Can Christians Have Tattoos?
And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
Pardon me while I barf a little, as I quote some judgmental phrases about tattoos:
“How dare you get a tattoo! Heathen! That clearly goes against the holy Word of God! How are you going to repent of this sin?! I feel sorry for you on your Day of Judgment!”
“A true Christian would never mark up their body! You’re proving to God and everyone else you’re not really saved!”
“Now doesn’t that look trashy. You should be absolutely ashamed of yourself. A genuine man or woman of God would never ruin their body with disgusting tattoos. I don’t even want to be seen with you.”
This type of vindictive, mean, teeth-gritting trash talk makes me want to toss my cookies. Each time I use sanctimonious sayings in my devotionals to make a point, I feel like I need to take a bath. But I must use cantankerous examples in order to bring to light just how nasty some people can act.
As I’m sure many of you can attest, there are supposed believers who dig their claws deep into the souls of others as they judge them for getting tattoos. It’s no wonder we have such a bad reputation. When we say such hate-filled stupid stuff, people rarely get to see Jesus through us.
Now, from the get-go, I want to be very clear about Christians putting ink into our skin: there is no biblical commandment for us to not get tattooed.
I’ll get to the single passage from Leviticus the grace-confused folk use, but when it comes to getting inked, remember this as your guide: think long and hard about it. Take some time, and then think long and hard about it again.
Getting tattooed is a permanent thing so we must use godly wisdom and ponder greatly about this choice. It will be there for life, and whatever reason you’re getting it now, your mood might change later. What’s popular today won’t necessarily be popular in ten years–or in twenty or thirty years (just think of the mullet, side-spike, and parachute pants). Plus, more than likely you’ll have a career, people will constantly be looking at it–and asking you about it–and you will also have to see it everyday. So be absolutely positively sure it’s what you want.
If you’re not happy with it afterwards, what are the alternatives?
- Cover it up.
- Remove it with laser treatments.
Unfortunately, cover-ups are not always great because there’s only so much a tattoo artist can do with it. And if you want to have it removed, the laser process is very painful, expensive, and takes years. I should know. I got a tattoo when I was very young. From the moment I got it I didn’t like it. So a few years later I had it covered up. To make matters worse, I didn’t like the cover-up. Other people said they liked it, but I didn’t. If I did like it, I would’ve been glad to keep it, but over the past two years, I’ve spent thousands of dollars to have it removed. Nearly fifteen sessions of laser treatments later, I still need at least several more. It’s been annoyingly tedious, like peeling an onion one layer every eight to ten weeks. To add to my vexation, the commute to the tattoo removal office is an hour away from my house.
Oh but wait, there’s more!
Have you ever been lasered? And I’m not talking about the funny “lasered” like Dr. Evil said in air-quotes. I’m talking scream-your-head-off torture. I’m referring to ask-the-lady-to-stop-so-you-can-catch-your-breath lasered. Unless you’ve felt it, you have no clue how painful being zapped and burned for thirty minutes at a time actually is. The smell of toasted skin is awful and the agony is ten times worse than getting the tattoo.
I brought my wife to one of the treatments, just to sit in and witness it. Afterwards she said, “That was very hard to watch. I hated to see you in so much pain.” I’m considering taking Grace to a future session so she’ll think long and hard about getting a tattoo when the time comes.
My point is, contemplate deeply about your choice, then proceed, or don’t. If you’re drunk, high, or emotional, you definitely don’t want to do it. Just wait.
However, on the flip side, there’s a lot of amazing tattoos out there, and you’re free to do whatever you like. You’re free to get a tattoo or not get a tattoo. It was for freedom that Christ set us free! (See Galatians 5:1).
But for the person who struggles with judgmentalism, here’s the passage they’ll handpick from the Old Covenant to claim we aren’t “allowed” to get a tattoo:
“Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:28)
First of all, you can see this is for the Jews who were cutting their body and tattooing themselves for their dead relatives and friends. I’m not sure why. There’s no other scriptural reference on this subject. Maybe it was to honor them, or maybe they did this out of grief? Either way it doesn’t matter because this is one commandment out of 613, and Christians don’t live by a single commandment given by Moses.
I can already hear the rebuttal from someone who’s been taught to mix the Covenants. “What?! Matt, are you saying the commandments given through Moses don’t matter?!”
Friend, no, that’s not what I’m saying at all. The commandments given to the people group of Israel from Moses do matter–a lot. In fact, they matter so much to me I hold them to their highest standards according to Christ and the apostles:
OBEY ALL 613 PERFECTLY, OR NONE.
(See Matthew 5:48, James 2:10, Galatians 3:10)
If I didn’t respect the commandments from Moses I’d pick and choose what I liked and ignore the rest. Further, if we want to follow this tattoo commandment authentically, first, we must be Jewish. We Gentiles were never given the Law from Moses, we were outsiders (see Ephesians 2:12). Only those whom he just freed from Egypt were chosen by God to obey them and they agreed–never forced (see Exodus 19:8). They entered the first Covenant with Yahweh, not us. The Jews would laugh in our faces if we made the claim we’re not getting a tattoo because we’re following the Law.
