What does the bible say about tattoos? For centuries, tattoos have been a form of self-expression and a way to mark milestones or commemorate significant events.
But the practice of tattooing has also been a source of controversy, with some religious groups expressing strong objections to the permanent markings on the body.
One such religious tradition is Christianity, and among Christians, there is an ongoing debate over what the Bible says about tattoos.
There’s only one reference to tattoos in the Bible
The Old Testament contains the only explicit reference to tattoos in the Bible, in the book of Leviticus.
In Leviticus 19:28, the Lord commands the Israelites:
“You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves.”
This passage is sometimes translated as:
“’Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves.“
This verse is often cited as evidence that tattoos are forbidden in the Bible, and that Christians should not get tattoos.
The cultural context
But it’s important to understand the cultural context of this verse.
The tattoos being referred to in Leviticus were likely associated with pagan worship practices, and the command was part of a larger set of laws meant to set the Israelites apart from the surrounding cultures and keep them dedicated to God.
In other words, the prohibition against tattoos in Leviticus was likely not an absolute ban on all tattoos, but rather a rejection of specific tattoos that were associated with idol worship.
This interpretation is supported by the fact that there are no other explicit references to tattoos in the Old Testament, and no discussion of tattoos in the New Testament.
In their 2013 paper The Biblical Prohibition Against Tattooing, the University of Texas scholars John Huehnergard and Harold Liebowitz also support this view. “We propose that in the biblical period,” they write, “the prohibition was associated with the marking of slaves, and that in the subsequent rabbinic period, it was associated with paganism.”
Furthermore, the Bible does not address the motivations or reasons behind getting a tattoo.
People get tattoos for a variety of reasons, including for artistic or decorative purposes, to commemorate a loved one or significant event, or as a form of self-expression.
So while some Christians may believe that tattoos are incompatible with their religious beliefs, others maintain that they are a legitimate form of self-expression.
Seeing the bigger picture
Moreover, many Christians believe that the verse should be understood in light of the larger biblical themes of love and compassion, and that getting a tattoo is a matter of personal choice and conscience.
In conclusion, the Bible does contain one explicit reference to tattoos in the book of Leviticus, but the meaning of this verse is a matter of ongoing debate among Christians.
Whether or not tattoos are seen as compatible with Christianity will depend on the individual Christian and their interpretation of the Bible.