What does the Bible say about tattoos?


DEAR FATHER PAUL: Does the Bible say anything about tattoos?

Our 16-year-old daughter is pestering us to death to allow her to get a “tasteful” tattoo (small red rose) on the back of her shoulder. “All of my friends are getting them,” she says, “I’ll pay for it with my own money” We are ALL devout Christians. Your thoughts appreciated. Lois

DEAR LOIS: Thank you for your question. Wow! I haven’t gotten a question on tattoos since May of 2005. Your daughter was only around 2 years old then. My how some things never seem to change … teenagers pushing their parents for more “freedom.”

Actually, with apologies to a few of my friends who do have tattoos, the Bible DOES, indeed, address the question of tattoos.

Leviticus 19:28 says this on the subject (New International Version) … “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.” Later, in Romans 12:1 (New International Version), the Apostle Paul writes these words to the church, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, this is your true and proper worship.”

“Well, Father Paul,’’ someone might ask, “does this mean that getting a tattoo is a a sin and if I get one, I’m going to hell when I die?”

NO! Hear me, I’ve said this many, many times before … listen … God is NOT some angry, mean , grouchy, old man, with a frown and a long gray beard, who just wants to spoil all of our fun … and who is sitting up on a cloud with a handful of lightning bolts just waiting for us to make one mistake so he can zap us and send us to hell.

No! God isn’t like that at all! He’s a good, kind and loving Heavenly Father (parent) who only wants to see his children live lives of joy, peace and love in and through him.

Basically, when God puts forth “rules,” … they are for OUR GOOD, NOT JUST HIS. Like any good parent, he is wiser than we, his children. He already knows what will happen if we don’t listen to him, and fail to heed his advice: we stand to suffer bad outcomes in our future.

But because of his great love for us, he makes all choices freely ours. For instance, at the time Leviticus was written by Moses about 500 B.C., cutting the body and getting tattoos was very widely practiced by pagan peoples. In Leviticus, God, through Moses, is saying, “Cutting your bodies and getting tattoos is dangerous for your health and even your very lives!”

Basically, people in 500 B.C. knew nothing about germs, infections and sanitation. Even a small cut or pin prick could, and often did, prove fatal. God knew this. But even more importantly, God likely thought, “wait just a minute, I created all people IN MY OWN IMAGE in Genesis Chapter 1, then later I said, “it is VERY GOOD. But you think a tattoo will improve the work I myself have already done?”

No, sorry, our bodies were never intended by God to be billboards.

I Corinthians 16: 19-20 says that we are to “honor God with our bodies” … and they are, “temples (dwelling places) of God.”

But let’s lay aside for a moment whether or not getting a tattoo is okay with God. He says what he thinks in the Bible as I have just noted. The question ALSO is this … is getting a tattoo wise?

An older tattoo artist, who has done thousands of tattoos, was quoted in a magazine, as saying, “the vast majority of tattoos that I have done over many years, have been on people who were either very young, or very drunk … or both.”

Finally, one more “wise” thought, and caution. We humans love frequent change … new clothes, new hair colors and hair styles and the like. But a tattoo is forever … if later, you decide, “I made a huge mistake, I want this tattoo gone, or another in its place,” sorry, you are STUCK WITH IT! Tattoo removal is a very costly and painful procedure.

I suggest that you make your daughter this fair and reasonable offer. “Honey, decide on a clothing outfit that you really like. Wear exactly that outfit, and ONLY that outfit every day for six months straight, absolutely no exceptions! Wash it at night, and put it back on the next day. It’ll be ‘your tattoo.’ If, at the end of six months, you still want a tattoo, your dad and I will be OK with it. But if you don’t complete this task successfully. You will wait until you are 18 for your tattoo. Deal?”

[Father Paul Massey is Canon To the Bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. He is assigned to Christ The King Church in Sharpsburg, Georgia. He is a volunteer chaplain for the Peachtree City Police Department.]