Tattoos Are OK, Aren't They?
Some tattoos are really beautiful. They certainly are popular. What does the Bible say?

LiRae asks: What does the bible say about tattoos on the body? My eighteen year old niece goes to church regularly, yet her mother is getting her a tattoo for her birthday next week. I don't think she's making a wise decision and I want to know what the bible says about tattoos on the body.
Question about Right and Wrong in the Bible: Tattoos
Motivation - Guidance: Making a decision
Bible view - The Word of God - [question 34, Wednesday, 31-Aug-2011]

tattoo covers entire rib cage
To an old fogey like me, this tattoo is over-the-top. But tattoos are certainly popular with young people.

I would like to preface this answer to LiRae's question by clearly stating that I am an Old Fogey. Some have called me a Stick in the Mud, or worse. In general, I do not like tattoos, but some tattoos, I must admit, are very artistic and, well, quite spiffy!

Check out the Bible-oriented tattoo in this picture. It comes from Sunalini Rana of and arii91 of AFTB thanks Sunalini and arii91 for use of their tattoo image.

Even though this tattoo is based on Ephesians 2, it is way too much for me. I would be very disappointed if my young son or daughter got such a tattoo. But this is clearly not the case for arii91. To arii91, this tattoo is not only acceptable, it glorifies God.

So who is right? Arii91 or me? What does the Bible say? Let's discuss it briefly.

Doubtful Things

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.
- 1 Corinthians 10:23 [NASB]

Tattoos come under the Bible heading of Doubtful Things. These are things in everyday life that are not explicitly forbidden by God in the Bible, but are still warned against by applying overall biblical principles.

Here are some examples of doubtful things:

  • Drinking coffee
  • Body piercing
  • Eating a greasy hamburger
  • Tattoos
  • Drinking wine
  • Smoking
  • Masturbation

and here are some examples of activities strictly forbidden in the Bible:

  • Pre-marital sex (fornication)
  • Murder
  • Adultery
  • Hallucinatory drugs
  • Getting drunk
  • Anything not done in faith

Do you see the difference in these two lists? People who do not study the Bible may see little difference (although most would agree that murder is bad), but Bible-oriented people should recognize the second list is strictly forbidden by specific Bible verses in both the Old and New Testaments.

In the verse in the box at the upper right, the apostle Paul is flexing his spiritual muscles in Christian liberty. While all things may be lawful, not all things are profitable or edifying. It is the profitability, or the practicality, or the benefit, or the advantage of certain things that must be considered carefully before doing them. These things are the doubtful things and they are discussed at length in several New Testament passages (1 Corinthians 6, 1 Corinthians 8, Romans 14, Ephesians 4, 1 Thessalonians 5, 1 Timothy 1).

Here is a Bible exercise to do before getting a tattoo. Around the time Jesus lived, the question of eating meat was a big deal. Not just any meat, but meat that had come from animal sacrifices made to idolatrous, pagan gods. Should a Christian eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols? Maybe yes. Maybe no. It was a doubtful thing. There were no specific injunctions against it, but it may not be a very wise thing to do. Getting a tattoo is similar. There is no specific injunction against it, but it may not be a very wise thing to do.

For the Bible exercise, get out your Bible and study the passages that talk about eating meat sacrificed to idols. Can you discern the general principles involved? The entire 8th chapter of 1 Corinthians addresses this question directly. Here is the first verse; get out your Bible for the rest of it:

Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.
- 1 Corinthians 8:1 [NASB]

When you read 1 Corinthians 8, mentally swap the words 'eating meat' to 'getting a tattoo.' That will take the old culture of the Bible and bring it up to date for today. Even though the culture is different, the basic principles in the passage are timeless. A key verse is verse 9:

But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak.
- 1 Corinthians 8:9 [NASB]

In other words, 'Be careful about doing anything that might adversely affect a Christian brother or sister who is new to the faith or weak in the faith. It is not wise to offend your close Christian friend.'

So, will getting a tattoo offend a brother or sister in the faith? Once you have settled that question in your mind, apply the answer to your personal decision about getting a tattoo.

The Temple of the Holy Ghost

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
- 1 Corinthians 6:19 [KJV]

If you are a Christian there are several other considerations in addition to the doubtful things argument set forth in the section above. The Bible states explicitly that God's Spirit dwells in the physical bodies of His children (verse at right). Since your body belongs to God, should you decorate it with a tattoo? Again, this is something you will have to work out with God. Further, where will your tattooing lead? Getting a tattoo does not abuse your body, but it may lead to smoking or drinking, and they most certainly abuse your body. Christians should not abuse the temple of God.

Consider Your Motivation

It is important to ask yourself why, specifically, you want to get a tattoo. Again, if you are a Christian, there are two important Bible principles to apply.

First, if you seek tattooing because everybody is doing it and you want to be like everyone else, watch out! Christians and Jews are not to be like everyone else. They are to be different from the rest of the world:

Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine
- Exodus 19:5 [KJV]

which means you should be separate from the everyday world system. In fact, the Bible says that if you are friends with the world system, you are an enemy of God:

know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. [James 4:4, KJV]

Do you believe that? It is not enough to believe it, you must know why you believe it. And 'because the Bible says so' is not an answer. Please read our article: Is the Bible a Pack of Lies?

Second, you may not be motivated by a desire to be like everyone else. Perhaps your motivation is to express faith, love, sincerity, beauty, gentleness, kindness, or another biblically sound principle. If you have such genuine faith and belief in God about a tattoo, that is good. But if there are shades of doubt in these matters, that is bad. It is critically important to get this issued resolved in your mind. Be true to yourself in these things. There is very good reason to be genuine:

for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. [Romans 14:23, KJV]

If your tattoo is not done in godly faith, it is sin. And sin is not a doubtful thing.


Tattoos are an important part of today's culture, just as eating meat sacrificed to idols was an important part of the culture in Jesus' day. They are neither good nor bad in and of themselves, but your own inward thoughts and motivations must be thoroughly checked against Bible standards before making a final decision. Remember, once applied, tattoos are not easy to remove without a trace, and there seems to be general agreement that some people regret getting them. Weigh the benefits against the limitations.

Before getting a tattoo, this Old Fogey would recommend:

  • Resolve the question of doubtful things (as explained above) by your own personal Bible study
  • Be sure your tattoo is done in Christ-centered faith. If it is not, it is sin, and sin always brings trouble.

by Paul Richards

Mon, 26-Jun-2017 03:44:13 GMT, unknown: 642316 AB/erbCknG9Vo