There are mixed reactions among Christian believers with regards to sporting a tattoo. A number of conservative believers sees it in connection with pagans so they discouraged their church members to even have one. While this practice is in contrast with the other group of believers who sees nothing wrong with it. Surprisingly, some people use Revelations 19:16, which states, “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords,” to justify Jesus having a tattoo on his upper leg.
So what does the Bible say about tattooing?
The Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible explains that a tattoo is “a permanent mark or design fixed upon the body by a process of pricking the skin and inserting an indelible color under the skin.”
The mention of tattoo can be found in Leviticus 19:28 where the Lord warned the Israelites that they should not cut themselves nor paint their body since this is forbidden by their moral and ceremonial laws
An explanation about this passage from The Nelson’s Study Bible says, “Cutting one’s flesh for the dead and tattooing (or perhaps painting) one’s body had religious significance among Israel’s pagan neighbors. In Israel, such practices were signs of rebellion against God.”
Since this is a pagan associated practice during that time in relation to mourning for their dead, any kind of laceration or cutting of their own body is banned or forbidden among the Hebrew people. If this is the case then Jesus will not do this practice because it is not a culture of the Jew. And, without a doubt, He will never do anything that violates Jewish culture unless it is related to salvation. Their reasoning in Revelations 19:16 does not hold water because this book is so heavy with symbolism that we must consider the context of the passage from which they quote it. Do you think that they will take the following verses in the same literal sense?
- Is it possible that Jesus has literal eyes that are on fire? – His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. – Revelations 19:12
- Is Jesus’ robe actually dipped in his own blood? – He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. – Revelations 19:13
- Is Jesus’ tongue actually a sword? – From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. – Revelations 19:15
I could go on and on about this absurdity, but hopefully you get my point. Actually, “In ancient times, a king or noble would often have his title or honorific woven into his garments and engraved upon his blade, its hilt, or its scabbard. Given that the scabbard would hang from a band at the waist, the words on the scabbard would fall at roughly thigh level. This would be a reasonable explanation, given that Jesus would never violate Levitical law by taking a tattoo.” 1
In the course of time, tattoos became associated with those who went to jail, thus the social stigma that went with it. A reason why it became a stigma to many people that if you have tattoos in your body, they immediately conclude that you spent time probably for many years in incarceration.
How times have changed. Gone are those days, and so is the stigma.
Now it is even fashionable to sport one. Many people and even millennials had temporary henna tattoo or permanent ones painted not in association with any pagan gods. This is not even because they spent time or so in jail. But because as a means of self-expression, that is.
However, we, as Christian believers, like Jesus, don’t do something just to be in the swim of things. The Scripture says,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:1-2
This is not understanding that everything we do must be justified in accordance with God’s word. Before allowing your precious body to be inked, consider the following question: What compels you as a believer to want to mark your body with permanent ink or get a tattoo?
Is it to have a good self-image?
Is it to be accepted?
Is it just to go with the flow of this world because it is cool and trendy?
Is it to grab the attention of other people?
Better yet, do you really need one?
Is it for you to engage with the lost people?
Is it to give glory and honor to God?
Is it for face and body improvement?
There are a thousand and one reasons to get a tattoo, but the only ones who truly understands why you want one is you and the Lord Himself.
Although not every believers (like me) are comfortable with sporting a tattoo on body parts it is still not our job to judge nor criticize our fellow believers who decided to have one.
I understand that tattooing is more of a conviction. However, you must make sure that your conviction is supported by the word of God, because if it is not, then it is nothing more than your own personal opinion. And all you’re doing is pleasing yourself.
On the other hand, if they are unbelievers, in the course of your relationship with them, given the opportunity, you may want to ask them the why and the what of their tattoo. And from there find ways to connect and introduce Jesus Christ as the one true source of our identity.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:17
You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD. – Leviticus 19:28
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. – Romans 14:4
Picture lifted from Bible Study Tools
1 “Did Jesus Have A Tattoo? (Revelations 19:16).” Accessed March 15, 2023, https://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-tattoo.html