Body Piercing and Tattoos
(What's a Christian to do?)

Whether body piercing and tattoos are right for a Christian is very much a topic of debate in many circles. Not surprisingly, teens comprise the bulk of inquires we have received — often looking for something to use in combat with a parent who has already decided the family position.

To examine the issue from beginning to end, we need to first consider if there are clear (in context) Bible passages that rule out these practices. Make sure you read the whole article (and, as always, the Bible references), or you'll miss much of what this article is about.

Some Christians, who believe that these practices are always wrong, hold up the verse...

Leviticus 19:28 "'Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.’” NIV

... as saying that all cuts on your body (piercing) and tattoos are wrong. Simply put, that passage does not say that. It specifically warned the Israelites to not follow the common practice in the area of cutting your body or marring it (tattoos) in honor of the dead; whether a person or a demon god who is spiritually dead (see also Deuteronomy 14:1, 1 Kings 18:28, Jeremiah 16:6). Some cultures still practice this. In fact, while much of that chapter deals with points of law showing God’s Holiness and sinful practices, many items listed in that chapter where part of the ceremonial law, which was fulfilled in Jesus (Ephesians 2:14-16). That’s why we don’t have to worry any longer about “not wear(ing) clothing woven of two kinds of material. (Lev 19:19)” and “not cutting the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. ( Lev 19:27),” which is in the verse right before.

Lest anyone goes as far as to try and use Mark 5:5 (as some do), as proof that cutting your body is wrong, this demon possessed person was doing it with an intent to injure and cause pain. Anyone who has an unnatural fascination with cutting themselves or trying to hurt themselves in anyway is in need of help (this could be with sharp objects, or in the form of bulimia or anorexia). It is possible that some who get tattoos and body piercing (especially in excess or very tender spots) fit into this category. This is a principle expressed indirectly in many places in Scriptures, that love of one’s self is natural (see Matthew 22:39, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8, 1 Sam 18:3). This would make hatred of (or want to harm) one’s self unnatural.

Instead of an absolute command on this whole issue, as with many other areas, the Bible does give principles that can (and should) be applied. A few of them are...

1 Corinthians 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

The bottom line in everything we do needs to be, does it glorify God? Needless to say, many messages on tattoos are obviously not to glorify God. Another question you could ask is, regardless of the message, will that sagging tattoo still glorify God when I’m old?

If the piercing or tattoo is being done in an unsafe manner, or in a place that encourages infection, one needs ask how this would be potentially glorifying to God as well. Piercing of tongues and cheeks have been medically shown to fit into this category, even causing long term damage to teeth.

If any of this is being done out of rebellion (against society, parents, etc.) it cannot be glorifying to God. All rebellion is an offense to God...

1 Samuel 15:23a For rebellion is like the sin of divination...

If it’s being done out of vanity, once again it will not be glorifying to God (and this includes earrings)...

1 Peter 3:3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.

This passage in 1 Peter is not saying that all nice hairdos, clothes, and jewelry are wrong, rather they become so if you have them out of pride and vanity. An overriding question always has to be, “what’s your motive?” God judges motives and actions...

Proverbs 16:2 All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD.

While some will say that I am soft on this issue, I cannot hold up, in God’s name, a rule that He did not. To do so is legalism, which so many fall into (Colossians 3:20-23). What is permissible and actually commanded by Scriptures is that parents are to care for their children. In like manner, children are to obey their parents “in all things. (Colossians 3:20)” So, that being said, if a parent says no (regardless of the reason), a child is to obey. It becomes wrong simply because the parent has said so and to go against it is to enter into rebellion (which we have already touched on).

While some single out earrings as being okay, while frowning upon other piercings and even multiple ear piercings, or even ear piercings on guys, the same principles still apply. The Bible no more speaks of one earring, multiple earrings, or guys versus girls on this topic. Ultimately they become cultural items which may vary from one culture to another and not all cultural items are bad. In Bible times earrings were quite common and also worn by men (Exodus 35:22, Numbers 31:50, Judges 8:24 [men], Song 1:10, Ezekiel 16:11-12 [note Ezekiel references a nose ring too!]). For another glance at Biblical body piercing for a cultural purpose, examine Deuteronomy 15:16-17 and Exodus 21:5-6.

As a final personal remark, I’ll mention that I know some Christians, male and female, who have earrings that are very tasteful, even as I know some who have far worse. Sadly, some people have ended up going through life with irreversible regrets, something even more common amongst those with tattoos.

Written by Brent MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 2002.
Feel free to duplicate as long as the source is cited.