Tattoos: What is the Biblical View?


“Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment, nor observe times. Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard. Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:26-28)

Many within the emergent church movement and the contemporary seeker sensitive church growth movement attempt to justify tattoos by saying it’s just a cultural thing. For example pastor Mark Driscoll wrote, “Restrictive Christians go too far and name everything a universal sin, forbidding some cultural activities that the Bible does not, such as listening to certain music styles, getting tattoos, watching movies, smoking cigarettes, consuming alcohol, and body piercing.”1)Mark Drisoll, The Radical Reformission: Reaching out without Selling out, Zondervan, 2004, p. 10 A similar argument is that this restriction is only for the Old Testament Jews such as the preceding verse from Leviticus which prohibits how one cut his hair and shaves his beard. “Some have thought that because of the proximity of the taboo on tattoos to the prohibition of other pagan mourning practices in Leviticus, tattooing must have been a pagan mourning practice. However, we find no evidence of this in ancient texts from the Levant, Mesopotamia or Egypt. As far as we can tell, tattooing was not an ancient mourning practice in these cultures.”2) Megan Sauter, “What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos?,” Biblical B=History Dailey (4/7/2018); The context is clearly identifying idolatry with the hair style seeing verse 27 is between verse 26 condemning occultism.  “The custom of scratching the arms, hands, and face as tokens of mourning for the dead is said to have existed among the Babylonians, Armenians, Scythians, and Romans, and is practiced by the Arabs, Persians, and Abyssinians of the present day and also the New Zealanders. It was sometimes accompanied by shaving the hair from the forehead.”3)James M. Freeman, Manners & Customs of the Bible, Whitaker House, 1996, p. 94 The New Testament never nullifies this “ye shall not” for this form of body modification as it is idolatry. J. Vernon McGee commented on verses 26-28 stating “There are six commands here that condemn the practices and superstitions of the heathen.”4)J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Thomas Nelson, 1981, vol. 1, p. 415 As long as the New Testament condemns idolatry these prohibitions stands (1 John 5:21; 1 Cor. 10:20; Acts 15:20, 21:25; Rev. 9:20, etc.).

Likewise, David Guzik, the Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara, commenting on the passage in Leviticus states, “Part of this message to us today is that what our culture thinks and how they perceive things is important. If some clothing or jewelry or body decoration would associate us with the pagan world, it should not be done. This is a difficult line to draw, because the standards of culture are always changing. Some modern examples of changing standards are hair length and earrings for men.”5)David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible, How is it a difficult line to draw? Does pastor Guzik think that the pagan roots of such things somehow become less associated with paganism as time passes? Or have the world and culture as well as most professing Christians grown more desensitized and attracted to interaction and participation of pagan practices. The state of our progressing culture does not change God’s word or what it clearly teaches whether these acts are associated with paganism or secularism; God’s people are forbidden to conform to the world (Rom. 12:1-2).

Scripture clearly prohibits us to “print any marks upon you: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:29). John Gill relates, “Aben Ezra observes, there are some that say this is in connection with the preceding clause, for there were who marked their bodies with a known figure, by burning, for the dead; and he adds, and there are to this day such, who are marked in their youth in their faces, that they may be known; these prints or marks were made with ink or black lead, or, however, the incisions in the flesh were filled up therewith; but this was usually done as an idolatrous practice; so says Ben Gersom, this was the custom of the Gentiles in ancient times, to imprint upon themselves the mark of an idol, to show that they were his servants…”6)John Gill, John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible, Lev. 19:29, available at Again we see the factor of marking, tattooing, branding, cutting, or piercing the skin is to express ones dedication to service – a covenant as a servant to a pagan deity. “Burmese tattooing has been associated with religion for thousands of years. Tattooing among indigenous North American groups including the Arapaho, Mohave, Cree, and Inuit (Eskimo) is rooted in the spiritual realm as well.”7)Laura Reybold, Everything you need to know about the dangers of tattooing and body piercing, Rosen Publishing Group; Revised edition (July 1998) p. 15

James Freeman records:

