Tattoos are common today in the Western world, and people in other cultures have been permanently marking their bodies with images, designs, and words for thousands of years. People had tattoos long before the life of Jesus Christ, which makes some wonder if he had one.
Though the Bible doesn’t say whether or not Jesus had tattoos, it’s unlikely that he did. Leviticus instructs Jews not to mark their bodies, though scholars debate if this was equivalent to tattoos today. The ancient Romans had tattoos, but Jesus wouldn’t have had markings related to the Empire.
What Bible verse mentions permanently marking the body on purpose? What is the context of the verse? Are tattoos worldly? What did Jesus look like? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see What Did Jesus Wear? to learn more.
Does the Bible forbid tattoos?
Most scholars agree that the Bible doesn’t explicitly forbid modern-day tattoos. One passage in the book of Leviticus instructs Jewish people not to permanently mark their bodies, but most scholars believe that the practice the verse refers to doesn’t apply to people today.
|ESV||You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.|
|KJV||Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.|
|NASB||You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.|
|NIV||Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.|
|NLT||Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the LORD.|
Bible scholars generally agree that this instruction is referring to mourning rituals that were common to pagans at the time of Moses. The reference is to pagans cutting themselves when mourning for the dead to increase their physical pain and sorrow.
Forcing feelings of grief was common in the ancient world, but 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.
What does the Hebrew word translated “tattoo” mean? The Hebrew word (qaaqa) refers to a cutting or incision. Some Bible scholars believe that the Hebrew word translated “tattoo” can refer to cutting the skin or even painting it. 
If this is the case, and if the verse is used to forbid modern-day tattooing, then it also applies to other ways that people modify their bodies, like ear piercings, makeup, and teeth whitening.
What is the point of Leviticus 19:28? 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.
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.
Also see What Blood Type Was Jesus? to learn more.
Are tattoos are worldly?
Many Christians agree that the prohibition against marking the body found in Leviticus 19:28 doesn’t forbid people from getting modern-day tattoos, as long as their purpose in doing so doesn’t concern ancient pagan mourning rituals.
Yet, some still believe that it’s wrong for Christians to get tattoos because they are worldly. When Christians describe a certain 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, 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)
Who decides what is worldly and what isn’t? Most Christians adapt to cultural norms in some ways when it comes to their appearance. From hairstyles to clothes to jewelry, some trends start in secular society. What is permissible for a Christian to adopt and what isn’t? Believers don’t always agree on how to answer this question.
Can certain tattoos be sinful? Even for those who believe that tattoos aren’t inherently sinful, what they depict can be unholy and unrighteous. Images, designs, and words that are contrary to God’s nature, character, and the instructions he has given in the Bible, are expressions of sin in any artistic form, tattoos or otherwise.
Also see What Color Eyes Did Jesus Have? to learn more.
What did Jesus look like?
The Bible doesn’t describe Jesus’ appearance in detail. Even the four Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — which are like biographies of Jesus, don’t say what he looked like. The closest the Bible gets to describing Jesus’ appearance is in two prophetic verses found in the Old Testament book of Isaiah.
- Isaiah 53:2, “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”
- Isaiah 52:14, “As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—”
Rather than describing Jesus’ height, weight, eye color, or any other specific physical feature, Isaiah’s prophecy only generally mentions that he was an average-looking person whose appearance was eventually marred when he was arrested, beaten, and crucified.
In contrast to describing Jesus’ appearance, the Bible has a clear theme of not judging people according to what they look like. In John 7:24 Jesus said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
Similarly, 1 Samuel 16:7 reads, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.'”
Also see Was Jesus Christ Perfect? to learn more.
 Leviticus by John Hartley. Word Biblical Commentary. 1992. p. 320-321.
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