Men, women, and young people get tattoos to express their identity, memories, and values. They like the permanent nature of getting the face of a loved one, the name of their hometown, or a meaningful saying, like a song lyric, etched in ink on their body. But can people with tattoos go to heaven?
Tattoos don’t prevent people from going to heaven when they die. While some Christians believe tattoos are unholy, the Bible teaches that going into heaven is based on believing in Jesus Christ. People who believe that Christ died for their sin and rose from the dead go to heaven, even if they have tattoos.
Does the Bible forbid tattoos? Why do some people believe that getting tattoos is worldly? Do tattoos violate treating the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit? What keeps people out of heaven, if not tattoos? Will people have tattoos in heaven? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Does the Bible forbid Christians from getting tattoos?
The only direct statement about tattoos in the Bible is found in Leviticus 19:28: “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord” (ESV). Bible scholars generally agree that this instruction is referring to mourning rituals that were common to pagans at the time of Moses.
- Most Bible scholars believe the reference is to pagans cutting themselves when mourning for the dead to increase their physical pain and sorrow. Manipulating feelings of grief was common in the ancient world. God didn’t want the Israelites to adopt the pagan view of death or mimic its unholy practices.
- Some scholars believe that when people cut themselves, they offered their blood to pagan gods. Is not cutting the skin the most important part of the instruction, or is the blood that is drained from the gashes and how it could be potentially used the most important part? Some scholars believe the most important part concerns the implication of blood, which is a major theme in Leviticus.
- Other scholars believe that the Hebrew word translated “tattoos” may refer to cutting the skin or painting it.  If this is the case, if the verse is used to forbid modern-day tattooing, then it also applies to other ways that people modify their bodies, like with ear piercing, makeup, and teeth whitening.
Scholars generally agree that the principle at the heart of Leviticus 19:28 is that the Israelites shouldn’t live like pagans when mourning the dead. Scholars and pastors don’t agree on the application of this instruction. Some believe this verse doesn’t forbid modern-day tattoos; others believe it does.
Importantly, even the scholars that believe that this verse forbids modern-day tattoos, none of them believe tattoos keep people from going to heaven when they die.
Why do some Christians believe tattoos are worldly?
Some Christians agree that Leviticus 19:28 doesn’t forbid people from getting modern-day tattoos, as long as their motivation doesn’t concern ancient pagan mourning rituals. Yet, they still believe that it’s wrong for Christians to get tattoos because they are worldly.
When Christians describe a value or behavior as “worldly,” they mean it comes from a value system that is secular and ungodly. The contrast to “worldliness” for many Christians is holiness, which means to be set apart for God. According to this way of thinking, tattoos aren’t inherently evil, but they associate believers with the godless elements of life.
The verses in the Bible that teach about worldliness don’t specifically mention tattoos. Rather, some readers apply the teaching of such verses to modern trends that aren’t rooted in the church, such as getting tattoos.
- Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (ESV).
- James 4:4, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (ESV).
- 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (ESV)
Do tattoos violate treating the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit?
In addition to arguing that tattoos are worldly, some Christians contend that believers shouldn’t get them because their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. The primary verse for this viewpoint is found in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth,
“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, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)
The context of these verses doesn’t mention tattoos, but sexuality immorality. 1 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” (ESV).
Instead, Paul desires for the Christians at Corinth to be moral and remember that the Holy Spirit lives inside them, so they shouldn’t have sexual relations with prostitutes.
Some Christians believe that the principle of these verses applies to getting tattoos. If a body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, according to this way of thinking, then it shouldn’t be permanently marked, even if the etchings reflect a biblical truth or value.
Other believers argue that if that is true, then getting your ears pierced also violates this principle. Some go further than that and say getting your teeth whitened and wearing lipstick is also wrong.
What keeps people out of heaven, if not tattoos?
The Bible teaches that what prevents people from going to heaven when they die is sin and unbelief. The word “sin” describes people’s rebellion against God in their hearts and manifested in their words, motives, actions, and more. Refusing to believe in the remedy God offers for sin has eternal consequences, according to the Bible.
God sent his only son, Jesus Christ, into the world to save even the worst sinners because of his love for them (Jn. 3:16). Being saved from sin and its eternal consequences, and going to heaven after death, is God’s free gift to people (Rom. 6:23) who repent and believe (Mark 1:15).
People with tattoos can go to heaven if they repent and believe in Christ. People without tattoos can go to hell if they don’t repent and believe.
What exactly does the Bible teach about how people go to heaven? Entrance into heaven is based on how people respond to the gospel. The “gospel,” which means “good news,” refers to the proclamation that Christ’s death on the cross made amends between sinners and God. And when Christ rose from the dead three days later, he defeated death, enabling sinners to experience life after death in heaven.
What if the tattoo is of something sinful or evil? Some tattoos glorify sin and rebellion against God. They could be pictures of Satan and demons or depict sinful behavior or say something crass and unholy.
Can people with such tattoos go to heaven? Yes. There are no exceptions when someone responds to the gospel. Through the cross of Christ, God forgives words, thoughts, motives, behaviors, and even permanent markings on the skin.
What if the tattoo is of a Bible verse or something biblical? Not all tattoos glorify sin. Some are attempts to glorify God. For Christians who believe that it’s okay for believers to get tattoos, Bible verses are an appropriate choice. For those who believe that Christians shouldn’t get tattoos, not even ones of Bible verses are exceptions.
Will people have tattoos in heaven?
Most Bible scholars believe that the new bodies believers will receive for heaven won’t include tattoos, or pierced ears, or dental work, or plastic surgery, or any other kind of body modification.
- Philippians 3:21, “Who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (ESV)
- 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (ESV)
- 1 Corinthians 15:52, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” (ESV)
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