Contend Earnestly: Biblical Defenses Against Tattoos

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Biblical Defenses Against Tattoos

Besides my last posts on "Making a Brother Stumble" and "The Leviticus 19:28 defense" the other two widely used defenses against tattoos would be, "Aren't you ruining the temple of God?" and "Aren't you being worldly?" Besides these arguments, I don't know of any other problems people have with tattoos. If there are other arguments that you have yourself, or that you have heard, please let me know and I can address them.

These two arguments that are easily shown to be illogical when looking at the Christian walk overall, and are really a response by people who don't like tattoos and want to proof text to try and show great biblical knowledge of the subject.

Aren't You Ruining the Temple of God?

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20

This passage's focus isn't on smoking, drinking or tattoos (which this verse has been used to take issue with each one of these). This passage is about the Corinthians use of prostitution and how that outward act, is actually spiritually sinful because you have now become one flesh with another, instead of God who bought you with a price.

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
1 Corinthians 3:16

This passage speaks directly toward one building their temple upon the foundation of Christ or the foundation of idols. Paul tells the Corinthians that they must seek to build their temple of God upon the true Cornerstone and the true foundation which is Christ, not upon the many idols found, not only within Corinth, but within their own selfish ambitions and desires. Specifically, Paul says not to build your foundation upon your own work instead of the work of the Christ. Again...nothing about tattoos.

Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people."
2 Corinthians 6:16

This passage is specifically speaking on being unequally yoked to unbelievers and the point God makes is that His temple has no business with idols, so therefore, we, who are the new temple of God should not be yoked with those who do not love God. Again, nothing to do with tattoos.

One can see that we are yes, the temple of God and we are to take this seriously. We are to devote ourselves to what the original temple was devoted to, to shine the glory of God to all. This is our purpose. We are to show off the God of Abraham to all people in our outward response to our God.

I, as with others with tattoos, have decided to do some decoration in God's temple to make it as beautiful as we can. This is the same reason that women wear make up and why you shouldn't wear clothes from the 1950's. Just as you can glorify God with what you wear, so you can with tattoos as well. One isn't destroying the temple of God with tattoos, just decorating it. If one thinks you are destroying the body because you might get "ink poisoning" then the same thing could be used on why not to eat sugar, fats and caffeine because all these things can lead to ways in which your body could decay. Ink poisoning is very rare with tattoos and isn't even a defense. It would be like someone having an issue with you driving a car because you might get in an accident and die or destroy the temple of God.

Aren't You Being Worldly?

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
1 John 2:15-17

Usually the one that brings forth this argument thinks they have an open and shut case in regards to tattoos. It is their height of argument, saved to put the nail in the coffin. But what is John speaking of? John actually defines what love of the world is. He defines it as:

the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

It is really idolatry shown through lust of the things in this world, not getting tattoos. Now, can a person getting tattoos be worldly? Yes, of course, they can decide to go against their parents and get one, a wife or husband can ignore their spouses wishes and get one because they have a lust for their own life ahead of those in their authority or those that they have become one flesh with. When I was 18, living in my father's house, I went to him to ask his permission to get my first tattoo. I was "of age" and could legally do what I wanted to, but instead went to my father and asked permission. He said, "although I don't like tattoos, I have no issue of you getting one if you want to." Since I have been married, all thoughts of tattoos go through my wife first and prayer to Christ in my decisions. It is through submission that I get my tattoos, not through pride or rebellion.

Some will still say, "Okay, but aren't you just being like the world when you get those?" Being a part of a culture isn't wrong and it isn't worldly. Again, John told us what is worldly in the direct context of his teachings. His reason for writing that passage was to get followers of Christ to do the will of God and worship and give Him glory, instead of following the lusts of the world and giving self glory. If merely getting a tattoo is being "of the world" then so is buying a big house, driving a car, wearing a suit (or not wearing a suit), putting on make up, wearing cowboy hats in Montana and wearing a Seahawks hat at Qwest Field. That's what the world is, and we look like the world, so it must be sin. No. We are just displaying the culture that we live in.

This is what Christ did. He lived among those and wore and looked like what the culture reflected. That's why Jesus probably had a beard, wore sandals and a funky long robe and undergarment. Because that was what his culture reflected. He would look very different if he were walking amongst us today. Don't think Jesus has some dress on if he visited us today. He would be a representative of our culture, as are we. What you wear or look like doesn't make you worldly, it just reflects your culture. When we went to the South last year, it was funny what that culture reflects down there. 8 out of every 10 women were wearing those velour jogging suits. It made Stacy and I laugh because no one would be caught dead in one of those up here in Seattle. It was definitely a part of their culture.

Just because tattoos haven't been a part of the culture that you grew up in, doesn't make it worldly. Sadly, I sometimes wish I could use that logic so I could make more fun of those that wear velour jogging suits and call it sin.

These are the main arguments against tattoos and hopefully you can see how shallow these arguments are. We are to be the temples of God, living in our culture, displaying the glory of our God. If we were to take these verses as some would want, they would actually take on the dogmas of another major religion: Islam. They dress and do much of the same things that Mohammad's culture took on. That is what Christians are trying to do as they make these Scriptures their proof texts against tattoos, how people dress or look like in general.

I just can't wait for them to start wearing long robes so that their theology fits their practice.


michael said...

Brilliant! Nice job bro!

Justin (Locu5tBot) said...

I hate the "its worldly" argument. Because guess what worldly people breathe air and eat food and wear cloths and everything too. Should we stop doing that too? Of course not everyone likes those things. Its such a stupid and inconsistent defense. What's worldy is defined strictly by what they personally don't like.