Secondly, to follow the Law we must obey all 613 perfectly. I repeat, Law observance is perfection or bust. As a Jew, if you break a single command you must get forgiveness through animal blood at the next annual Day of Atonement, at the temple, by way of a priest from the Tribe of Levi (see Hebrews 9:22, 13:11,12).
Will you be doing that? Nope. The Twelve Tribes of Israel have been scattered, the priests were replaced by the Priest, and the temple is no more (see James 1:1, Hebrews chapters 4-7, in 70 AD the temple was destroyed).
Like a single beer in a 6-pack which is sold at your local convenience store, this single commandment is part of a 613-pack. Buy the whole case or get out. Moses reveals the true standard of the Book of the Law:
“Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)
No adjustments or modifications can be made whatsoever. The dietary laws, moral laws, wardrobe laws, ceremonial laws–all of the Torah must be executed wholly if you want to be righteous by obeying it. James, the half-brother of Jesus, reminds his Jewish friends of this truth:
“For whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10)
Paul said the same thing when he wrote to the foolish Law-loving Galatians who were trying to mix the Covenants together for “extra” righteousness. He went so far as to quote Moses from Deuteronomy:
For all who rely on the works of the Law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” (Galatians 3:10)
What does this have to do with Christians getting tattoos? Everything! The very commandment which has been cherry-picked from the Law–Leviticus 19:28–the modern church has turned into a law for Christians. There’s not a single verse in any New Testament epistle which advises us to not get a tattoo, and we’re not Jewish.
But even if we were, as a Jewish person we’d have to do all 613 entirely because there are no more sacrifices being made for sins at the temple through animal blood. Jesus was the final Lamb, but to some, that did not matter (see John 1:29, 11:53). The Moses followers were informed about the consequences for rejecting faith in Messiah:
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Hebrews 10:26,27)
Self-centered people like to use this passage from Hebrews as a threat for Christians. But this is actually directed toward the unbelieving Jews who had heard about Jesus’ final sacrifice yet still wanted to present animal sacrifices for forgiveness at the temple. Do you see it?
If we read all of Hebrews 10 we discover the requirements of the Law of Moses is the context and standing firm in faith in Christ alone is the message. We Christians were not given the Law, so we don’t have to turn from believing in it. Therefore, this section is not directed at us.
Why am I making such a big deal out of the Law? Because the tattoo commandment used today by hypercritical people is in the Law, yet we Christians have no relationship with the Law. The Law is the Old Covenant between God and Israel. The Law was replaced with the New Covenant for all who believe in Jesus (see Romans 10:4).
When Christ shed His blood He finished the righteous requirements of the Law in His own physical body. He did what no human ever could. Because God had given dominion over this planet to man, a man had to fulfill the Law perfectly. Jesus did just that, so He finished the Law in Himself (John 19:30, Romans 8:3,4, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13, 4:4,5, Matthew 5:48).
This is why animal sacrifices are no longer required by God for forgiveness for breaking the Law, and why the Jewish people were looking forward to Messiah. The annual trek to receive forgiveness of sins was getting old. Plus they wanted to keep their prized goat.
The New Covenant began when Christ offered His own blood for the sin of the whole world! (See Romans 6:23, Hebrews 1:3, 9:24). It didn’t begin at the birth of Jesus but at the death of Jesus! Why was the bloody Cross the very moment in which the New Covenant came to pass? Because only blood can bring in a Covenant with our Creator. Even the first Covenant had to be sprinkled with blood by the first mediator, who was Moses, in order to bring it into effect. That is, the 613, ten of which were the Ten Commandments–also known as the moral part of the Law (see Exodus 24:8).
Jesus’ blood, however, replaced the Old Covenant because only one Covenant can be in effect with God at a time (see Hebrews 8:13). The author of Hebrews painstakingly pens these truths to the unbelieving Jewish people who were stuck on Moses:
“Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.” (Hebrews 3:3)
“But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.” (Hebrews 8:6)
What are the better promises in the New Covenant? Simple. The Father’s promise to the Son at the Cross to remember our sins no more–and vice versa–the Son’s promise to die for those sins once and for all time (see Hebrews 6:16-19, 7:25, 8:12, 10:10). We are now the beneficiaries to their promise by a one-time graceful faith in Jesus’ death for our sins (see Ephesians 2:8,9, John 3:16-18, Hebrews 9:16-18).
Beneficiaries do nothing to receive an inheritance. They don’t make promises, they don’t reach out and take promises, nor do they name and claim promises–or beg, fast, hope and plead for promises. Beneficiaries sit still and bequest assets after a death. Someone dies and they benefit from that death, without doing anything at all. We believed Jesus and became children of God who’ve inherited His righteousness (see John 1:12, Colossians 3:24, 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Do you see why the event at Golgotha was so amazing?!
