Let’s look at what the Bible says; the Scriptures that are typically used to call tattoos and piercings a sin:
“Do you not realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
“Do you not realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys His temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
“Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:28
What do you get out of these verses?
These scriptures are the top three scriptures used by Christians to combat tattoos and piercings. If you look at this verses on the surface, you will notice that they seem to very clearly define that tattoos and piercings are wrong, and that any harm brought upon your body is sinful because your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and does not belong to you.
One of the main things you need to keep in mind, though, when studying Scripture, is that you can’t proof-text in order to build an argument. Proof-texting is getting one verses from here, one verse from there, and piling them together to support your bias/argument. When studying something, you must look at the context of the verse – what does the passage talk about? How does this verse relate to the surrounding verses? How does this entire passage apply to the subject we are studying?
Breaking these verses apart:
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – This entire passage (12-20) is talking about sexual sin. Paul is talking about how Christians should honor God with their bodies by fleeing from sexual immorality, not laying with prostitutes, not having multiple sex partners, etc. This passage in no way talks about tattoos or piercings or what a Christian should or shouldn’t do with their body for that specific purpose.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 – This passage (all of chapter 3) is talking about leaders within the church. Paul is instructing them about their foundation in Christ, and then goes on to talk about how different leaders will come in to try to lay a different foundation down. When Paul says, “all of you together are the temple of God”, he is talking about the Church as a whole. And when anyone comes in to try to destroy this temple of God – destroy the church, lead His people astray – God will destroy that person for trying to destroy where the Holy Spirit dwells. So, this passage has nothing to do with our physical bodies, or what we do with them. This parcel of Scripture only talks about our spiritual union as the church body.
Leviticus 19:28 – This is the verse I wanted to spend a lot of time on, because this seems to be the one that talks about tattoos and piercings specifically. This verse directly attacks the act of getting a tattoo and pretty bluntly says “Don’t do it!” Before I get into what this passage is talking about, I want to talk about the different type of commands/laws that the Bible gives us:
1. Cultural/Civic Commands – commandments for the OT Israelite culture, like commands on how to divide the land among the tribes.
2. Ceremonial Commands – commandments concerning the worship of the Israelites, like commands about feasts. Most of the OT commands are of this type.
3. Moral Commands – commandments for all cultures, at all times, like the commandment that husbands stay with their wives.
When looking at Leviticus, we can tell that it is very clearly a ceremonial or cultural command, and not a moral command. Specifically, it talks about “for the dead”, which given the historical context of these times, it was more than likely talking about the practices of the surrounding heathens and pagan tribes around the Israelites. Now because of that, you must understand that God was giving these commands to them to set them apart from the pagan tribes – so that they can be distinguished as people of God.
Most people will look at that, and say – well yes, we must continue to do certain things, and follow these commands to be set apart from the sinners and non believers of this world. Sounds good, right? And you’re probably wondering why this command isn’t a moral command, but instead a cultural command. Let’s look at some of the surrounding verses within this passage:
Leviticus 19:19, “… Do not wear clothing woven from two different kinds of thread.” Now, if you want to be a proponent of Leviticus 19:28, you must follow the entire passage – you can’t accept one verse and not another. So if this is the case, let’s be sure and throw out all of our cotton/polyester blend clothing, because wearing anything from two different types of fabric is considered sinful and pagan.
Leviticus 19:26, “Do not eat meat that has not been drained of it’s blood.” In the Jewish customs, this is called Kosher. They have a specific practice they use when preparing meat that is to be consumed. Also, Muslims do this as well, their form of this is called Halaal meat. Obviously, we don’t always – if ever – eat Kosher meat. Any time we go to the restaurant, we’re eating regular meat that has not been drained of it’s blood or prepared ceremoniously. Again, if you want to follow these guidelines, you have to accept them all.
Leviticus 19:27, “Do not trim off the hear of your temples or trim your beards.” Obviously, this isn’t something we follow. Apostolic Pentecostals will follow this rule for the ladies by not allowing them to cut their hair. However, this isn’t something that we view as a decree of salvation. I get a hair cut every two weeks, and I shave every two days. The ladies in our church keep up with their hair, and I don’t think there are any men in our church who have never trimmed their beards.
So then what do we do with these commands today?
It almost seems as if these commands have no relevance for us today, and so therefore we should just disregard the entire book of Leviticus, right? Wrong! I’m not saying that if we don’t follow these rules we’ll go to hell. And I’m not saying that we need to throw out this entire chapter either. But I believe that the issue of tattoos and piercings will fall under the “disputable matters” of Romans 14. Let’s take a look at what it says:
“Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For example, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. While another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him judge whether they are right or wrong. And with the Lord’s help, they will do what is right and will receive his approval.
In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another, while others think that every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day, do it to honor Him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to give thanks to God and please the Lord. (skip to verse 10) So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. (verse 13) So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.
(verse 17) For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too.”
So what Paul is saying here, is that to some Christians, certain things are considered sinful, while to others, they’re not. This is in no way a form of relativism (what’s wrong for you is right for me), so don’t get that idea. But what it is, is Paul is saying that there are more important things to worry about than what kinds of meat we eat, whether or not we cut our hair, or whether or not we get a tattoo. Though some people might find that sinful, in the big scheme of things it holds no weight in the Kingdom of God. But what Paul does make clear – is that you must respect one another’s beliefs in those areas. If you don’t think it is a sin to get a tattoo, but someone else does – don’t go flaunting your tattoo to them and by doing so make them stumble in their faith or cause dissension in the body of Christ.
When evaluating whether or not you should get a tattoo, you should ask yourself these questions:
1. What are my motives for wanting this tattoo? Is it to be a reminder of who God is and my faith in him? Or is it something prideful, just to make myself look “cool”?
2. What is the tattoo of? Is it a bad word, a symbol or picture that describes something sinful – these things should be avoided, of course.
3. Am I doing this out of an act of rebellion? Would I be breaking any rules by doing this? Some churches have rules for their members, some schools have rules for their students, some jobs have rules for their employees – we are to follow those rules (Romans 13).