What does the Bible say about tattoos? My nephew would like to get one. He is a believer and does not think it is addressed in the Bible. Any help would be appreciated.
The word tattoo occurs only once in the Bible. It is found in the Old Testament book of Leviticus.
You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead, nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD. (NASB) Leviticus 19:28
But this passage is talking about tattoos which are part of a religious ritual.
The Practice of Cutting
Cutting the body as part of religious worship was common. Another example of this occurs in the book of 1 Kings when the prophet Elijah confronted the priests of Baal.
Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, “O Baal, answer us.” But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made. And it came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.” So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. (NASB) 1 Kings 18:26-28
Since ancient times men and women have cut and painted themselves as a part of their religious worship. It was and is still common in some countries for younger men to mutilate and tattoo their bodies. History tells us that the ancient Egyptians, Thracians, Greeks, Gauls, Germans, Britons, Romans, Africans, American Indians, and many others used tattoos. God prohibits any activities associated with religious worship of other so called gods.
Tattoos – Pictures on the Body
The first passage mentioned above, Leviticus 19:28, is the only passage in the Old Testament about tattoos. The Hebrew word used for “tattoo” in Leviticus 19:28 means “incision” or “imprint.” It has the idea of putting a mark into the skin. The mark can be embedded or have color.
If someone wants to object and say this passage rejects all cutting of the flesh and any mark of the flesh, then we want to ask, “Does God prohibit any cutting of the body for medical reasons such as operations?” The answer is “no” since God wanted the Jewish boys to have an operation. We call it circumcision of males. So does God allow us to cut our bodies? The answer is “yes,” but only for a good reason. We need to remember that we are the temple of God. It is not to be abused.
Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (NASB) 1 Corinthians 3:16
Our next question is simple, “Does God also reject all imprints into the flesh?” Again the answer is “no.” But are tattoos safe? Are there any concerns? The answer is “yes.” There are health risks. The health risks include allergic reactions, infection, viral infections, and AIDS or HIV. It is very common for those who have tattoos to want one or more removed later in life. But tattoo removal is not easy. I would recommend a conversation with a medical doctor before proceeding.
The Bible does not prohibit tattoos for non-religious reasons. The Bible has nothing to say about it otherwise. Before someone tattoos themselves they should ask, “Can I do this in good conscience before God?”
“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (NASB) 1 Cor. 10:31
If you have any doubts that God would approve, then to have a tattoo would be sin.
. . . whatever is not from faith is sin. (NASB) Rom. 14:23
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