The other day I received an email from a Christian mother asking how she should talk to her kids about tattoos. Her family had recently made friends with others who had large, very prominent tattoos on their body, and her children were curious about them.
She wanted to be able to address the matter of what to teach kids about tattoos from a Christian worldview. This was my reply…
Christians have different convictions about tattoos.
Teaching Kids About Tattoos: Does God Forbid Tattoos?
Some look to Leviticus 19:28 which commands Israel: “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.”
Like much of the Law of Moses, the concern God has for his people in this law is distinguishing His people from the rest of the world. Other nations cut, burned, or marked their bodies in honor of the dead, or to show they were the servants of a pagan god. The God of Israel expressly rejected this practice.
Should Christians reject tattoos entirely because of this command? No.
First, it is important to remember that Christians are not under the Law of Moses but under the Law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).
This does not mean the Law of Moses is irrelevant to us—far from it. The Law of Moses still bears witness to the righteousness of God (Romans 3:21). All Scripture, including the books of Moses, are inspired by God and are useful for teaching (2 Timothy 3:16). The Law is filled with stories written down for our instruction—stories of God’s dealings with his people that serve as an example for us (1 Corinthians 10:11).
But, we are not “under” the same Law anymore. We aren’t under the Mosaic covenant. That system served as a guardian until Christ came (Galatians 3:24-26), but now that Christ has come, we live under his law (6:2).
Second, the people of God today are not a nationalistic identity as they were in the days before Christ—we are a multi-ethnic, international family that transcends cultural boundaries (Ephesians 2:11-22), including those marks that once separated Israel from the rest of the world.
Therefore, based on Leviticus 19:28 alone, we cannot say God is against Christians getting tattoos.
Teaching Kids About Tattoos: How should we talk about tattoos?
Still, what is the wisdom behind God’s old command against tattoos? While there is no command from Christ or His apostles on the matter, there are some good principles we can talk about with our kids when it comes to tattoo markings.
1. Tattooing the body shows a desire to express a permanent love for something.
While tattoos are technically removable, this is not done easily, and no one gets a tattoo with the intention of some day removing it.
Marking the body God gave us in a permanent fashion indicates a great commitment to the meaning behind the mark. This is why pagans marked their bodies in ancient times. Just because most people don’t get tattoos out of dedication to idols made of wood and stone doesn’t mean there aren’t “idols of the heart” (Ezekiel 14:4) at work in our lives.
So, if you get a tattoo, first ask yourself what commitments it communicates to the outside world. What does it reflect a love for or devotion to?
For instance, I have a good Christian friend, serving as the pastor of a church, who has a lot of tattoos—most of them acquired since becoming a Christian in college and most of them expressing a commitment to Christ (things like crosses or the five Solas of the Reformation, etc.).
Of course a Christian’s legitimate tattoo choices aren’t merely limited to Christian themes, but the principle should give us pause as we ask what commitments various body markings communicate.
2. Tattoos can also be done for reasons of vanity: placing a great emphasis on the outward appearance of our bodies.
Before getting a tattoo, look at the state of your heart in this regard (1 Peter 3:3-4). There are, of course, many ways people can idolize the human body and physical appearance, not just tattoos. But tattoos are unmistakably a fashion statement, and like all fashion statements, can be motivated by vanity. Of course, this isn’t true for everyone who gets a tattoo.
3. Tattoos, like a lot of things, are cultural: they are fashionable in certain locations but not in others.
In certain circles, tattoos are engaging talking-points. In other cultures, they are largely ignored. In some places, they are frowned upon as unclassy. We must bear this in mind as we try, as Paul did, to become all things to all people. Permanently marking our bodies (unlike just wearing certain items of clothing) is not a form of fashion we can simply take on and off, so we need to try to be aware, as much as we can, how our tattoo choices may impact future relationships as we move in and out of different subcultures.
4. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, so we should honor God with our bodies.
Just as with our minds, if we tattoo our bodies, the messages therein should focus on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).
We should also be aware of the potential health risks with tattoos and seek to do what is wise.
