Should Christians have tattoos?

(Kris Krüg/Wikimedia Commons)Couple with matching cross tattoos.

Christian or not, people sporting tattoos have become more common nowadays than ever. A Harris Poll conducted in 2015 reported that around 47 percent of millennials have at least one tattoo on their body and 37 percent of this number is more likely to sport more than one ink. With such prevalence, many have begun to ask, "Should Christians have tattoos?"

To be able to answer this question, it is just right to go to the source of Christian living standards, which is the Bible. Browsing through the 66 books will direct readers to only one verse with direct reference to tattoos. Leviticus 19:28 is the only verse in the whole Bible to have an actual mention of putting ink and marks on one's body. "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord," states the New International Version.

While the instructions are very clear, many would argue that the context of this verse is different from what many perceive it to be. These days, having tattoos can be for self-expression and aesthetic reasons, which is far from how tattoos were used in the Biblical times.

In ancient Near East, tattoos were used as a form of punishment or as symbols of belief in local deities. In some cases, it was used to mark slaves. 

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Hence, it may be regarded that the tattoo marks mentioned in Leviticus 19:28 refer to the pagan rituals that many Israelites were exposed to in the early days. 

Having these in mind, it still does not mean that one should get ink all over his body in an unrestrained manner. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 offers the reason why Christians should think twice before getting any tattoos on their bodies.

The Bible repeatedly reminds its readers to exercise wisdom and "count the cost" whenever making decisions and getting a tattoo, especially if it is permanent, should be carefully considered. Among the things that Christians should spend time thinking about is the motive and heart behind getting one.

Because Jesus has paid the price for our lives, all glory and honor should point back to Him and not to the believers. If the tattoo will simply call attention to the wearer, then perhaps a second thought must be done. Regardless if the design is of secular or religious in nature, one must not discount the fact that it is a permanent fixture on one's body, which may draw attention to the wearer whether he likes it or not.

On the side of having tattoos as ways to communicate God's message to others, no one can argue that seeing a huge ink that speaks a Bible verse or something similar will definitely catch one's attention. However, Christians must be cautious that tattoo-wearing do not replace the active sharing of the Gospel and ministerial work to others.

There may be no right or wrong answer in this debate, but believers in general should do well in seeking counsel and advise before they do anything drastic.

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