What Does The Bible Say About Tattoos?

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A stylized tattoo design with a religious motif

Tattoos have become increasingly popular in recent years, with many people choosing to permanently ink their bodies as a form of self-expression or as a way to commemorate something meaningful to them. As with any topic, the question arises: what does the Bible say about tattoos? In this article, we will explore different perspectives on tattoos from a biblical standpoint and delve into interpretations of relevant scriptures.

Understanding the Context: Tattoos in Biblical Times

In order to understand the Bible’s stance on tattoos, it is crucial to consider the cultural significance of tattoos in ancient times. In many ancient cultures, tattoos held deep meanings and often served as markers of identity, status, or religious beliefs.

For example, in ancient Egypt, tattoos were associated with fertility and protection. The Egyptians believed that tattoos had magical powers and could ward off evil spirits. Tattoos were also used to symbolize social status, with higher-ranking individuals having more elaborate and intricate designs.

In ancient Greece, tattoos were used to mark slaves and criminals. These tattoos served as a form of punishment and a way to identify individuals who had committed crimes or were considered property. It was a visible reminder of their status within society.

In ancient Rome, tattoos were linked to certain religious cults and served as symbols of devotion. Followers of these cults would often tattoo themselves with images or symbols associated with their chosen deity. These tattoos were seen as a way to show their commitment and dedication to their religious beliefs.

These cultural contexts shed light on why the Bible addresses the subject of tattoos, as they were a prevalent part of society during biblical times. The Bible, being a reflection of the times, includes references to tattoos to provide guidance and establish boundaries for its followers.

The Cultural Significance of Tattoos in Ancient Times

In ancient times, tattoos were deeply ingrained in the fabric of society. They represented personal narratives, religious affiliations, and social hierarchies. Understanding the cultural significance of tattoos during biblical times can help us interpret scriptural references on the subject.

Tattoos were not merely decorative; they carried a profound meaning for individuals. They were often used as a form of self-expression, allowing people to communicate their beliefs, values, and life experiences. Tattoos served as a visual representation of one’s identity and served as a means of connecting with others who shared similar beliefs or experiences.

For example, a person who had survived a life-threatening situation or a dangerous journey might choose to commemorate their experience with a tattoo. This tattoo would serve as a constant reminder of their strength and resilience, as well as a way to share their story with others.

In religious contexts, tattoos played a significant role. They were used to signify devotion to a specific deity or religious practice. These tattoos were often intricate and detailed, incorporating symbols and imagery that held deep religious meaning. They were seen as a way to physically embody one’s faith and to demonstrate their commitment to their spiritual beliefs.

Biblical References to Tattoos

The Bible mentions tattoos in Leviticus 19:28, which states, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.” This verse is often referred to in discussions about the biblical perspective on tattoos.

It is important to note that the Bible does not provide an extensive explanation or nuanced commentary on tattoos. This leaves room for interpretation and understanding the broader principles underlying the prohibition against tattoos.

Some scholars argue that the prohibition against tattoos in Leviticus can be understood within the context of ancient pagan practices. Tattoos were often associated with idolatry and pagan rituals, which went against the monotheistic beliefs of the Israelites. By forbidding tattoos, the Bible may be emphasizing the importance of staying faithful to God and avoiding practices that could lead to idolatry or the worship of false gods.

Others interpret the prohibition against tattoos as a way to maintain the sanctity of the body, which is considered a temple of the Holy Spirit. Tattoos, in this view, may be seen as a form of defacement or disrespect towards the body, which is meant to be treated with reverence and care.

Ultimately, the biblical stance on tattoos is open to interpretation and may vary among different religious traditions and individuals. It is important to consider the historical and cultural context of biblical times when seeking to understand the deeper meaning behind the scriptural references to tattoos.

Interpretations of Leviticus 19:28

As with many biblical verses, Leviticus 19:28 can be interpreted in different ways. It is essential to consider both literal and contextual interpretations when delving into this topic.