Teaching Kids About Tattoos: a matter of conscience and wisdom
In the end, it’s important to understand tattoos are neither a mark of sin or holiness. Getting (or not getting) a tattoo is a matter of conscience and wisdom. Furthermore, how we treat people with tattoos should be understood in the same light. We don’t stand in judgement over the motives of others, or over others’ life choices that may or may not match our personal convictions.
Did this information help you, as a Christian parent, figure out what to teach your kids about tattoos? I hope so! Feel free to comment with more insight or questions!
More Christian Parents and Culture Articles:
- Video Games and Your Kids
- Breaking the Screen Habit
- Why We Won’t Ban Our Kids from Facebook
- How to Take Charge When Toys Are Overrunning the House
I think it’s also worth explaining that tattoos contain heavy metals that will stay in their body permanently. I’m not sure if there are healthier alternatives but certainly something to consider.
Yes. That is another matter to consider. For some people they have to think about allergies. Others have to worry about bacterial infections and even infections.
Thank you for this. I am a Christian and I did not get a tattoo until after I was already a Christian. Some of the older church generation looks down on them instead of asking me why I got them in the first place. I appreciate all of your talking points as well.
Thanks, Leah. Glad it was encouraging.
I’m glad that it points out why Lev. 19:28 says not to mark yourself. It was what they did to idolize their own gods or to mourn death. I also did not get tattoos until after I was saved and live a Christian life. Mine are spiritual/Christian tattoos. Yes, others can see them, but that isn’t why I got them. I got them as a reminder and encouragement to me of how good God is and what He has brought me through.
This is fantastic. I felt like I could have written these very same words myself..these are some of the same things I talk about to my kids and other people often. I have a lot of tattoos, most are Christ-themed, a few are for my husband and kids, and 1-3 things I like. I’ve dealt with many comments, most have been positive. I have scripture on my forearm and when people ask about it, I make them read it aloud. There is power in God’s Holy Word, may it reach the depths of someone’s heart and soul. I’m sharing this blog with others it’s just too good not to! 🙂
Glad it was encouraging to you, Kristi!
You make some great points. My 17 year old daughter wants a tattoo. My policy is when you are adult enough to pay your own bills you are adult enough to make that decision. I have advised her also to wait until she knows what she wants to say with her tattoo. Since it is something you are likely to have to live with for the rest of your life its important that you choose it wisely. It should say something about you and be something with meaning. I don’t have one because I’m a bit scared of the pain, I am overly sensitive to so many things and may react badly to the ink, and I’m not really sure I know what I want to say with it yet. Maybe someday…. Thanks for your insights. So many are judgemental about this subject. Its refreshing to hear from a Christian who is not.
Glad you liked the article!
We were just at TTD Nashville and loved your seminars and sex Ed curriculum which we now use. We also heard “the etiquette lady” on teaching boys to become gentlemen and she had a short segment on tattoos that was probably the most profound common sense approach that doesn’t require getting your teen to think of it as right or wrong, good or bad but a choice that has consequences just like every other choice in life. Appealing neither to the moral or health side but to the practical reality. I don’t want to misquote her, I’m sure that her info is on her website. The moral and health issues are of GREAT importance no doubt and you did an excellent job covering those.
FYI we absolutely loved The Talk and are on the second book now. It has changed our dialogue. What a blessing.
Glad you like our sex education books!
As you can see from this post, I agree with a more wisdom-based approach to this—looking at the practical side. While this doesn’t universally answer the question of tattoos across the board, it provides a lens through which we can talk about them (and for many people, the option will be ruled out as unwise).
I thankyou so much for your article as it was fair and balanced. I am a 59yr “young” Christian mom who got a tattoo when my son passed away at the age of 28. It was something I never thought I would do and actually looked at others who did, as having “issues”. I now understand that sometimes it’s a way to deal with loss and hold on to the memory of a loved and I believe most people can accept that even if they don’t approve of the practice
I hope we were able to approach things in a fair and balanced way. As you can see, we don’t disapprove of tattoos wholesale.
Thank you so much for this balanced perspective. It is a great starting point for a conversation with kids and teens. I personally am not in favor of tattoos, but as you said, it is not a salvation issue! Since my teen expresses a desire to go abroad and enjoys making friends with people from all around the world, I have particularly focused on #3. I know from my job many foreign cultures are extremely opposed to tattoos, so when you have visible ones it can create a real barrier when trying to create relationships and dialogue with others about Christ.
