Here's What The Bible Says About Tattoos And Piercings

Just about everyone in the Western world probably has at least a passing familiarity with the Ten Commandments, Christianity's troubleshooting guide for life's many morally grey areas. These rules certainly cover a lot of ground, reminding believers of the most important rules like "quit killing each other" and "enough with the coveting." In other areas, though, they come up short in terms of divine guidance. The Commandments give us zero hints about what to eat, for example, or what clothes are acceptable, or whether or not God is disappointed in you for going to Hot Topic and getting a belly button ring without talking to your mom first.

For that, we turn to the Book of Leviticus. Leviticus is an Old Testament Book laying out all of the rules that God added later, presumably because "the 400 or so commandments" isn't as catchy and would've been way more difficult to memorize. In it, we find out which animals are cool to eat and that we should be avoiding blended fabrics and, yes, God's views on tattoos and piercings. In Leviticus 19:28, God says "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you..." Different translations vary slightly, but the overall message remains: tats and piercings are no good.

Tattoos and piercings in the Bible: a deep dive

Still, if a lack of outright direction from the Almighty on the subject of your "Live, Laugh, Love" back piece leaves you with more questions than answers, it might be worth looking at a few things with some historical context. First, let's take a gander at the actual words in the passage. You'll notice that it doesn't actually say "tattoos." That's because the word "tattoo" didn't come into use until the 1700s, when it was lifted from Polynesian language and brought into the European lexicon with the help of Captain Cook, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. The only translation of the Bible to contain the word "tattoo" is the New International Version (NIV) published in 1978, where the publishers interpret the same verse from Leviticus as saying "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves..." The whole point of the NIV Bible was to create a more modern, easily accessible text for contemporary people, sort of a Simple English Wikipedia for the faithful, but it has been met with its fair share of criticism over the years. 

And then you've got Ezekiel 16:12, in which God, suggesting what his people should bring up when talking about all the nice things they do for other people, says "...I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head." Is that the heavenly go ahead for getting a septum piercing? Maybe. In the same chapter, it's heavily implied that not rubbing a newborn baby with salt is the mark of an irresponsible parent.

Tattoos and piercings in the Bible: an even deeper dive

The fact of the matter is that the Bible, having been written over the course of multiple generations and being, for real, just super long, is going to have some contradicting views on basically any subject you can think of. Maybe the most important question we can ask ourselves is, does a strict adherence to the perceived rules laid out in the Good Book really affect whether or not someone is a good Christian? Where would cool youth pastors be without tattoos and piercings? Would prosperity gospel televangelists like Paula White give up their lavish lifestyles if, for example, they found out that Timothy 2:9 said that women shouldn't wear gold or pearls? In March of 2018, Pope Francis told a group of folks considering priesthood that tattoos were nothing to be scared of, and that they "signify membership in a community," according to a report by the Independent.  

Still worried about what your matching sorority ink means to the wellbeing of your immortal soul? Before you rub seltzer water on your ink to try and get right with your Jesus, it's worth mentioning that there's practically zero chance that you're living up to all of the rules spelled out in the Bible anyway. Other unforgivable sins listed include eating bacon, getting a bowl cut, growing more than one kind of plant in a field, and watching Long Island Medium. At a certain point, you've just got to make yourself a BLT, fire up the tattoo gun, and throw yourself on the mercy of the court, you know?