Being that I am from and in the urban inner city culture with a Puerto Rican heritage, I get this question asked to me alot from those from the same culture new to Christianity and who have been taught legalism throughout their life. Hopefully this concise article will be of service to many, Sola Deo Gloria!
I believe that the motivation for getting the tattoo is the vital question in this discussion. There are some motivations that I would consider sinful and others that I would not.
Tattoos can be for self-glorification, which is a sin. They can be images that promote sin or are satanic.
They can also be to show your faith in Christ which I don’t think is a sin. Also people just like the art factor of tattoos which is not a sin either.
There is nothing in scripture that would lead us to believe tattoos are sinful. In fact we see that we have liberty in Christ Jesus on matters such as these and no man-made laws or doctrines are to bind our conscience but only the Word of God. This then brings us to a few verses they like to use to say that tattoos are a sin and wordly and pagan and yada yada which they take completely out of its context.
Leviticus 19:28….I use the ESV because its the closest to the literal greek.
“28 You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.”
Now lets look at its entire context.
“26 “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. 27 You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. 28 You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.
29 “Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity. 30 You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.”
As you can see, tattooing is mentioned in the context of ancient pagan practices. But does this mean that tattooing is in itself a bad thing to do because unbelievers did it? We have to be careful not to make a logical error known as the genetic fallacy. This error says that something is false because of its origin. For example, it would be a fallacy that because the Nazi regime developed the Volkswagen Beetle, that the VW Beetle is a bad car. Likewise, just because unbelievers get tattoos does not mean Christians should not.
The Leviticus context also tells the Israelites to not round off the hair on the side of their heads nor shave the edges of their beards. Apparently, this is what the Egyptians did and God’s people were called to be separate from them. But, why such detail about hair? Perhaps Moses was concerned about the superstitious beliefs of the Egyptians to which shaving the head and beard had a religious significance. If this were the case, then God’s people were certainly called to be separate from the false nations and their superstitions.
But, such religious practices that require tattooing, cutting one’s own skin, and/or shaving the head and beard are not around in present-day Western culture. So, the admonition against tattooing, based upon the cultural norm, can’t apply for today.
If we must conclude that tattooing is automatically bad in and of itself, then we must also conclude that shaving off the hair on the side of the head and shaving edges of men’s beards is also equally bad. But, since cutting hair and shaving beards is not sinful in itself, how could we conclude that tattooing is also automatically sinful? We can’t. Nor would we be able to eat medium rare steaks etc…because of the blood….silly.
The second verse they use……
1 Cor. 6:19,20
“19 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, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
If we take this verse in isolation it may appear to give them reason to say your body is a Temple of the Lord so don’t put tattoos on it, but is that what it really is saying? Nope. Lets look at the entire context.
“15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined[d] to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin[e] a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 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, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
We see here that the context of what Paul was talking about was “sexual immorality”. Has nothing to do with earrings or tattoos. If we were to interpret this passage the way alot of legalist do then we could not drink soda, eat fried foods or anything that harms the body….again the implications would be silly. Again, this passage has to do with sexual immoral people and the way they disrespect their body and soul with the sin of fornication and adultery etc…….
What these people also fail to realize is that we Christians are free in Christ and not bound by the Law. This does not mean we can go on and sin at will but rather means that we are not saved by works and our salvation is not determined by what we eat or drink or wear etc…..We are only allowed to call sin what the Bible calls sin not what we think is sin because of our own personal opinions and old fashioned traditions….
“8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits[a] of the world, and not according to Christ.”
“16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 ( referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
That would sum it all up