Unknown said...


I appreciate how you try to apply God's word to every area of life. It is not an easy thing to do.

I do have a question about mutilating ones body. Where does that begin. Some would say that to get a tatoo is to mutilate ones body. I looked up the word mutilate in a dictionary and this is what it said, "To disfigure by damaging irreparably." I don't know if it falls in that category, but that's what came to my mind when I read your post. I guess if someone were to get tatoos from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet then you might say he has mutilated his body.

Any thoughts?

Seth McBee said...


Thanks for coming by and commenting and good question. I guess we could use that same logic and apply it to circumcision. It is no longer binding on God's people, but is used for aesthetic purposes only. We could also use it for any type of surgery that isn't necessary, but for aesthetic reasons someone gets in a car crash and their face looks like elephant man and we tell them not to have surgery because they are then "mutilating their body."

With all things, including tattoos, I think there is a balance. Can it become a sin? Yes. It can if it turns into an idol in your life. Is it a sin because you are making cuts in your skin for aesthetic reasons? No. Mutilation, in the bible (Galatians 5:12) is a term that has connatations of complete removal of limbs.

Those are my thoughts on the matter...for now :)

Did you have some Scripture you were thinking of as far as mutilation in some other manner?

Thanks again, Steve, for your question.

Unknown said...

Hey Seth, I see that this has been a long drawn out internal debate for you and thought that I would add my own. Sara and I both have one each, our wedding rings. Just before my last deployment I asked Sara to let me
get one as I couldn't wear my actual ring. She ended up getting one at the same time.

Reactions have been almost all positive. Actually it has contributed to our testimony as it forces people to deal with our faithfullness to each other. We frankly love them as they are a are imovable reminders of our love.

There are some things that believers should consider though. First is the content of tat glorifying or gorifying? Second, does your spouse agree with it? Sara is a
co-owner of my body and therefore has a say in things. Third is the purpose. Does the tat communicate a godly message or otherwise?

Later Bro, Eric Mattison

Unknown said...

i absolutely love how you have confronted this issue. thank you,a gain, for doing so so thoroughly and with scripture.

my husband and i both want tattoos. his parents are dead against them! very conservative. ive never understood why my hubs still doesnt get one if he wants one...cuz i dont care. i want one too. it isnt a sin. i would love to have "redeemed" in hebrew somewhere on my person. brent, my hubs, would love to get something with great significance as well...but he wont, out of respect for his parents. although i respect that - i wish they would understand that it isnt their call and give him their blessing so that he could make that decision with me, the one he is united now with. our daughter will be 16 in april and we're letting her get a nose ring... my inlaws are gonna flip!

anyhoo...what would you say to this. advice?

jules said...

great post. i'm sure there will be some who would love to go into a full heated debate about it. haha.

i'm for tattoo.

for me, it is as simple as how ppl used to think that rock music is of the devil etc etc. it can't be true if the lyrics are praising/glorifying God.

doesn't the same concept applies to tattoo?

Diane said...

God has a tattoo of us:

"Behold, I have indelibly imprinted (tattooed a picture of) you on the palm of each of My hands; [O Zion] your walls are continually before Me." - Isaiah 49:16 (AMP)

Must be ok, then!

Seriously, with tats I believe it's like anything - it has everything to do with motivation. Are we getting one to impress others? Is is going to cause offence and discontent with loved ones? Do we want to appear totally rad?

If we examine ourselves and realise that any of the above attitudes are ours, then no, we shouldn't get a tattoo. As a believer I don't think it's good enough to go with the flow. We need to think for ourselves, and examine ourselves.

If you can truly say that your tattoo will be for the glory of God, will point people to Him, and will in no way be about how cool you'll appear in from of others. Does your life & words tally up with the marks on your skin, your clothes, your moleskin notebook? Or do you NEED a tat to show you're a believer, along with a fish sticker on your bumper and a WWJD bracelet?

Tats are for life, not just for Christmas. Examine yourselves first - a lot of things may be permissible, but not all are beneficial.

*disclaimer - I don't have tats, but appreciate them from an artistic point of view*

Seth McBee said...


Your husband is being very thoughtful through this. I will also say that he is not under the rule of his family, but of under his new family and with his new flesh. But, if it goes against his conscience, I would go with conscience as Romans 14 points to.


To an extent you are right. But we can't just make blanket statements, because then some could find those things which are morally wrong and then try and put Christianity on top of it to make it right. So, they could do porn and say they are just reaching a new audience and use some sort of messed up missiology to make their point.


Very good points and thoughtful. I will actually go into a post tomorrow on why I choose to have tats and why I believe it is a lot like why people buy certain clothes and certain art to hang on their walls. Although, because of the permanance, more should be considered in the decision process.

Thanks all for your comments and thoughtful responses.

Seth McBee said...


Thanks for the response. Pretty cool story to tell you the truth. I will be putting forth my reasons for tats tomorrow and feel one can get one that doesn't defame God, but also doesn't necessarily have "his name on it" and still be God-glorifying.

Anyways...I'll save the preaching until tomorrow :).

Great story again...thanks for sharing.

David said...

Hi Seth,
I'm an MK and got a tattoo a few weeks ago when I was working abroad because I turned eighteen, am moving back to my home country, and wanted a physical reminder of my time in Spain (7 years). I had no idea some people would react the way they did about tatoos. Your arguments are fantastic, thorough and rational. I'm very, very grateful for them. Thank you very much!
Now I can defend my tattoo without going against my Christian beliefs.


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