In Egypt a runaway slave was freed from his master if he went to the temple and gave himself up to the god, receiving certain marks upon his person to denote his consecration to the deity there worshipped. Cain had a mark put on him for his protection, as an evidence of God’s promise to spare his life notwithstanding his wickedness. Gen. iv, 15. To this day all Hindoos have some sort of mark upon their forehead signifying their consecration to their gods. Several passages in the book of Revelation represent the saints as having a mark on their foreheads, See Rev. vii, 3; ix, 4. Xiv, 1; xxii, 4. The followers of the “beast” are also said to be marked in the forehead or in the hands. See Rev. xiii, 16, 17; xiv, 9; xx, 4. The woman in scarlet, whom John saw, had a name written on her forehead. Rev. xvii, 5.8)James M. Freeman, Manners & Customs of the Bible, Whitaker House, !996, p. 301-302

Furthermore, the tattoos carried magical significance to the religious bearers. “The origins of tattooing came from ancient magical practices. . .”9)Laurie Cabot, Power of the Witch, cited in Masonic and Occult Symbols Illustrated by Dr. Cathy Burns, p. 301 “Tattooed designs are thought by various people to provide magical protection against sickness or misfortune…”10)The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 15th Edition, 1988, vol. 11, p. 578 Yet it is actually the calling upon the name of a deity that the tattoo represents that this magical protection is believed to be in effect. “Innumerable people have believed and still believe in the magical power of a name. This belief was especially powerful among Egyptians…. In the light of this belief, the priests of Egypt sought to discover the names of the gods, and thereby the ability to wield a supernatural power. At the sound of the true name, the powers of the gods stood ready to perform the invoker’s bidding.”11)Kurt Seligmann, The History of Magic, Pantheon Books, 1948, p. 68-69; as cited by D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (revised and enlarged), Signature Books, 1998, p. 2 In fact, historical source identify Egypt as the origin for magic. “One of these [three sons of Noah], by name Ham, unhappily discovered he magical acts, and handed down the instruction of it to one of his sons, who was called Masraim, from whom the race of the Egyptians and Babylonians and Persians are descended.”12)Psuedo-Clementine Literature, The Recognition of Clement, bk. IV, chap. XXVII; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson; 1885-1887, Hendrickson (Peabody, Massachusetts) 1994, fifth edition 2012, Vol. 8, p. 140 One recent report has indicated, “Researchers have discovered the oldest figurative tattoos in the world on two 5,000-year-old mummies from Egypt.”13), “‘Oldest tattoo’ found on 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummies,” BBC News (March 1, 2018); The details being published in The Journal of Archaeological Science revealed the figurine tattoo was of “a wild bull with a long tail and elaborate horns; the other appears to be a Barbary sheep with curving horns and a humped shoulder.”14), “‘Oldest tattoo’ found on 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummies,” BBC News (March 1, 2018); The report further indicated, “The researchers believe that the tattoos would have denoted status, bravery and magical knowledge.”15), “‘Oldest tattoo’ found on 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummies,” BBC News (March 1, 2018); This discovery was unique as it was formerly believed and observed that only women had tattoos in this pagan culture. For example of another mummy with tattoos “an ancient Egyptian woman tattooed her body with dozens of symbols — including lotus blossoms, cows and divine eyes — that may have been linked to her religious status or her ritual practice…. The mummy’s neck, back and shoulders were decorated with images of Wadjet eyes — divine eyes associated with protection.”16)Mindy Weisberger, “Egyptian Mummy’s Symbolic Tattoos Are 1st of Their Kind,” Livescience (May 9, 2016);

Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon commonly known as Maimonides, a twelfth century Jewish commentator, writes that “this was the custom of the gentiles that they inscribe themselves for idol worship that is to say that he is a slave sold and enlisted for its worship…”17)Maimonides, Laws of Idol Worship 12:11; cited by Likewise, Paul used this analogy (not that he had a tattoo but used the illustration that was understood in the culture) to identify himself as a slave to His God, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Gal. 6:17). John Gill explains, “The allusion is either to servants and soldiers, who, when taken into service, used to have some particular mark put upon them, that they might be known to be such an one’s servant, or soldier; as the Hebrew servant, who was willing to serve his master, had his ear bored through with an awl, Exodus 21:6 so the apostle was known to be a firm and faithful servant, and a good soldier of Christ, by the reproaches and afflictions which he underwent for his sake…”18)John Gill, John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible, Gal. 6:17; available at The Christian who is bought by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is His servant (1 Corinthians 7:23; Acts 20:28; Revelation 1:1) which is on occasions portrayed allegorically with the thought of this custom of tattoos; though this should not be understood as tattooing properly speaking. “Because tattooing is forbidden in Lev 19:28, some Jews marked on themselves, for apotropaic purposes, a letter or a word with ink (sphragis), showing that they were God’s slaves.”19)Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading & Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism & Early Christianity (ed. Martin Jan Mulder and Harry Sysling), Baker Academic (Grand Rapids, MI: 2004), p. 27 One example is the future regeneration of Israel: “ For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Hebrews 8:10).