I want to be clear. Was there anything wrong with the Old Covenant? Not at all. In fact, the fault was found in the people’s inability to live up to their end of the bargain. So God in all of His brilliance removed the people and then replaced the Covenant. He then inserted Himself in mankind’s stead–which was His plan before the foundation of the earth! (See Hebrews 8:8,9, Revelation 13:8).
But let’s back up for a minute. Has the Law gone away? No. It’s still in full effect for today just as it was during Jesus’ time. However, what most Christians don’t understand is that the Law’s use is just the same in 2019 as it was back then: expose the severe hypocrisy of the most self-righteous people on the planet so they will turn toward faith in Christ alone (see 1 Timothy 1:7-11, Matthew 7:13-23, Galatians 3:2).
This is why Jesus said He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it–to show it off for everything it’s worth! (See Matthew 5:17). What’s it worth? Absolute perfection or absolute failure! Jesus even raised the standard of the Law in the Sermon on the Mount in order to bring additional pressure to the legalists who believed they were righteous through the Law. Some heard His message and immediately repented from legalism, yet others wanted to kill Him over such talk.
So when we handpick the tattoo commandment out of Leviticus, we are doing exactly what Jesus said we can’t do by not getting a tattoo:
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
Mosaic Law observance–according to Jesus, not our modern church–must be accomplished just as perfectly as God in the flesh accomplished it. He doesn’t “grade us” based on performance. That’s Old Covenant Judaism, pre-Cross theology. Christianity is pass or fail. Life or death. 100% righteous or 100% sinful.
For this reason, Paul said the Law is not of faith and that we must die to the Law so that we can live for God (see Galatians 2:19, 3:12, Romans 6:14). He never said the Law has died but that he died to the Law. It–all 613–had no authority over his actions and attitudes because the Spirit of God within him would never lead him into sin. The Holy Spirit replaces the Law’s guidance for all who believe in Jesus (see Romans 10:4, Galatians 3:24,25). Even more, Paul claimed the Law is a ministry of death and that sin increases–not decreases–when we “try” to obey it (see 2 Corinthians 3:7-10, Romans 5:20, 7:8-11).
This proves if we want to follow the tattoo commandment we must also follow these too:
- “Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it” (see Leviticus 19:26). So much for that rare steak which many Christians enjoy.
- “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard” (Leviticus 19:27). If your barber gives you a nice fade and trims your beard, sorry, you’re out.
- “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly“ (see Leviticus 19:32). Every time a senior citizen walks by, if you don’t stand up, you’ve just broken this commandment.
I could continue with many more commandments from the Law, but as you can see, it is very burdensome. It was meant to be, so we would lean toward God’s grace.
We have no relationship with the Law as New Covenant believers. We don’t look to the Law for anything, not even for morality. Remember, it’s all or nothing. Don’t worry though, the Spirit will never lead you into any type of immorality. Satan and his demons will, the power of sin will, and our old ways of coping will (unrenewed mindsets), but the Spirit inside of us will never lead us into anything that is not of faith (see Romans 14:23, Galatians 5:22,23).
So if you want a tattoo, get a tattoo. Just think about it, pray about it, and do your research on the style, the artist, the pain involved, and placement on your body. Ask God for wisdom about it (see James 1:5). But be sure to know, as a Christian, no amount of ink in your skin can alter Christ being in your heart. Once He’s there, He’s there forever. Tattoo ink is not more powerful than Jesus’ blood. Truth be told, biblically, even Jesus has a tattoo…on His thigh:
And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:16)
That’s a pretty cool tattoo if you ask me! Who else could pull that off but our Savior?!
I know, I know, legalistic demons are going bat crap crazy right about now, pestering those who struggle with legalanity. But the Bible is clear: Jesus is tatted up with some sweet ink!
So today, my friends, know this: God would rather you have a tattoo on every square inch of your skin, and He live in your heart, than you have no ink, and yet refuse to allow Him to join your heart. Samuel said it best:
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (see 1 Samuel 16:7).
Your heart is what matters, which is your spirit. Not your skin, but the real you. The everlasting you. Enjoy your freedom, Christian, and make wise choices which are always led by Christ within you.
A prayer for you: Father, thank you for the New Covenant. What a great idea you had. This Covenant seems so new to many of these dear readers, but it’s actually as old as Jesus’ death. For those who are coming out of the harsh, double-talk teachings of Moses plus Jesus, Law plus grace, death plus life–ease their minds today. Assure them with your Spirit, that, although yes, they’ll need their thoughts renewed to the freedom found in the New Covenant, they’re already 100% righteous because of it. Give them a sense of peace and help them to unlearn the lies of Covenant mixture. Teach them to make the Cross their main focus. As Jesus lives through them, they’ll enjoy His wisdom in regard to tattoos, forgiveness, finances, confidence, boundaries, sex, parenting, and everything else they can think of. He is our one true Counselor. Amen.
This devotional is from my upcoming book, The Christian Identity, Volume 2. Check out my other bestselling books here!