2:15–17). Historically, it is not Christians who have originated and advocated for tattoos. This is a worldly enterprise. Unbelievers typically get tattoos to show what means most to them. Why would we take a pagan practice and attempt to Christianize it (by, say, tattooing a verse to your arm), especially when the Bible commends what matters most to us (Christ, God, the Bible, etc.) to simply be visible as a way of life (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:11–12)?
- Referring again to 1 John 2:15–17, the body itself is passing away (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16). This makes much of our body, something to be bettered at our glorification. However eternal the message of a tattoo may be (even if it is a Bible verse, a cross, etc.), it will eventually be marred by fading or be disfigured by aging skin. Do we want to represent what is most important to us with faded ink on wrinkles?
- What do you your parents say? Do you even want to do something as an adult that would permanently disappoint your parents? What about a spouse? See Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Proverbs 1:8; Ephesians 6:1–3.
- Tattoos are not a wise use of money. It costs a bit to get tattoos and even more to remove them. The bigger and inkier the tattoo, the more expensive, time-consuming, and painful it will be to have it removed.
- Because of their permanent appearance, tattoos imply an absolute commitment to whatever the tattoo says or symbolizes. Your tattoo thus boasts of something. But the Bible commends us to boast in the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23–24). And, if there is anything worth nothing about ourselves, it should be from another person, unprompted by us (Proverbs 27:2). Our words and actions should be commitment enough to whatever the matter of commitment may be (James 5:12).
- The only physical symbol that the Bible commands of us is baptism. And even this is not something that permanently attaches itself to our physical bodies everywhere we go.
- At the very least, getting a tattoo brings attention to something debatable among Christians, permanently marking yourself as controversial in this regard. Not only does the tattoo boast of whatever its message may be, but the tattoo in and of itself boasts of a willingness to do what many Christians have chosen not to do, something the Bible discourages (cf. Romans 14:6b, 22).
- Some people have been taught and believe differently, being Christians who get tattoos. Some people have tattoos and then become Christians, later regretting their tattoos. Either way it happens, we should not judge someone by their immediate appearance but come to understand why they received their tattoos and evaluate their faith by their words and works as a whole (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7).