The opposition of tattoos throughout Christian history is self-evident as it is connected with idolatry. “Just as occurred in other cultures with tattoo traditions, when these pagan tribes were ‘converted’ to the Christian religion, their spiritual and cultural rites (which included tattooing, piercing and scarification) were outlawed. . .”20)Jean-Chris Miller, The Body Art Book : A Complete, Illustrated Guide to Tattoos, Piercings, and Other Body Modifications, Penguin Publishing Group, 2004, p.9 The Encyclopaedia Britannica recognized, “After the advent of Christianity, tattooing was forbidden in Europe, but it persisted in the Middle East and in other parts of the world.”21)The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 15th Edition, 1988, vol. 11, p. 578 Even nominal “Christians” such as Emperor Constantine acknowledged the anti-Christian status of tattoos. “Roman writers during that time have also reported that slaves and criminals bore marks or tattoos. When Constantine became Roman Emperor in the fourth century, he banned the putting of tattoos on the face, commonly done by convicts, soldiers and gladiators.”22) The convicts, soldiers, and gladiators bore tattoos as a mark of their being owned by other men, similarly to that of slaves or pagan priests. The use of tattoos for identification has continued throughout history. Jews were tattooed by their Nazi captors, and gang members receive tattoos to pledge their allegiance to the gang, and many other examples could be expressed especially from indigenous pagan tribes.

To defile one’s body with such methods was perpetrated as an attack against Christians in the past. “In 1160 a company of Paulicians (Baptists) entered Oxford. Henry II ordered them to be branded on the forehead with hot irons, publicly whipped them through the streets of the city, to have their garments cut short at the girdles, and to be turned into the open country. The villages were not to afford them any shelter or food and they perished a lingering death from cold and hunger.” 23)Moore, Early and Later Nonconformity in Oxford 12. As cited by J.M. Carroll “The Trail of Blood”… 10th printing 2006, p. 3 This will also occur in the future under the antichrist forcing the mark of the beast upon the inhabitants of the world to identify their allegiance to him as the world worships and serves him (Rev. 13). The growing interest in tattoos throughout the civilized societies today is a precursor to desensitize people in preparation of the mark of the beast. A plethora of books on the topic can be identified to correlate the fact that tattoos are still pagan idolatry such as Maureen Mercury, Steve Haworth (photographer), Pagan Fleshworks: The Alchemy of Body Modification,24)Maureen Mercury, Steve Haworth (photographer), Pagan Fleshworks: The Alchemy of Body Modification, Inner Traditions/Bear & Company, 2000 or John Rush, Spiritual Tattoo: A Cultural History of Tattooing, Piercing, Scarification, Branding, and Implants25)John Rush, Spiritual Tattoo: A Cultural History of Tattooing, Piercing, Scarification, Branding, and Implants, North Atlantic Books, 2005

Consider this passage from Leviticus in the Septuagint which uses the Greek term γραμματα στικτα which is explained as:

γραμματα is properly what is “inscribed” or “engraven” and then what is “written” in the widest sense….

The primary sense is most clearly seen in the prohibition of γραμματα στικτα tattooing (קַעֲקַע כְתֹבֶת) in Lev. 19:28…

γραμματα can also mean picture…26)Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Ed. Gerhard Kittel, Trans. Geoffrey W. Browmiley), WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1964, vol. 1, p. 761

This indicates that the prohibition of tattoos is beyond simply printing names of gods but any image in general. The current fad of “tribal tattoos” represents perfectly what is depicted in the prohibition of images printed on the flesh. Often naive people believe these designs are simple and meaningless art forms. Of course the very designs of tribal tattoos come from pagan tribes and these designs distinguish aspects of their tribal religions, commonly associating with an individual’s lineage carrying with it the concept of ancestor worship.

