What does the Bible say about tattoos?

What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos?

Tattoos have become increasingly popular in recent years, with nearly 30% of Americans having at least one tattoo as of 2019. With their rising prevalence, many Christians wonder – what does the Bible say about tattoos? Are they acceptable for followers of Christ or do they go against biblical principles?

Old Testament Guidelines on Tattoos

The only direct references to tattoos in the Bible come from the Old Testament. In Leviticus 19:28, God commands the Israelites through Moses:

“Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”


Some key things to note about this verse:

  • It was a specific command intended for the Israelites to distinguish themselves from the pagan nations around them that marked themselves for their dead.
  • The verse prohibits tattoos used in cultic rituals or to honor the dead, not decorative tattoos.
  • It occurs in a section of Leviticus focused on spiritual purity and avoiding idolatry, not universal morality.

So while this verse prohibited certain types of tattoos used in pagan worship rituals, it does not necessarily constitute a blanket prohibition of all tattoos today. The context was spiritual, not simply cosmetic.

Principles on the Body from the New Testament

Since Christian ethics flow from New Testament teachings, we should look at some relevant principles from the Epistles.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 states:

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.

Key principles here include:

  • Our bodies belong to God, not to us, so we should use and treat them accordingly.
  • We should honor God with how we handle our bodies.

In light of these principles, questions to consider with tattoos include:

  • Am I using my body to honor God or myself?
  • Will this tattoo be consistent with my identity as belonging to Christ?
  • Does my motive align with actively honoring God or passively going with societal trends?

The New Testament calls us to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), set apart from the world. So biblical wisdom suggests carefully considering if certain tattoos identify us too closely with worldly culture rather than our new identity in Christ.


Factors to Consider on Tattoos

Given the principles outlined above, below are some factors to weigh when considering a tattoo:

Motivation Behind the Tattoo

Our heart motives are just as important as the external actions themselves. Some questions to ask:

  • Why do I want this tattoo? To stand out? Fit in? Make a statement? Remember something meaningful?
  • Am I seeking attention, acceptance, or identity from it above God?
  • Is my motive to honor myself or honor God with my body?

Examine your real motivations honestly before God. Our hearts can deceive us but God sees the intentions underneath.

Meaning of the Tattoo Design

As the Leviticus verse indicates, some tattoo designs can have spiritual meanings that contradict biblical values, while others may have personal meaning.

  • Does my design symbolize something contrary to biblical truth or values I claim to embrace?
  • Might it communicate identification with non-Christian beliefs rather than my faith?
  • Does this particular tattoo design reflect my new life in Christ or my old self?

Christians should avoid tattoos with occult, sexual, vulgar, or anti-Christian meanings. Think carefully about what a tattoo may communicate spiritually, not just what it means to you personally.


Physical Health Considerations

While modern tattoo methods are relatively safe, there are still health risks to consider, including:

  • Infection – Unsterilized needles can transmit dangerous infections. Select a reputable tattoo parlor using sterile equipment.
  • Allergic reactions – Pigments, dyes, and metals used in tattoo ink can cause allergic reactions, even years later.
  • MRI complications – Tattoo pigments can interact with MRI machines and cause swelling or burning. Alert your doctor.

Our bodies are canvases and temples of the Holy Spirit meant to glorify God. So caring for our physical health is one way to honor Him.

Bible-Inspired Tattoo Ideas

For Christians who thoughtfully decide to get tattoos, here are some ideas that may positively reflect biblical truths:

  • Christian symbols – Cross, ichthys (Jesus fish), dove, etc.
  • Bible verses – Short inspiring passages like Philippians 4:13, John 3:16
  • Jesus’ name – Simple but meaningful identification
  • Praying hands – Reminder of the importance of prayer
  • Crown of Thorns – Memorial of Christ’s sacrifice

Tasteful biblical references that spark conversations about your faith can be a meaningful way to honor God with your tattoos.

Conclusion – Apply Biblical Principles on Tattoos

The Bible does not explicitly prohibit all tattoos for all people in all situations. The Old Testament command had a specific spiritual context. Principles from the New Testament provide wisdom for evaluating motivations and meanings behind tattoos.

In the end, whether to get a tattoo or not is a personal choice between each believer and God. We each need to pray, apply biblical values, and use Spirit-guided conscience to determine what honors the Lord with the bodies He has entrusted to us as temples of His Holy Spirit.


  1. Leviticus 19:28: “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.” This verse is often associated with tattoos, but its interpretation varies among different Christian denominations. Some view it as a guideline emphasizing the sanctity of the human body, while others consider it related to historical and cultural practices1.
  2. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” This passage highlights the importance of honoring God with our bodies, but it doesn’t explicitly mention tattoos1.
  3. Ephesians 5:10: “And try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” While not directly about tattoos, this verse encourages believers to seek what pleases God in their actions and decisions.
  4. Wikipedia