Are tattoos taboo? Should Christians get tattoos? Is there a spiritual dynamic to this practice?
Charisma Magazine recently published an article on their web site titled “The Dark Side of Tattoos.” In it, the author presented a case that when people are tattooed, they wind up oppressed by evil spirits. He pointed to many cultures around the world who tattoo their bodies as a form of worship. Some of them have designs on their faces meant to make them look like their pagan deities. Others do so to appease their gods. In short, tattooing has a worshipful purpose in many pagan cultures, and so it flies in the face of the One True God.
To be honest, I have no problem agreeing with the author that these practices invite evil spirits to influence the people involved. Pagan worship itself is an affront to God and opens a person up to evil spirits. But what about in America? What about the Christian who wants a cross tattooed on his arm or a heart tattooed on her foot? Is it still pagan? Is it still opening the door to evil spirits?
Speaking as someone who has been involved in deliverance ministry for several years now, I’ve found that it’s not the practice itself that invites the evil spirit, but rather the heart behind the practice. As 1 Samuel 16:7 says, The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. We see this principle echoed throughout Jesus’ ministry and elsewhere in the New Testament.
Matthew 15:1–2, 10–11 – Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”…. Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.'” (NIV)
The Greek word for “unclean” used here is the same used to describe “unclean spirits” elsewhere. That doesn’t mean we get an evil spirit every time we say the wrong thing; but it does mean that we can open doors for evil spirits if we don’t guard our tongues.
Jesus was simply making the point that the outward practice was not at all an issue; rather, it was all about the inner practice. As Jesus said elsewhere, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). The only reason evil comes out of a man’s mouth and “makes him unclean” is because he is already “unclean” in his heart.
So do tattoos invite evil spirits? Or is it the condition of the heart that lets them in? According to the author of the Charisma article, all tattoos have evil spirits behind them.
I’m not sure that I see anything Scriptural about that. The best Scripture he had was Leviticus 19:28, which merely forbids tattoos (saying nothing about evil spirits). But immediately before this command is verse 27, which says, “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” So I wonder… in context, that must mean beard trimming and haircuts invite evil spirits as well!
Hardly. It is true that tattoos have pagan origins. But I don’t find that a solid enough argument. Clocks and calendars have pagan origins too. Should we abstain from those? Are you demon possessed if you wear a watch? Many cultures use drums specifically to conjure evil spirits. Does that mean drummers are guided by demons?
I believe Paul had the most relevant and significant advice about practices with pagan origins:
1 Corinthians 8:4-13–So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall. (NIV)
From this verse, someone could form the argument that tattoos are not worship to pagan gods if our heart is in the right place. One could even argue that those who are against tattoos have “weak consciences” and don’t know the fullness of freedom in Christ.
But we can also glean the wisdom that if even one Christian would find our exercise of freedom to be a stumbling block for their conscience, then we should abstain from it altogether. It’s possible to win regarding grace and lose regarding love. If our practices of freedom encourage others to compromise their own convictions, then we are sinning against Christ.
Are we so arrogant?
I have to be clear that I don’t condemn anyone with a tattoo. Again, man looks on the outside, but God looks at the heart. I can’t tell a person’s heart or motive.
But if someone is asking me whether or not they should get a tattoo, I’m not afraid to ask why.
The “why” is the access point. It’s not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out. It’s not that there are evil spirits floating in tattoo ink, but there are plenty of evil spirits looking for access points to the human heart. If someone with a tattoo has an evil spirit, it’s not because of the image itself but rather because of their heart.
In the Pagan cultures, it’s not the ink that invites the demons, but rather the fact that they are worshipping that demon in their heart. They would be equally as oppressed by evil spirits if they never got the tattoo.
How about people in America? Why do people in our culture get tattoos? For some, it’s defiance against their parents. Is that a good reason? Or is that more likely to make a person vulnerable to evil spirits? For others, it’s a way of saying, “It’s my body, and I’ll do what I want with it.” Is that true? 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 is clear that your body doesn’t belong to you–God bought you at a high price! This too would make a person vulnerable to the enemy. How about those who are simply trying to get attention or prove themselves? I think the Bible calls that pride. We may not be serving pagan gods, but we sure do like to worship with god of self!
I shared these thoughts with the students in my youth group, and one of them asked, “So is there any good reason TO get a tattoo?” I laughingly replied, “Well if there was one, I wouldn’t tell you or that’s what you’d say when I ask your motive!”
Kidding aside, the only good reason I can think of is that God specifically told a person to get a tattoo.
That said, I’ve yet to meet such a person.
So should Christians get tattoos? I would argue that it’s unwise but not unbiblical. Are there demons in the ink? Not at all. But what is the motivation of your heart? Defying parents is a sin. Claiming ownership of your body is a sin. Pride in general is a sin. Sin is an access point for the enemy. Check your heart.
If that’s not enough, why would you want to do something that offends the consciences of so many other Christian brothers and sisters? Paul said that in doing so, we sin against Christ.
If you have a tattoo, there’s no need to repent of the ink itself. However, do check your heart. Why did you get it? If there’s conviction from the Holy Spirit about the heart issue, then deal with it. Repent of the sin, and receive the free forgiveness of God! Your tattoo isn't sin, but it might be a symptom of sin.
And what if you’re wanting to get a tattoo? Take the time to examine your motives. You’ll be hard-pressed to convince yourself that you have absolutely no motive in your heart offending God. If your conscience is troubled in the very least, don’t do it.
What do you think?