Emergent Church leader Mark Driscoll defended and endorsed the idea of Christians receiving tattoos in a sermon, part 19: The Weaker Christian from 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; on the 28th of May 2006. The following is taken from his sermon:

You are free in Christ to be weird… How about this one, tattoos? How many of you grew up in that fundamentalist church where they told you about the one verse on tattoos?  Where is it? What book? Leviticus! Are these dudes in the front are twitching! Dudes with tattoos! Leviticus, Leviticus! Because a youth pastor said don’t get a tattoo; its right here, don’t get a tattoo. Its right here in Leviticus, don’t get a tattoo. OK. But the thing is if you read the whole context it actually doesn’t apply—its old covenant, not new covenant, so Jesus has fulfilled the law. Additionally it’s talking about priest marking their body thereby identifying themselves with paganism, so I don’t think it really applies. You can disagree with me thats fine… Let me just say our position is this—tattoos are not a sin, right. Jesus Christ is going to have a tattoo—Revelation says on his second coming. It says that down his right leg will be written King of Kings and Lord of Lords, which will be really freakish for all for the fundamentalists to see Jesus all tattooed up. I can’t wait for that day… Make sure you go to a good tattoo parlour, two of the best in Seattle are actually members of Mars Hill… go in there for a biblical new covenant tattoo, is what we would recommend.27)Mark Driscoll, The Weaker Christian: part 19, preached May 28, 2006,

As is evident throughout this article, the prohibition of tattoos and other forms of body modification is implied throughout the entirety of the Bible, not just one verse in Leviticus. How he feels free to twist the Scriptures claiming the Lord Jesus Christ will be “all tattooed up” is pure blasphemy. Driscoll is ignoring the phrase, “on his vesture” (Rev. 19:16), which is where the words obviously appear since He is “clothed with a garment down to the foot” (Rev. 1:13). Driscoll’s statement “it’s talking about priest marking their body thereby identifying themselves with paganism, so I don’t think it really applies,” is just about as arbitrary of an argument as one could make. It is still identifying one with paganism, why would it not apply anymore? Other proof texts have been suggested to justify tattoos but have been soundly refuted as is addressed by a Jewish commentator below.

1) In Leviticus 19:28 the term used is “k’thoveth qa’aqa.” “K’thoveth” means “writing or inscription.” “Qa’aqa” comes from a root whose meaning is “to insert or to stick in.” Together, “writing that is stuck in”(see Rashi’s commentary on the verse). Jewish oral tradition explains that the verse is talking about what we refer to today as tattoos, i.e. scratching or piercing the skin and filling it in with pigment. (see the tractate “Makoth” 21a).

2) Isaiah 44:5 uses the word “yichtov” which means “will write” without the word “qa’a’qa” “to insert or to stick in.” Isaiah is not talking about tattoos. What he is saying is “…and he will write with his hand to the L-rd…” like someone who signs a contract to express his utmost commitment and obligation (see Metzudath David’s commentary on the verse).

3) Ezekiel 9:4 uses the word “tav” which means “a mark or a sign.” The man clothed with linen is going to mark the foreheads of the righteous with ink, not tattoo them!

Someone who read the verses (Isaiah 44:5 and Ezekiel 9:4) in the Hebrew original would never dream that they are referring to tattoos.28)

There are clearly no biblical bases for tattoos.

There are secondary principles which revolve around Tattoos and piercings that confirm their prohibition by God. One such principle is stewardship. “For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre” (Titus 1:7). A faithful steward will wisely use his money, time, and keep his body in good health. The typical cost for a tattoo is not what a faithful steward of God would waste money on. “Most tattoo artists charge an hourly rate that varies from about $75 to $150 an hour, according to Bill Johnson, executive office director of the Alliance of Professional Tattooists. The length of time it takes to do a tattoo can vary from one to many hours, depending on the size and complexity of the design.”29) The price can only go up from this beginning base rate depending on the location of the body it is being placed, the detail of the image being tattooed, the colors, size, or if the tattoo is a custom design the artists can charge for their time of developing the new design and would most likely expect a down payment.

The health risks involved are rarely mentioned if at all. Psalms 38:5, 7 states, “My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness…. For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease: and there is no soundness in my flesh.” Law suits have been filed against tattoo parlors for spreading disease. For example:

Michael Machetti, a California tattooed biker seeking to have a very-vulgar neck tattoo re-tattooed-covered up with the number “666” has filed legal action against Bull’s Eye Tattoo Studio for infecting him with a “flesh-eating virus” during the tattoo procedure. Machetti claims the tattooist utilized unsanitary equipment that consequently infected him with the virus. Machetti has required several serious medical operations on his neck and both arms to remove huge portions of eaten skin. According to Ron Bakal, Machetti’s lawyer, his client’s medical bills are currently over $580,000.30)Case RIC391550, Michael Machetti v. Bull’s Eye Tattoo Studio, Sam Enriquez, Superior Court of California, County of Riverside, file date April 11, 2003

One website recorded,

In 1961 an outbreak of hepatitis B in New York City was linked to the tattoo. And the “ultra-liberal” New York City outlawed the deadly tattoo from 1961 until 1997!

