Tattoos & Piercings: “Holy Inking, Batman!”

Question: “Is it a sin to get tattoos or body piercings?”

Is this more of a cultural than sin-related question? What drives an individual to ink or pierce their bodies? Could the intent (motive) itself be sinful? What does the Bible have to say about tattooing or piercing?

There’s been an incredible explosion in the number of people getting tattoos and multiple piercings these days. So, I’m not surprised at having been asked whether either is sinful. Anyone looking for a definitive sin line in the sand won’t find it here, as intent and culture make it impossible to draw one. This doesn’t mean that getting tattoos or receiving piercings isn’t related to sin, but the actions would most likely be manifestations of underlying sinful behavior such as pride, arrogance, or rebellion.

I mentioned that intent comes into play here (as it does just about anywhere!). Why an action is done is important to understanding whether it’s sinful. For instance, someone may get a tattoo to commemorate the life or death of a loved one. Someone else may have meaningful Scripture tattooed on their body for remembrance or some kind of witness. Is this sinful?

On the other hand, a minor may illegally and immorally receive tattoos or piercings out of rebellion against their parents or because of vanity.  Or, someone may get piercings in particular places for the purpose of enhancing sexual experiences or satisfying a narcissistic, prideful desire to stand out through the use of tattoos or piercings. Of course, these are but a few examples of what may be innocent intent on one hand and sinful desire on the other.  So, what does the Bible say about these activities? How could someone contemplating a tattoo or piercing determine whether they should follow through with the act? Let’s examine them one at a time.

Piercing. The only direct biblical reference to piercing is that of the Old Testament piercing of a slave’s ear by their master (cf. Exodus 21:6 and Deuteronomy 15:17). The Old Testament mentions earrings, but these may have been slipped on and not necessarily inserted through holes in the ears. Because there’s no way to tell for sure, references (e.g. Exodus 35:22) shouldn’t be used in support for or against ear piercings.

Tattoos. This one’s a bit trickier, as God specifically forbade the Israelites from gashing or marking their bodies.  I’ve heard it said that God was just talking about doing this in commemoration of the dead; however, look at the text and you’ll see that the tattoo warning comes after the mention of the “the dead”.

You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves . . .

Besides the biblical warning against tattooing, there are no benefits to the act. You’ll also find definite disadvantages and risks:

  • Permanence. Tattoos are relatively permanent, although today’s technologies may help in removing most evidence of inking.
  • Negative perceptions. These could come from potential friends, spouses, or employers. Why risk not getting an ideal job or missing out on close relationships for the sake of making a statement? You’ll likely find, though, that this isn’t quite the risk it once was; perceptions have changed somewhat as tattoos become more popular.
  • Roadblock to an effective witness. Presenting yourself as an inked Christian could have a detrimental effect on spreading the Gospel or invoking confidence in others. But, as with the ‘negative perceptions’ bullet above, the risk of a roadblock, while valid, may not be as viable as in the past.
  • Risk of infection. This does happen as a result of unsanitary conditions and equipment.

Summary: Unlike piercings, which seem to have no prohibition or permanent effects, tattooing carries a biblical warning and risks while sporting no apparent benefit. Also, the motive behind inking or piercings can be sinful – especially if born of sin such as pride or rebellion. Sinful motives (no matter what the action) should be repented of.

For a very comprehensive and detailed study of the very important topic of God’s judgment to come, feel free to read my 2011 guide titled, “Finding the End of the World” available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from www.ronbraley.com in paper and e-book formats. In the guide, you’ll find roughly 500 pages of building blocks to help you do your own complete and unbiased study based on Scripture and history!

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