What does the Bible say about tattoos?
Surprisingly, very little.
There’s only one verse in the entire Bible that even mentions tattoos (Leviticus 19:28), and it isn’t as straightforward as it initially appears.
So whether your body is covered in Christian tattoos or you’re considering getting your very first Bible tattoo…
If you’re wondering, “Are tattoos a sin?” or “Can we go to Heaven with tattoos?” you’re in the right place.
In this article, we’re diving deep into Scripture to answer the following questions:
- What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos?
- What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos in Revelation?
- Did Jesus Have a Tattoo?
- Are Tattoos a Sin Today?
- Can We Go to Heaven With Tattoos?
And of course we’ll be looking at multiple Bible verses about tattoos (and even some Christian tattoo ideas) along the way.
Let’s dive in.
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What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos?
The Bible says this about tattoos in Leviticus 19:28, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.” This Scripture verse is the only place where tattoos are directly mentioned by name in the Bible.
The King James Version (KJV) translates the verse this way: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.”
However, it’s important to understand this verse in context (both the original literal translation and in the English language) before we can answer the question, “What does the Bible say about tattoos?” or, more importantly, “Is getting a tattoo a sin?”
Here are two important details we need to keep in mind.
1. Leviticus 19:28 Was Written to the Israelites (Not Us)
Read Leviticus 19:28 in context and you’ll notice an important detail: Leviticus 19 contains a long list of rules, most of which we no longer follow today.
This is because Leviticus 19 records specific laws God gave to the Israelites living under the Old Covenant. These laws were given after God rescued the nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt, but before they settled among the Canaanites living in the Promised Land (the land of Canaan).
Some of these laws are still binding for us as Christians living under the New Covenant today, but others are not.
For example, here are a few other laws included in this same list:
- Verse 4: “Do not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves”
- Verse 5: “When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the Lord, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf.”
- Verse 9:”When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.”
- Verse 11: “Do not steal.”
- Verse 14: “Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind”
- Verse 19: “Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”
- Verse 20: “If a man sleeps with a female slave who is promised to another man but who has not been ransomed or given her freedom, there must be due punishment.”
- Verse 23: “When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden.”
- Verse 27: “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.”
- Verse 28: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.”
While the Lord’s command “Do not… put tattoo marks on yourselves” seems very straightforward, it wasn’t written to us.
If getting a tattoo is a sin (according to this Bible verse), then why isn’t it also a sin for men to trim their beards? Why aren’t we offering sacrifices and leaving the very edges of our fields without reaping?
The answer is: Because these laws weren’t written to us.
We are simply reading a record of the laws that God gave a specific people, in a specific place, at a specific time. We can learn from them, but we are not required to follow all of them exactly as written.
2. Cutting Flesh Was a Common Pagan Ritual During that Time
While many of God’s laws do make sense to us (no lying, no stealing), others seem very strange or confusing today.
This is because many of God’s laws for the nation of Israel weren’t given because the action itself was sinful, but because God didn’t want the Israelites to copy the pagan practices of neighbors, leading them to worship foreign gods (though they did anyway).
God didn’t want His people to fall prey to the popular death and fertility practices of the surrounding nations. He wanted the sons of the Lord (the Israelites) to be holy in God’s sight — to worship the Lord alone, both through inward spiritual worship and through their outward appearance.
The Israelites were to be a living sacrifice, adorning themselves with a quiet spirit and imperishable beauty. This is why we see Samuel, David, and number of prophets continually remind the people to seek God’s spirit, not consult or rely on the false spirits and idols of their neighbors.
According to GotQuestions.org, “In the Old Testament, self-mutilation was a common practice among false religions.”
We see this in 1 Kings 18, when Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a competition to prove whose God is real. Scripture tells us the 450 prophets of Baal “…shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.”
If we look at Leviticus 19:28 again, we see that this verse likely isn’t talking about Christian tattoos in general (for decorative purposes), but it may be in the context of marking one’s body for pagan ritualistic purposes: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”
According to Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers,
“This, according to the ancient authorities, was effected by making punctures in the skin to impress certain figures or words, and then filling the cut places with stibium, ink, or some other colour. The practice of tattooing prevailed among all nations of antiquity, both among savages and civilised nations, The slave had impressed upon his body the initials of his master, the soldier those of his general, and the worshipper the image of his tutelar deity.
“To obviate this disfiguration of the body which bore the impress of God’s image, and yet to exhibit the emblem of his creed, the Mosaic Law enacted that the Hebrew should have phylacteries which he is to bind as ‘a sign’ upon his hand, and as ‘a memorial’ between his eyes ‘that the Lord’s law may be in his mouth’ (Exodus 13:9; Exodus 13:16; Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18).”
Additional Bible Verses (Not) About Tattoos
There are a few other places the Bible speaks of writing or putting a mark on the body, including Genesis 4:15, Isaiah 49:16, Jeremiah 31:33, Revelation 19:16, and Revelation 13:16. However, it’s extremely unlikely that any of these Bible verses are about tattoos specifically.
