What does the Bible
say about tattoos?

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QUESTION: Does the Bible say that tattoos and body piercing are WRONG? Are they a sin?

ANSWER: You might not like the answer that the Word of God gives you, but yes, the Bible does have something to say about both tattoos and body piercing. We can find our answer in Leviticus 19. Although this chapter is addressed to the whole house of Israel, it applies to ALL people, especially the modern descendants of the ancient Israelites who comprise the bulk of the populations of the United States, Canada, and Australia.

The first thing we need to understand is that since God is Holy, clean and pure he wants his people to be the same. As previously stated, the Old Testament book of Leviticus, written under the inspiration of God, discusses the issue of tattoos. The New Testament, however, is silent on this practice.

27 Do not . . . tattoo yourselves or cut gashes in your body to mourn for the dead (Leviticus 19:28)

The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary states the above restriction in Leviticus 19 concerns other marks placed on the body as well. This reference states the practice was performed many times through the imprinting of leaves, flowers and so on. According to the JFB, the prohibition in Leviticus is likely due to human nature's desire to have such marks to honor an idol.

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Ancient people, who worshipped false gods, used this practice for religious purposes. God says he is a jealous God in Exodus 20:5. We are not to practice the way of the heathen when we worship Him.

19. And it shall be if you do at all forget the LORD your God and walk after other gods serving them and worshiping them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish - yes, perish (Deuteronomy 8:19).

Just like tattoos, body piercing is in or alluded to in a few places in holy writ. Sometimes it is referred to as ear piercing. For example, the ear was pierced of a bought servant was performed to bear witness that the servant had chosen to serve, until death, his master (see Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 15). This act was a testament of the servant's pledge of loyalty. Otherwise, the law stipulated that the servant won their freedom at the end of seven years of service if he wished, with pay. If he went free, he would have to leave his wife and children in servitude until he redeemed them. However, if he chose to stay with his family and with his master, he must have his ear pierced to identify him as unredeemable.

When God made a covenant with Israel, he considered it like entering into a marriage covenant. As a gift to her (Israel), he said the following.

10. I also clothed you with embroidered work, and I shod you with leather sandals. And I wrapped you in fine linen, and I covered you with silk. 11. And I adorned you with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon your hands and a chain on your neck. 12. And I put a ring on your nose, and earrings in your ears . . . (Ezekiel 16:10 - 12, HBFV)

In conclusion, God's word does not prohibit wearing earrings or body piercing. The Bible is clear, however, that the practice of putting tattoos on one's body is not the Eternal's perfect will for his people. Thank you for your question regarding what Scripture says about this subject.

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