One of the first times I walked into a church building happened at age 16. That morning I got up and put on a pair of jeans, a football jersey, and a hat. As I walked into the church one of the ushers stopped me and said, “We honor God in this church. Please take off your hat if you would like to come in”.
As I walked into church with my hat off and messy hat hair showing I was shocked to hear that God cared about seeing the top of my head in church.
I would go on to hear many “rules” God had about our appearance such as you can not have body piercings, you can not wear jeans with holes, and that God did not want you to get tattoos (which seemed to be the biggest of God’s appearance rules).
Let’s take some time to examine these “rules” and see if people with tattoos specifically can get into heaven.
The Argument Against Tattoos
There are a few places in scripture that people use to argue that tattoos are sinful. The first one is Leviticus 19:28 which says,
“You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.”
Now, this sounds pretty straightforward. However, we have to use proper interpretation tools to understand the Bible. We can break God’s laws down into two categories. The moral law of God and the ceremonial law of God.
The moral law of God is for all people at all times. Some examples of moral laws are do not commit murder, do not lie, and love your neighbor as yourself.
The ceremonial law of God are the laws that God gave just to the people of Israel. These would be laws such as do not eat pork (Leviticus 11:27), don’t wear clothes made of both wool and linen (Leviticus 19:19), and do not plant more than one kind of seed in your yard (Deuteronomy 22:9).
Some of these ceremonial laws may seem silly to us but God often had a much deeper reason for the people of Israel to follow these laws than what meets the eyes. Underneath the ceremonial laws of God are deeper principles Christians can apply today.
To apply Leviticus 19:28 we need to ask why did God command the people of Israel not to get tattoos? As you look at Leviticus 19:26-31 you see all the commands God tells his people not to do are exactly what the Canaanites in the surrounding pagan nations were doing.
God in these scriptures are calling His people Israel to not follow the ways of the Canaanites by being holy and different. We can apply this text to our life by asking ourselves what does it look like to live a holy life in the 21st century.
Applying Leviticus 19:28 to the life of the Christian does not mean do not get a tattoo but means to live a holy life unto God.
The other scripture that people often run to when having the conversation on tattoos being sinful is 1st Corinthians 6:19-20 which says, “19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.“
The argument is made that since our bodies are God’s temple we should not do anything to harm or change the temple. However, when Paul (who wrote the book of Corinthians) talks about honoring God with our body he is talking about honoring God with our sexuality. 2nd Corinthians 6:18 says,“ Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”
When Paul is talking about our body being a holy temple he is telling us to stay sexually pure.
If our body being a holy temple means to not cause any changes or do anything that may cause us pain that would mean we should not lift weights, run, or ever eat greasy food.
Certainly, Paul did not have in mind tattoos when saying that our body is a holy temple but our sexually.
Tattoos Are A Matter Of The Conscience
As we see it is not sinful to have a tattoo. However, the Bible does not state that we should get one either. This means that tattoos are a matter of the conscience. In 1st Corinthians 8, Paul talks about our conscience. There is a group of Christians who are eating meat that was once sacrificed in a pagan temple. Some Christians felt it was wrong and sinful to do that, while others felt perfectly fine with eating it. Paul tells them to follow their conscience. For the one that feels sinful eating the meat do not do it. However, for the one who does not feel guilty, you may eat.
If your conscience says it is fine, then feel free to get tattoos. We should also use wisdom when getting a tattoo because it will be with us for the rest of our life. However, there is nothing wrong with getting a tattoo in it of itself. Some people are not comfortable getting a tattoo. They may even feel like it is a sin for them. They should not get a tattoo because it goes against their conscience. The problem becomes when we take our conscience and try to make them God’s rules for others (such as the man telling me I should not wear a hat in the church because God said so).
Can A Person with Tattoos Go To Heaven?
So can a person with Tattoos get into Heaven? No and yes! I may sound like I am undermining my argument because I said above that it was not against the Bible or sinful to get a tattoo.
However, while that person may not be sinning by getting a tattoo, there is most certainly other sin in their life. We all have a sinful nature that leads to sinful actions. We have all lied, stolen, hated others, and rejected God’s commands.
If I were to take the worst 5 thoughts you have had in the past year and put them on a screen to show in a movie theater, you would run out of the room extremely embarrassed. We all have deep sin. Even if you do good things, we often do those for wrong reasons such as the approval of others and wanting people to like us.
According to God’s standards, we all deserve Hell. The person with tattoos and the person withno tattoos are in the same spot! Neither of them should be on their way to Heaven.
However, God made a way for us to be with him whether we have ink on our bodies or not. That way is Jesus. Where you lied about your family member, Jesus never did. Where you stole money from a friend, Jesus never did. Where you hated your neighbor, Jesus never did.
He completely and fully followed God’s law. Yet, God put Jesus on a cross. Jesus not only died for our sin but became our sin. Then God poured on Jesus the wrath that you deserve. In doing so Jesus took your punishment.
He died but rose again three days later! In doing so God made a way for us to know Him. Those who trust in Jesus get to have a relationship with God even though they do not deserve it!
Unfortunately, the experience I had with the usher about my hat was not the last time I ran into man making up rules that God never commanded. Matter of fact, people in the time of Jesus were doing the same thing.
One I have run into more than once is that it is sinful to get a tattoo. Some would even say a tattoo disqualifies you from getting into Heaven. That does not disqualify us from Heaven, but a million other things we have done does disqualify us.
Thankfully, when we could not reach up to God because of our sin, He reached down to us by sending His son Jesus! The question we should be asking if we are wondering about getting into Heaven is not “do I have a tattoo” but “have I trusted my life to following Jesus”.