Throughout human history, many cultures and societies have used piercings and tattoos as status markers and for other purposes. In America, various piercings or tattoos were relegated to various subcultures. Recently, however, piercings and tattoos have become quite popular across various class and cultural divides. Many people, especially the young, desire to sport piercings or tattoos as expressions of their individuality and to “fit in” with various crowds. On account of this, many want to know what God thinks about such things. What does God have to say about piercings or tattoos? What principles should guide the Christian in deciding whether to be pierced or tattooed or not?
Only a few passages exist that speak explicitly regarding these matters. One is in Leviticus 19:28:
Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 21:5 says the same about priests, and Jeremiah describes this condition among the Moabites in Jeremiah 48:37. Two things must be noted. First, since such passages are in the Old Testament, with no New Testament parallels, they cannot be used to impose a doctrine on Christians (Ephesians 2:11-18, Colossians 2:14-17). Secondly, these laws are not condemning any and all piercings and tattoos, but instead the practice of making marks in the flesh for the dead, a custom of the Canaanites among them. God’s concern is more about the Israelites conforming to the Canaanite world around them than about piercings and tattoos themselves.
The New Testament provides no explicit statement regarding piercings and tattoos. The only passage that might have implications for them would be 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, in which Paul says that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and should not be “defiled.” Some believe that piercings and tattoos would represent such a defilement. If you believe this, you should not be pierced or tattooed (Romans 14:23). This argument is worthy of consideration.
Nevertheless, even if you believe that it is lawful to obtain a piercing or tattoo, you must weigh whether doing so is profitable or not (1 Corinthians 10:23). The following should be part of that consideration:
Propriety. In terms of piercing, is the location of the piercing proper? Should the one doing the piercing (or drawing the tattoo) see such parts of the body? In terms of tattoos, is it visible to anyone regardless of clothing or not? Is the message of the tattoo appropriate for a believer?
Permanency. While this is not as much of an issue for piercings, which can be removed and the skin healed, it certainly is a concern in terms of tattoos. Tattoos are designed to be permanent; their removal is a costly and painful procedure. Furthermore, as the body ages, skin wrinkles and the tattoo image may fade. Therefore, it is worth considering: is this a tattoo I will want to wear in 20, 30, 50, or 60 years? Will it still be worth it when it fades and the skin wrinkles? If it is something for which you will later be ashamed, why do it now?
Attitudes. It is important to consider how others will look at you on account of your piercing or tattoo, especially if it is somewhere visible. Will it be a stumbling block for other Christians (cf. 1 Corinthians 8)? Will others look down on you for having a piercing or tattoo? Many, especially prospective employers, find piercings and tattoos unprofessional. Is the piercing or tattoo worth these possible difficulties in interacting with others?
We must tread carefully if we consider whether we should get a piercing or a tattoo or not. There is nothing that explicitly condemns them, but there are many reasons that lead them to be unprofitable for the believer. Each person must study the Scriptures, speak with fellow brethren, pray to God, and may each be fully convinced in his or her own mind (cf. Romans 14:5). May each person act in such a way that glorifies God and assists them in their work in His Kingdom!
We should also add a word to believers when it comes to relating with people who already have piercings and tattoos. We should not judge the character of anyone based upon the fact that they have piercings or tattoos. The person perhaps received the tattoo earlier in life and is ashamed of their decision. Even if the person has no concern regarding their piercing or tattoo, their soul is still precious to God, and we must show them the love of Christ (Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 13:8-10). If they are not yet believers, we must lead them to Christ without prejudice. If they are fellow believers, we must encourage them as such, and not condemn them over this matter (Romans 14:13-22). Let us do all things for the glory of God!