Tattoos in the Bible

By: Rev. Sam Harris; ©2003
What does the Bible say about tattoos? Responding to an email question, Rev. Harris explains where we can find tattoos mentioned in the Bible. He also gives two medical reasons tattoos may not be a good idea.

Question: What does to Bible say about tattoos?

Answer: There is only one verse in Scripture that mentions tattoos: Leviticus 19:28. It reads as follows in several different translations:

You should not make any cuts in your body for the dead, nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves, says the Lord. (NASB)

You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you, says the Lord. (NKJV)

According to The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, tattooing is mentioned, along with self-inflecting lacerations in the rites of mourning for the dead, probably because both practices were associated with pagan cults. The Lord, therefore, says that these are forbidden.

There is another aspect of this implied in the New Testament that we must take into consideration, and this passage of Scripture is found in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”

Paul reminds us, beginning in 6:12, that our bodies belong to the Lord; we are free to do anything that pleases the Lord. In verse 17, Paul states: “But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him”—as in marriage, the two shall become one flesh. Therefore, if we are one with Christ, then we must consider our whole body, including our personality, as the temple, the sacred dwelling place, of the Holy Spirit.

We are not to mar our bodies in any way that detracts from the reflection of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The same is true of our attitudes and actions—if we consider ourselves “a temple of the Holy Spirit” then the way we live our lives will also be guided by the Holy Spirit.

We have seen all kinds of tattoos: hearts, crosses, dragons, snakes, and the list goes on and on. If my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, what kind of reflection does the tattoo have on my testimony? Each must consider this question carefully in light of Scripture.

There are two medical aspects of this that we must also consider (especially if our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit):

  1. Perhaps you will need to have an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) test due a medical problem in the future. In a number of the colored dyes used in tattoos, there are metallic particles which can cause burning to the skin from the magnets in the test equipment. Burning of the skin will also occur from older tattoos where lead dyes were used.
  2. The folks with Blood Assurance told me that you run the risk of getting Hepatitis C from dirty needles used in the tattooing process—if the person applying the tattoo is not practicing clean conditions. Many tattoo parlors are now under government regulations, but there still can be the possibility of spreading HCV if one is not careful.

If my body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit is it worth running the risk of ruining my testimony and my health due to tattoos on the body?

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