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If you noticed that I had a visible tattoo, would it make any difference in your opinion of me? Apparently for some it would—to the point they either acquire or avoid tattoos pretty much for the same reason—they believe tattoos change what people think about them.

Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #19 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.


Tattoos are now visible in whatever direction you look. In the last decade, tattoos have gone mainstream. Nearly half of millennials report at least one tattoo. And the resurgent popularity of body art doesn’t seem to have reached its cultural peak.

Body art of some kind has apparently graced human skin since shortly after the Garden of Eden. Yet one would do well to remember that body ink in its current manifestation is a fashion fad, and, by definition, fads are here today, gone tomorrow.

Today, religious people, including Christians, get tattoos as a way of conveying their faith, including all manner of religious symbolism, crosses being the obvious favorite but also doves, angels, biblical references, and more. In some parts of the world this is an important means of identity.

This is a different world from my youth when tattoos could only be found on three kinds of individuals: 1) a few armed forces veterans sporting small arm tattoos, 2) bikers and other assorted bad guys, 3) or tattooed ladies at the carnival.

Today you can see tattoos on most of the prison population and among professional athletes, the young woman serving you an omelet, innumerable college students, and not a few young pastors. But when I was a kid, religious leaders if not adult culture in general tended to frown upon the practice of getting tattoos. So, I wonder why it’s OK now to wear tattoos when it wasn’t OK in my youth? And I wonder, how do we decide to tattoo or not to tattoo?

When Christians ask these questions the first verse cited is in the Old Testament book of Leviticus: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD” (19:28). Some people quote this verse as the letter of the law, thus the end of the argument. No tattoos, ever.

But this isn’t a valid interpretation. This verse commanded the Israelites to avoid certain funeral practices wherein bodies were marked in some pagan hope of attaining a good afterlife. This verse doesn’t really address present-day tattooing, and as part of the Israelite’s ceremonial law it does not directly apply to us today.

So, we look to the New Testament, only to discover it says nothing about whether a person should get a tattoo. The fact is, God didn’t give us a “black or white” yes-no answer on tattoos. He left it in the so-called “gray area” in between, so we have to figure out what to do and “be fully convinced in (our) own minds” (Romans 14:5). In other words, God gave us enough other principles in Scripture for us to be able to decide this “matter of conscience” for ourselves. This is called Christian liberty.

Since clearly God wants us to maintain a lifestyle that honors him, we should make decisions or discern what is best (Philippians 1:9-10). If we discern properly, we’ll live according to God’s command: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

So let’s summarize:

--God doesn’t answer all our cultural lifestyle questions and grants us Christian liberty to discern what is best.

--He expects us to choose in a manner that glorifies him.

--Tattoos are not proscribed in Scripture.

--So, each person must decide whether, why, when, how, where, what to tattoo or not to tattoo.

So, to tattoo or not to tattoo?

While we’ve discovered God didn’t give us rules, we should remember he did give us principles to help us answer this question, one of which is that not everything we can do we should do: In 1 Corinthians, it states, “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive” (10:23).

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So, to discern whether to tattoo or not to tattoo we should ask ourselves and perhaps our confidants these questions:

1. Do I want this body art for my entire life? (Some say 90% of people who get tattoos later regret it; 5% regret it immediately.)

2. What will this tattoo say about me, what I believe? (Like Christian body art sends a message, other symbols send different messages.)

3. Is the place and procedure I’m considering medically safe?

4. Why am I getting a tattoo? (Peer pressure? Rebellion? To look better? To look tough? Other?)

5. What will my tattoo look like in 20 or 30 years? (Have you seen 30-year-old tattoos? They ain’t pretty.)

6. Will the tattoo really look as cool or beautiful as I think, or will it look silly, cheap, sad, revolting, or worse?

7. If I get a tattoo, what might its existence prevent me from doing or experiencing later? (Job or profession? Relationship?)

8. Why shouldn’t I get a temporary rather than permanent tattoo?

Now for the record, I’m, really, not against all tattoos. They just perplex me.

The Christian perspective on tattoos might best be described as, rather than tattoo or no tattoo, tattoos are a matter of the values represented in what is portrayed and why. It gets down to making wise choices about what we place on our bodies, what it says about what we believe, and whether we seek to honor the Lord. Again, for me, it’s about Christian liberty.

Periodically, I see an understated tattoo that seems attractive, like a delicate butterfly or flower, or a tattoo that clearly means something, like a cross, or a phrase like “Never Forget,” or maybe a flag.

But mostly I see huge gaudy looking tattoos, generally worn by men but not exclusively, that I don’t understand: 5” tall grotesque creatures or snakes on a guy’s calf – Is this demonic figure how he sees the world, or himself?

Jagged barb wire on a man’s biceps – Does he feel tough or courageous with this ink on his arm?

Men, and sometimes women, getting so many tattoos the body art is no longer individually distinguishable, and the color is gone, just a run-together blue.

Handsome men – hunks they are called – like soccer start David Beckham, who now makes money as a clothing model, plastering his entire upper body – maybe more, don’t know – with multiple tattoos – Why? Does this make him cooler, more handsome?

I get why the Rock, actor Dwayne Johnson, tattooed his chest and shoulders. It fits his Samoan heritage and acting persona.

If you’re an Mixed Martial Arts fighter like Conor McGregor, maybe all those tattoos make you look more formidable?

But why would attractive models or actresses get multiple tattoos? What can ink add to their God-given beauty?

As I said, tattoos perplex me.

To hear some people tell it, tattoos are often acquired impulsively—in the early years this is part of their public braggadocio. But tattoos last a lifetime and impulsiveness isn’t a good decision-making attribute no matter who you are or who you aspire to be.

Now if you already have a tattoo and want to get rid of it, removal is now possible-if-painful and expensive. Laser and other methods are available.

I’m not suggesting a Never-Tattoo moral argument here, just wondering aloud about a fad that I don’t comprehend.

Piercings are another subject. This I truly cannot understand, for in my estimation piercings are about pain, not pleasure, beauty, or even functionality. The entire aesthetic conjures images of debasement. I believe you can make a moral argument against piercings.

But even here, I admit, there is no clear mandate one way or another in Scripture and you have to wonder where to draw the line: two or five or six piercings? What about just two pierced ears featuring earrings on posts? In the ears piercing is OK, but not in your nose, lip, tongue, or sexual body parts? I think a moral understanding of piercings can be developed, but it’s challenging.

Tattoos are an ancient and contemporary practice, so maybe the word “fad” isn’t accurate? Tattoos it appears are here to stay. But they still perplex me.

Can you imagine George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Taylor or Charlton Heston with tattoos? I can’t either.

Well, we’ll see you again soon. For more Christian commentary, be sure to subscribe to this podcast, Discerning What Is Best, or check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2022

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