What does the Bible say about tattoos and body piercings?

The scriptures from the Old Testament mention body piercings and cutting one's self, however there is no mention of the practice in the New Testament. 

Leviticuis 19:28  You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.

Why did the Lord forbid these two practices – cuts and tattoos?  The context of the prohibitions mentioned in Leviticus 19 is to protect the Israelites from heathen practices related to idol worship. 

Notice the other verses mentioned in this chapter.

Other forbidden practices were:

  • eating meat in which there still was blood (v. 26a);
  • omens and fortune telling (v. 26b);
  • hair cuts that were in the style of idolatrous temples (v. 27);
  • making cuttings in one's flesh as an expression of mourning for the dead (v. 28a);
  • making marks on the body like the pagan people around Israel (v. 28b);
  • giving a daughter up for prostitution.  This was probably done, not for the money the trade would have brought to the parents, but likely for the purpose of becoming a "holy prostitute" in pagan temple worship (v. 29);
  • not honoring the Sabbath Day (v. 30);
  • communicating with spirits (v. 31).
In the New Testament the instructions given to believers in relation to pagan worship is in found in three passages: Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8 and 1 Corinthians 10.  The questions in the churches of Rome and Corinth were about whether to eat meat used in the temple and holidays that were holy to the Jews. 

The Christian should not participate in worship in the temples of the gods of the heathen, which are in reality not gods, but demons (1 Corinthians 10:20).  This would lead us to avoid purposeful contact with pagan religious practices, including being careful about the food we buy. However, if someone were to offer a believer a meal, it is wise not ask questions about the source of the meat.  After all, the meat was created by God and is good for food.

If we apply the principles in these three chapters to the practice of tattoos, we could conclude that a believer shouldn't purposefully mark his body.  But if someone does have a tattoo, we shouldn't condemn him either.

In today's culture, tattoos are common in drug users, criminal gangs and the occult.  Why would a believer intentionally imitate a practice from these groups?

1 Peter 2:9  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Ephesians 5:11  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

Shad Sluiter