A question often asked is, is it permissible for a Christian to get a tattoo? This is a pertinent question today, especially with the rise in the popularity of tattoos in the western culture. According to a 2008 Harris poll 14% of all adults in the United states have a tattoo. The number rises significantly among young adults where 32% of those in the 25-29 age group have a tattoo. Of course, Christians are not as concerned about the trends and views of culture as about God's will for their life.
Is there a direct statement in Scripture on the subject? Not really. Some quote Leviticus 19:28: "Ye shall not make cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any mark upon you: I am the LORD." The problem with using this verse is a failure to recognize that the ceremonial laws have been fulfilled in Christ. Most people who choose to use this verse to defend their position against tattoos break many of the other prohibitions in the same chapter. For example, Verse 19 forbids wearing clothes made from thread from diverse materials. That means you can't wear cotton/polyester blends. Verse 19 also prohibits the planting of hybrid crops of which almost all of our food comes today. Verse 28, however, does speak against behaving as the idolatrous pagans which might be applied to tattoos.
So then tattoos are OK? Not so fast. There are other principles that should govern our behavior and the exercise of our liberty. Let me give a few:
1. As Christians we should do everything with the purpose of glorifying God. "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). We should always ask ourselves, "Why am I doing this?" The motive for tattoos is usually to draw attention to self. It is the glorification of self - the desire to be cool in the eyes of others. Remember, your body is not your own. It belongs to Christ. How would He have you to treat it? Will Christ be exalted in you?
2. Is it profitable to you spiritually? "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All thins are lawful, but not all things edify" (1 Corinthians 10:23 NASB). Will getting a tattoo help you as you seek to be more and more like Christ?
3. What effect will it have upon others? Will it be helpful as you seek to help weaker Christians grow to maturity. Will it be helpful as you seek to reach lost people for Christ? Your tattoo may not offend some but most people will see you as worldly. Are you willing to deny yourself that you might reach others with the Gospel? A tattoo will close far more doors than it will open. "Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you" (2 Corinthians 6:17).
4. Look around you at mature believers who demonstrate holiness and spiritual wisdom. Are these the people who are interested in getting tattoos? This should tell you something. Seek to emulate those who are holy. What is your identity? Who are you trying to imitate? We must seek to be more and more like Christ.
We are called to be holy and separate. We are called to bear the image of Christ. There are far more important things in this life than getting a tattoo.