Where Does the Bible Stand on Tattoos?

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Where does the Bible stand on tattoos?

Many modern issues — like cars, computers, tobacco, and television — are not addressed directly in Scripture. By learning what God’s Word does say about holiness and obedience and by asking the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we can make good decisions about items not men­tioned in the Book.

Tattoos, however, are mentioned in the Bible — once. Leviticus 19:28 says, “You shall not make any cut­tings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD.”

Written as a law for Israel under the old covenant, this text helps Christians, too. We may not ignore a word from Moses merely because it’s not in the Ten Commandments. Leviticus 19:18, for example, is later cited by Jesus as the second greatest of all the laws. Verse 28 also says something of value to us, just as it did to those who first heard it.

This law against tattoos was given, we think, because of the common practice of others at that time to cut or mark their bodies as a show of devotion to their gods or to dead relatives. Israel’s God asked His people to be different by avoiding cultural fads that earmarked others who did not follow Him.

Before getting tattooed, one should think about why. If part of the reason is that others have tattoos, then who are these “others,” and who is their god? Will a tattoo identify us as a follower of them or as a follower of Christ?

To answer your question, then, the only text on this topic says no. Does the rest of God’s Word support this ancient taboo on tattoo? The gospel says believers belong 100 percent to Jesus and that all we do in our bodies should bring glory to God (1 Cor. 6:19, 20).

— Elder Calvin Burrell

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    Calvin Burrell
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    Calvin Burrell is former editor of the Bible Advocate and former director of G. C. Missions. He retired in 2015 and lives with his wife, Barb, in Stayton, OR. They attend church in Marion, OR.