We do have this command in 1 Peter 3:3–4: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” Granted, this passage is directed at Christian women, but there is a principle here that may be apropos: namely, a person’s external appearance should not be the focus of our attention. Much effort goes into “elaborate hairstyles” and “fine clothes” and jewelry, but that’s not where a woman’s true beauty lies. In the same way, tattoos and body piercings are “outward adornment,” and we should be careful to give more effort to the development of the “inner self,” regardless of our gender.
In relation to tattoos and body piercings, a good test is to determine whether we can honestly, in good conscience, ask God to bless and use that particular activity for His own good purposes. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The New Testament does not specifically command against tattoos or body piercings, but it also does not give us any reason to believe God would have us get tattoos or body piercings.
As tattoos grow in popularity each year, it makes sense that most Christians wonder what the Bible has to say about tattoos. The short answer is that the Bible does not say anything clear and direct about tattoos. Many use Leviticus 19:28 as an argument against tattoos. This verse literally translates: “And a cutting for the dead you will not make in your flesh; and writing marks you will not make on you; I am the Lord.” The word writing refers to inscribed or engraved symbols/words, and is used only here. The word for marks, also used here alone, has an uncertain root, so we’re not really sure what the word means. Further, the word tattoo did not enter into the English language until the late 1700s. This is probably why the KJV, written in the early 1600s, is closer to the literal translation saying, “ye shall not…print marks upon you.”
The background to this law was that Israel, after being rescued from slavery, was between Egypt and Canaan. Recent archeology indicates that, while Egypt did tattoo, it was limited to women. Evidence suggests that tattooing the body parts of women associated with fertility (breasts, thighs and abdomen) was believed to be a good luck charm to protect the birthing process. In Canaan, evidence indicates that instead of marking the body with ink, more extreme scarification measures, like branding, slashing or gashing the skin were used. Archeology, backed by biblical texts, indicates the Canaanites would customarily slash their bodies for ritualistic purposes (1 Kings 18:28), especially to mourn their dead and honor their gods. Leviticus 19:28 seems to imply this when it says, “you will not make cuttings in your flesh, for the dead, nor print marks on you.”
In light of this information from Egypt and Canaan, it would seem God was forbidding scarification, not tattooing as we know it. With this said, while there may be no clear passage in the Bible addressing tattoos, this is hardly a license for unrestrained tattooing. You still need to think before you ink, especially if you’re a Christian. The following Bible verses should help you make a decision on your tattoo and your walk with Christ.