The only place the Bible specifically mentions tattoos is in Leviticus 19:28 (ESV):

You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.

Before we dive into the theology of it, let’s just consider common sense for a moment.

Our body is a gift to us from God and we are to steward it well. Damaging our body through lack of care is not good and yet all of us will imperfectly care for our bodies. Think about nutrition, lack of movement, avoiding going to the doctors to address illness etc.

Clearly it’s a good idea to look after our bodies but God is very kind to us as we imperfectly follow him.

So does tattooing damage our body? If done carelessly or improperly yes. But generally speaking no.

God is not a stickler for detail or trying to catch us out. He is very gracious to us in all of our imperfection.

Even if we reach the conclusion that theologically tattoos are a sin, then it would be hard to imagine that it is a level of sin that would disqualify someone from heaven.

The first thing we need to consider is that much of Leviticus is not written to most of us. The Law (Torah) was given to the people of Israel.

We can see that there are multiple elements to the Law.

  • Civil law around the judicial system of the nation of Israel (not applicable to us)
  • Ceremonial law around the forgiveness of sins (fulfilled by Jesus)
  • Common sense truth that stands the test of time

So if you are not Jewish then much of the Old Testament Law is not an instruction for you.

That doesn’t mean there can’t be truth or wisdom that applies to non Jewish people such as myself. But if we want to take Leviticus 19:28 and apply it to ourselves today then we should probably also apply the rest of the Law such as burnt offerings etc.

So why did God command the people of Israel not to cut their body or tattoo themselves.

The clue is in the reference to the dead. Many pagan religions cut themselves or make markings (tattoos) that are directly connected to the worship of idols. Hence God is reminding his people that he is the Lord and wants his people to be separate.

There are some ways that tattoos can be sinful though.

It’s all about the heart with which we approach them (and anything else for that matter).

If we are getting a tattoo to annoy our parents or to communicate a dark or unkind message then that’s probably somewhat sinful.

If we are acting outside of self-control (a fruit of the Holy Spirit) and being careless with our bodies then that’s probably somewhat sinful.

And of course connected to idol worship is not a vibe.

But tattoos in themselves are definitely not sinful for Gentiles (although the scripture seems to say they are for Jews).

So how does anyone get to heaven anyways?

We know that every single one of us have fallen short of the glory of God and need a saviour. Romans 10:9 (ESV) says it like this:

Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

It’s not the result of our perfect life (although God does want to change our behaviour over time). It’s the result of the grace and goodness of God, revealed to us on the cross through Jesus.

If you have a tattoo that you regret then you could always save up and get it removed. But the Bible also tells us that the old has gone and the new has come.

Thanks for reading!