Literal Interpretation of the Verse

On a surface level, a literal interpretation of Leviticus 19:28 forbids the act of tattooing oneself. This perspective emphasizes the clear language used in the verse and argues that it applies to all people, regardless of cultural context or time period. Therefore, tattoos are deemed sinful and discouraged.

Contextual Interpretation of the Verse

On the other hand, a contextual interpretation takes into account the historical and cultural context in which the verse was written. It acknowledges that Leviticus is a book of laws given specifically to the ancient Israelites and aims to preserve their distinctiveness as a people.

Some scholars argue that the prohibition against tattoos in Leviticus 19:28 may have been intended to discourage the Israelites from adopting the idolatrous practices of neighboring cultures. The tattoos mentioned in this verse could have been associated with pagan rituals or mourning for the dead.

Tattoos and Christian Beliefs

While the Bible does not explicitly address tattoos beyond Leviticus 19:28, Christians have varied interpretations and perspectives on the topic. Some see tattoos as a valid form of self-expression, while others view them as inappropriate or potentially harmful to the body, which is considered a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Tattoos as a Form of Self-Expression

Many Christians argue that tattoos can be a means of expressing one’s faith, sharing personal testimonies, or symbolizing important beliefs. They view tattoos as a legitimate form of art that can serve as a conversation starter or a reminder of one’s commitment to Christ.

Others believe that tattoos should be approached with caution, emphasizing the need for discernment in choosing appropriate designs and avoiding anything that might convey messages contrary to Christian values.

Tattoos and the Concept of Body as a Temple

Some Christians hold the belief that the body is a sacred gift from God and should be treated with reverence. They argue that tattoos violate the concept of the body being a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

These individuals express concern about the permanence and potential consequences of tattoos, such as regret, societal perceptions, or negative impacts on one’s witness as a Christian.

Views of Different Christian Denominations on Tattoos

Christian denominations have varying perspectives on tattoos. While the Bible forms the foundation of their beliefs, differences in interpretation and application exist within different churches and traditions.

Catholic Church’s Stance on Tattoos

The Catholic Church does not have an official stance specifically addressing tattoos. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes the importance of respecting and glorifying God with one’s body and cautions against anything that may impair the integrity of the human person or express a false conception of bodily beauty.

Therefore, Catholics are encouraged to approach tattoos with prudence, reflecting on the motivation behind them and ensuring they align with moral values.

Protestant Views on Tattoos

Within Protestantism, views on tattoos can vary widely among different denominations and individual believers. Some Protestant churches have no specific teachings concerning tattoos and leave it up to individual conviction and discernment.

Others adhere closely to biblical literalism and discourage or forbid tattoos based on the interpretation of Leviticus 19:28. Still, others adopt a more flexible approach, focusing on the heart and intentions behind getting a tattoo as the determining factor.

Modern Christian Perspectives on Tattoos

In the modern era, tattoos within Christian circles have gained more acceptance and diverse interpretations have emerged.

Tattoos as a Form of Evangelism

Some Christians see tattoos as an opportunity for evangelism and view them as a way to initiate conversations about faith. These individuals use tattoos to visually communicate their relationship with Christ, hoping to spark curiosity and engage in meaningful dialogues about Christianity.

The Debate Over Religious Tattoos

There is a significant debate within Christian circles regarding religious tattoos specifically. While some view religious tattoos as a genuine expression of faith, others caution against them, pointing to biblical warnings about idolatry and the potential for misrepresenting or trivializing sacred symbols.

Ultimately, the decision to get a religious tattoo is a personal one that must be guided by personal conviction, respect, and a deep understanding of the sacredness associated with religious symbols.


When exploring the question of what the Bible says about tattoos, it is essential to consider both the biblical references and the broader principles they convey. Understanding the cultural backdrop of ancient times and acknowledging different interpretations allows for a more nuanced perspective on tattoos from a biblical standpoint.

As with many areas of faith and personal conviction, Christians may hold different views on tattoos. It is crucial to approach the topic with respect, humility, and a desire to honor God in all aspects of life, including our bodies.


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