Tattoos are an increasingly popular way for people to decorate and modify their bodies. Tattoos have a history that stretches back thousands of years and today tattoos are a part of the culture of the most primitive tribes and the most advanced cities. Though in years past some have taught otherwise, nothing in the Bible describes tattoos as the mark of the beast. Tattoos are not an unpardonable sin. The presence of a tattoo on a person does not automatically disqualify him from heaven. No single sin condemns someone to hell. People are condemned to hell because of the sin nature, the natural bent to wickedness that all possess at birth. David says in Psalm 51, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Even before a person exits the womb, he is a sinful creature. This sin nature is why people go to hell. Individual acts of sin are an expression of the sin nature which all people possess. Consequently, none are condemned to hell because of being tattooed.
Similarly, people do not go to heaven because they were good enough to not get a tattoo. None enter heaven because of an action taken or a sin avoided. Heaven is reserved only for those who trust in the grace of God and receive the gift of forgiveness purchased by Jesus on the cross. Because the problem is one of human nature, the solution is not behavioral. The solution is a transformation of nature. To enter heaven one must be given a new nature, a nature that is righteous and acceptable to God. The new nature that man needs has been provided by Jesus and is freely available to any who will turn to Christ to be cleansed of guilt and transformed into righteousness.
A full answer to the question of tattoos must also consider if it is sinful to get tattooed. Some tattoos are going to be sinful because of their content. That which is obscene or profane is sinful, even if other tattoos might be acceptable. Tattoos are prolific in our culture. The days of only a fringe few being tattooed are long gone. No longer are tattoos immediately connected with rebel groups or gangs. The New Testament does not give a specific prohibition against getting a tattoo. The Old Testament did prohibit the Israelites from getting tattooed. Leviticus 19:28 says, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19 contains a combination of timeless commands (do not prostitute your daughter; do not seek after wizards) and temporary commands (do not round the corner of your beards; do not eat bloody meat). The command against tattoos in verse 28 is specifically addressing the idolatrous worship of the pagans in Canaan making the prohibition against inking the flesh challenging to categorize as timeless or temporary. However, the weight of the chapter is against those things associated with idolatry and includes tattoos in the category of idolatrous practices.Though the context of Leviticus 19 does not give definite clarity on whether or not this is an absolute principle, it seems to me that the burden of proof lies with those who would defend getting a tattoo.
Though I am reluctant to communicate a definite prohibition against all tattoos, I would give a couple serious warnings. If there is any legitimate possibility the tattoo is going to be associated with idolatry, wicked groups or sinful behavior, do not get it. If you have any doubts at all about the righteousness of getting a tattoo, don’t get one. If the motivation for getting a tattoo is to look cool or to gain acceptance, don’t get one. Though tattoos may be permissible, and certainly will not condemn one to hell, the Old Testament association of tattoos with idolatry, the need to live wisely in this world and the Christian’s maintaining a Godly testimony would seem to indicate it is best for a child of God not to get inked.