Did you know the American Red Cross prohibits donors from donating blood for 12 months – one complete year — after getting tattooed? Their Blood Donation Eligibility Guidelines under “Tattoo” reads, “Wait 12 months after a tattoo. This requirement is related to concerns about hepatitis.”31)

Bonnie Graves reports, “Tattooing poses health risks because the process exposes blood and body fluids. Because of this a person who gets tattooed risks getting a disease or infection that is carried through blood. These blood-borne diseases include hepatitis B and C, tetanus, and HIV.”32)Bonnie B. Graves, Tattooing and Body Piercing, Capstone, 2000 p. 40 To be accurate, “as of 2009, there are no recorded cases of HIV transmission through tattooing.”33) It is unfortunate that neither the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) nor CDC (Center for Disease Control) has to date released any kind of statistics about tattoo risks. It is common knowledge that the average tattoo parlor is not upholding rigorous sanitation conditions, not to mention the manufacturing of the products they use. “Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) became aware of a problem after testing inks in home use tattoo kits marketed by White and Blue Lion, Inc. FDA has confirmed bacterial contamination in unopened bottles of the company’s inks….White and Blue Lion, Inc. recalled contaminated products on July 11, 2014, but FDA is still concerned that consumers and professional tattoo artists may be purchasing or using contaminated home tattoo kits and inks from other distributors.”34) Beyond simply diseases, infections, and other harmful reactions, tattoos have been known to cause problems with MRIs. “There have been reports of people with tattoos or permanent makeup who experience swelling or burning in the tattooed areas during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This seems to occur only rarely and apparently without lasting effects. There have also been reports of tattoo pigments interfering with the quality of an MRI image. This seems to occur mainly when a person with permanent eyeliner gets an MRI of the eyes. Mascara may produce a similar effect, but it can easily be removed. Why these problems happen is unclear. It’s possible they result from an interaction with the metallic components of some pigments.”35) If tattoos interfere with the quality of MRI images, the potential of discovering a life or death scenario could be undetected because of a tattoo. The fact is that very little is known about tattoos, how they are remain after cells die is only now beginning to be understood.36)Kristen V. Brown, “Why Tattoos Last Forever, Even as Your Skin Cells Die,” Gizmodo (3/7/2018);

Today, men such as Mark Driscoll and others that profess to be Christians act as they should glory in the self-caused deformities. Similarly, the prophet Zephaniah warned about blending paganism with the worship of Jehovah. Leonard Sweet, another popular emergent church leader endorses Willis Harman37)Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality: A Postmodern Apologetic, Whaleprints for SpiritVenture Ministries, Inc., 1991, 1994, p. 218 who is a major New Age leader and author of an unpublished study entitled Changing the Image of Man in 1974. Dave Hunt explained “Reading this important unpublished study, one arrives at the following startling conclusion concerning its purpose: to determine how Western man could deliberately be turned into an Eastern mystic/psychic.”38)Dave Hunt, Yoga and the Body of Christ, The Berean Call, 2006, p. 53 New Age author Marilyn Ferguson wrote of it, “This remarkable document laid the groundwork for a paradigm shift in understanding how individuals and social transformation might be accomplished.”39)Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy: Personal and Social Transformation in the 1980s, J. P. Tarcher, Inc., 1980, p. 61 Dave Hunt later referenced this study as “actually the demonization of mankind in preparation for Antichrist and his world religion”40)Dave Hunt, Yoga and the Body of Christ, The Berean Call, 2006, p. 113 The demonic nature that has inspired the recent explosion of interest in body modification is intended to purposely produce a social transformation, a paradigm shift towards a neo-pagan society, beginning with how man views himself and man’s willingness of changing his own image to separate himself from the God Whose image we were created in. By forming a fascination with tattoos and piercings that western world has forsaken its once cherished Christian culture for a primal paganism. Paul referred to fornication as the sin against the body (1 Cor. 6:18) but he may have never expected the mutilation of one’s own body as it is occurring today. Let the child of God remember Paul’s comments to the Corinthian church, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). How dare we blaspheme the infinitely Holy God of the universe by defiling the form of what He created to be the crown of His creation?