I wrote up the following Q&A response a number of years ago. It got posted on my other website and I sort of forgot it was there until I had an acquaintance recently ask me what my opinion was regarding tattoos and body piercings. I sent them a link to my original response and thought I would update it a bit and post it here at my blog as well.
Is there any reference in the Bible that is against having a pierced tongue or tattoo and what is your biblical view of these practices?
Yes, there certainly is. In Leviticus 19:28, God specifically told the Israelites that they were not to cut their flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on their bodies. The primary reason the Lord prohibited tattooing and cutting the flesh was that they were pagan practices.
For instance, when Elijah confronted the priests of Baal on the top of Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18, the priests cut themselves in order to move their god to answer their prayers (1 Kings 18:28). The Children of Israel were to keep themselves distinct from the pagan cultures that surrounded them and one of those distinctions was to avoid imitating the pagan worship practices that included the cutting and the tattooing of the body.
Now, it is often argued that tattoos do not carry the same meaning as they did in the OT, and that Christians are no longer under the commands of the old covenant, so if a Christian wants to get a tattoo or pierce his tongue, then he should be allowed to.
I would never argue that we are to enforce upon the Christian believer the OT law codes God gave to Israel for them to remain a distinct, theocratic nation. However, I do believe Christians should exercise wisdom when they consider getting tattoos or any body piercings. Let me repeat that so I am clear: Christian need to exercise wisdom if and when they are seriously thinking about tattoos or body-piercing.
First, I would ask any believer to question himself as to why he wants a tattoo or a body piercing. What exactly is the purpose of getting it? The plain fact of the matter is that any tattoo or piercing is a self-centered thing. The primary purpose of tattoos is to draw attention to the person, and a Christian should question whether or not such a practice is for the express purpose of drawing attention to one’s self. Does it truly honor the Lord? Or will it negatively affect not only the person’s physical body, but the body of Christ?
Secondly, though some Christians want to argue that tattoos and piercings are no longer connected to pagan customs, I would argue that this is not necessarily the case. Even in our modern, American society, getting a tattoo is still primarily a sub-culturally practice.
The main groups of individuals who sport tattooing on their bodies are those people who are outside the norms of our American society. It is the bikers, the criminal gang element, the rock and roll culture, the Gothic culture, and other groups that act in rebellion toward the mainstream of society that generally have tattoos and piercings. Even though tattooing is becoming more “mainstream” to where it isn’t only exclusive to those various subversive groups, when it comes down to it, people get tattoos for the purpose of being edgy, narcissistic, and out of the mainstream, which is kind of ironic anyways seeing that it is “mainstream” people who want to be out of the mainstream, but I digress.
Ultimately, these are folks who don’t like to be told what to do, what to believe, and go to great lengths to demonstrate opposition toward those in authority who want to hold them accountable to their behavior, particularly the Lord and Scripture. They have a profound sense of individualism that is idolatry.
If a Christian wants to get a tattoo, even though I believe there isn’t any direct command against doing it, he needs to take those things into consideration and determine if whether or not he wants to be associated with these various, worldly groups whose worldview promotes rebellious attitudes.
Then third, tattooing and piercing is often done by immature, impetuous folks who want to be trendy, and thus they do not think of the consequences of putting a permanent mark on their body. When they “grow up,” and lay aside their prolonged “childhood to genuinely become serious about life, a family, and a real job, having tattoos and piercing holes all over their bodies tends to be a distraction for them. I personally know many Christians who got a tattoo when they were young unbelievers and now they regret it something terrible. It’s one thing to get a tattoo as an undiscerning non-Christian; it’s quite another if you want to get a tattoo as a discerning Christian. All Christians need to ponder carefully whether a tattoo or a body piercing is something they are willing to live with the rest of their life, before they get one.