Our past three youth directors have all had visible tattoos (the tattoos are all related to their faith) and it creates quite a conversation with our congregation and teens! He attends a Christian school and many of the students have tattoos even though it is technically against the rules. Several parents are allowing their underage children to get them. Some of the teachers are getting visible ones, too.
This is a real opportunity for meaningful dialogue without pushing our children away through a knee-jerk reaction. I appreciate the focus on teaching them to think critically about why they want one, the various implications and consequences, and if they are honoring God with their choices. Thank you for the great talking points!
Glad you liked the talking points. Hope they are helpful, especially given the prevalence of tattoos in your community.
It would be a bit like trying to stop young people piercing their ears. So many Christian young ppl have faith related tattoos, Bible verses/refs., etc.
I would have to also add a concern for the appearance of evil. Who are you appearing to associate with? The body of Christ or the world and their practices. Two decades ago, this wasn’t really an issue to discuss within the Christian community because it wasn’t the cool thing to do, wasn’t as prevalent or accepted socially the way it is today. Then again, the world is WAY more blatant about its evil & wickedness. If a person wants to outwardly show his commitment to Christ, they need to walk in Christ’s footsteps. Writing verses or crosses on their bodies does not show Christ likeness. It just shows that you want attention. Lets stop trying to justify copying the world and be about our Father’s business.
It is always a good question to ask (the appearance of evil question). However, I’m not sure I agree that being tattooed universally communicates wanting attention. Many people get tattoos in locations on their bodies that aren’t readily visible to the public. In many places in the world, tattoos are so common, it isn’t something all that eye-catching that you have one; rather the specifics of the tattoo are the conversation piece. It all the depends on the cultural context.
Not that I personally find tattoos all that attractive or enjoyable—most of the time, I don’t. But I don’t think it universally “appears evil.”
Thank you for saying this! As a person who has tattoos on both forearms (I got them to cover arm scarring that happened as a result of working several years as an animal caretaker (cat scratches and the like) as I got questions about being a “cutter” (many of the scratches DO look like I’ve taken a razor to my arms, unfortunately) and wanted to avoid unnecessary concern), I get really tired of that particular trope aimed at me. Most of them are actually animal-related: a beetle, a spider, a lady bug, a cat paw, a snake.. and also various suns (I like sunshine!), and music and theater related ones. None of these things could possibly be conceived of as evil, so you can imagine my exasperation at that aimed at me. It generally turns me away from a Christian who assumes the worst of me.
This is what the Bible says about tattoos. Just because everyone else is getting a tattoo it doesn’t mean it’s okay. *[[Rom 12:2]] KJV* And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
No one here is saying, “It’s okay because everyone else is doing it.” Being tattooed does not conform someone to the image of this world anymore than wearing clothing does. There are good questions to ask about tattoos (as I’ve listed in my article), but I don’t believe that every tattoo is wrong or unwise. Far from it.
It is interesting to note that any form of permanent disfigurement of the body has always been associated with pagan cultures; the more paganized a culture, the more they tend to disfigure their bodies. The fact that our culture is moving so far from God does not seem to be a reason to move with it.
As you noted, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. As such, it deserves the honor and respect God imbued it with. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and I assume that “we” includes our bodies as well; Since Satan hates God, and hates us because we are made in His image, it would not be uncharacteristic of him to encouraging disfigurement of that body in order to dishonor God.
Thank you for this… Absolutely loved this piece! It’s interesting to see someone’s perspective who isn’t bias on this topic. As a Christian with tattoos I feel that it’s important for a person to always listen to their convictions about everything first and foremost. That’s God pulling on your heart strings and tattoos aren’t for everyone… I also feel that showing up on judgement day- it would be hard for him to turn a believer away that is covered in his love and words. Depending on where you live in this world you could essentially be killed for being a Christian and even more so for having scripture on your body. I think it’s beautiful that we’re having a dialogue about it now, communication is everything. Thanks again! ♥️