Troublesome Topic: Tattoos

Lesson 4 of 4

Leviticus 19:28


You shall not put

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on your body any incisions

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for a soul,

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nor shall you put on you any deep cut marks

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I am YHVH.

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Do not grieve like the nations around you by cutting your body on behalf of someone who no longer breathes, and do not put on yourself any deep and lasting cut marks, either with ink or without ink. The one commanding this is your covenant Lord, THE ETERNAL AND PERSONAL GOD.

How Were Tattoos Used In Ancient Times?

The two practices mentioned in this verse were very common in many parts of the ancient world. The first could refer to a scratch or a cut, and was specifically referring to signs of grief. Here God was saying that they should not grieve in the same way that the rest of the world grieves, or as Paul aptly put it, “as those who have no hope” (I Thess 4:13).

The second practice involved deeper cutting which was sometimes filled with ink or some other coloring agent. It was used for religious purposes, for grieving, and for other reasons. Because it was not always used for religious purposes, we cannot say with certainty that God’s purpose for giving this regulation was to keep them from following other religions.

It appears that the reasons God gave these two commands were the following:

  1. To remind them to treat their bodies as something that belongs to God and is on loan to us for a short time. Purposeful cutting and tattooing was a type of disfigurement in God’s eyes because it permanently marred what He had created.
  2. To keep them from showing inconsolable grief at the loss of a loved one. The Jews had an understanding of the afterlife that included a place of reward for the righteous, therefore, they had reason for hope. Death was a separation, not a termination, thus there was the possibility of a later reunion.
  3. This was also an additional reminder, along with many others, that they should not imitate the religious practices of the nations around them. They were to keep themselves separated (holy) exclusively for the God of the Bible.

Are Tattoos Wrong Or OK For Us Today?

To answer that question, we should look again at the reasons God gave this command, i.e. what this was intended to teach. I will present them in reverse order.

  1. We should not imitate the religious practices of other religions, but keep ourselves separated (holy) exclusively for the God of the Bible. This one rarely applies today because tattooing is seldom done by Christians in imitation of other religions.
  2. We should not use tattoos to show inconsolable grief at the loss of a loved one. The way tattoos are used today by Christians has nothing to do with the dead, so this one does not seem to apply to us at all.
  3. We should treat our bodies as something that belongs to God and is on loan to us for a short time. Purposeful cutting and tattooing is a type of disfigurement in God’s eyes because it permanently mars what God has created. This principle does apply to us today.

However, there are changes we can make to our bodies that are not as serious because they are not permanent. Examples are: pulling out one’s eyebrows (they will grow back), dying one’s hair (it will grow out), applying fake tattoos (they will wear off), piercing the ears (the hole will grow shut if the earring is taken out), etc.

While it is wrong of us to permanently disfigure our bodies, most Christians have been taught that the only part of the Law that applies to us today is the moral law, or just the 10 commandments. This lack of respect for the Former Covenant is not entirely the fault of the average Christian; most of the blame rests on the pastors and writers who have not taught them how to apply the Old Testament Law to their lives in a New Covenant way, i.e. to apply the principles taught by the Law.

 Will a person go to hell for having tattoos? No, God looks at the heart.

 Can a Christian be flippant about tattoos or think he can do whatever he wants with his body?

No. We should constantly strive to understand God’s standard more fully and apply it more completely to our lives. Once a Christian understands that tattoos disfigure the body that God has given him, he should not get any tattoos after that moment of realization.

Are tattoos the only thing we should be concerned about when it comes to disfigurement?

No. Any permanent disfiguring of the body is wrong and any disfiguring of nature without a higher purpose also violates this principle. My perspective is that all of the following things violate the principle of disfigurement:

  • Plastic surgery for cosmetic purposes (not to repair damage after an accident or a fire, etc.)
  • Liposuction
  • Carving on trees
  • Senseless destruction of nature
  • Artificial manipulation of the DNA, (breeding techniques such as selective breeding do not altar what God has created; they only work with what God has already placed within the organism. However, selective breeding comes with certain advantages and disadvantages in exchange for other advantages and disadvantages. It is done because the resulting combination is considered more desirable.)
  • I’m sure there are others that I have not thought of yet

In summary, tattooing is not something that will keep someone out of heaven, nor should we make a big deal about it. However, as we learn to live as God wants us to, we should strive to obey all of God’s principles, including this one about not disfiguring what God has made.

In the short version of this study of Covenants, the next lesson is: Lessons from the Tabernacle Part 2

But if you are reading the medium-length or full versions of this series, the next lesson is: Lessons from the Tabernacle Part 1.

This is the final lesson in Why Is That in the Bible?. Thanks for reading.



This is the verb that usually means “to give” but it can also mean “to put or put upon.”


This word means an “incision or cut.”


This is an important Hebrew word that means “a living being that has the breath of life and a soul (it is implied that both are given by God).” I like to render it as “a living, breathing soul.” It could also mean simply “a person.” However, since all languages show signs of laziness by using shortened ways to say things, the word for “living, breathing person” came to be used of “a dead person,” or we could say that the word that means “one who breathes” came to be used of “one who no longer breathes.” The context is usually a clear indication that the reference is to a dead person rather than a living person.


The basic idea behind this word is “a deep cut which was used to make an imprint of letters or figures.” It was sometimes a series of puncture wounds that had drops of ink placed in them (tattooing), but it did not always involve the use of ink. In any case it was a lasting imprint that involved cutting.


The phrase “I am YHVH” was commonly inserted in the Law as a way to remind the reader or listener of the seriousness of the command by reminding them who was giving the command.