When answering the question, “What does the Bible say about tattoos?” or “Is getting a tattoo a sin?” you can leave these Scripture verses about of the list.
- Genesis 4:15: The Lord puts “a mark” on Cain so that no one will kill him. A more literal translation for “mark” here would be a “sign,” not a physical mark on Cain’s body.
- Isaiah 49:16: God says, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” This is in a section of prophecy, and should be understood symbolically.
- Jeremiah 31:33: God says, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” Again, this is symbolic, not literal.
Other than Leviticus 19:28, there are no verses about tattoos in the Bible — either in the Old Testament or the New Testament.
What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos in Revelation?
The Bible does mention writing and marks on the body in Revelation 19:16 and Revelation 13:16, but it is unlikely that either of these Bible verses are about tattoos. The only verse that specifically mentions tattoos is Leviticus 19:28.
If you’re wondering, “What does the Bible say about tattoos in Revelation?” there are two verses you’ll want to look at.
1. Revelation 19:16
Revelation 19:16 states: “On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”
However, this is very likely symbolic. Consider the immediately preceding verses (11-15):
“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True… His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations…”
Alternatively, it’s possible that Jesus’s name was written on his robe or on a sash, not tattooed into his thigh itself.
According to Bible teacher Ann Naffziger,
“A theory that easily explains such a contradiction is that the book of Revelation was originally written in Hebrew, not Greek as previously assumed. If that is the case, a miniscule copying error by an early scribe would easily render the Hebrew word for “banner” as “thigh” instead. The first Hebrew letter for the word ‘banner’, dagel, looks almost exactly like the first Hebrew letter for ‘thigh’, ragel.”
2. Revelation 13:16-17
Talking about the mark of the beast, Revelation 13:16-17 states:
“It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.”
While the Greek word for “mark” in this passage could refer to a tattoo, the tattoo isn’t the problem here. It’s what it symbolizes: the AntiChrist. This usage is much different than getting a Christian tattoo today.
Did Jesus Have a Tattoo? (Revelation 19:16)
As a Jewish man born under the Old Covenant law against tattoos in Leviticus 19:28, Jesus did not have a tattoo.
Revelation 19:16 does state,”On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” But the verse does not say that these words were tattooed under Jesus’s skin. Rather, they were likely either metaphorical (as much of Revelation is) or written on his robe or sash.
Are Tattoos a Sin Today?
Tattoos are not a sin, and getting a tattoo is not sinful. The only verse where tattoos are prohibited in the Bible (Leviticus 19:28) was written for the Israelites only. There are no Bible verses about tattoos that state that tattoos are a sin for Christians today.
Some might argue that 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 implies that Christians shouldn’t get tattoos, as our bodies should highlight the glory of God.
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
However, this passage about our bodies as God’s temple isn’t about tattoos at all. In this section, Paul is talking about sexual immorality and honoring God with your body – not body modification.
You could make a case that this Scripture passage implies that we should honor our bodies by not modifying them.
However, if this verse implies that Christian tattoos are sinful, then this would mean all body modification is sinful, including ear piercing, hair dye, intentional weight loss or muscle gain, or any surgeries, whether for medical or cosmetic reasons.
And I don’t think that’s an argument that most Christians are willing to make.
Can We Go to Heaven With Tattoos?
Because tattoos are not sinful, you can go to Heaven with tattoos.
Romans 10:9 tells us, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
The Bible does not say, “If you don’t get a tattoo, you will be saved.”
Our works are important, but our salvation doesn’t depend on our works.
Tattoos in the Bible
Leviticus 19:28 is the only verse about tattoos in the Bible, and there are no specific examples of men and women who had tattoos in the Bible.
There were many people who had literal or metaphorical “marks” on their bodies. However, these are not Bible verses about tattoos.
- Cain (Genesis 4:15)
- The Lord (Isaiah 49:16)
- The Israelites (Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 9:4)
- Followers of the Antichrist (Revelation 13:16-17)
- Jesus (Revelation 19:16)
Popular Christian Tattoo Ideas (Based on Scripture)
Now that we’ve answered the question, “What does the Bible say about tattoos?” you might be interested in getting a meaningful Bible verse tattoo for yourself. Thankfully, there are tons of options when it comes to Christian tattoos.
Here are a few of the most popular Christian tattoo ideas:
- Word tattoo ideas: faith, hope, forgiven, love, or freedom.
- Symbol ideas: a cross, tomb, dove, mountain, wave, fish, fire, or nails.
- Scripture tattoos: Psalm 46:1, Jeremiah 29:11, Philippians 4:13, or Psalm 103:8.
- People: A Jesus tattoo is always a popular choice.
What do you think? Are tattoos a sin, are only Christian tattoos okay, or are all tattoos completely fine? Would you ever get a Bible verse tattoo?