Can Someone Get to Heaven with Tattoos?

Tattoos are not “wrong” in and of themselves. As always, one has to examine his or her heart. Once you are saved, nothing can prohibit you from entering heaven and being with Christ forever.

Contributing Writer
Updated Nov 02, 2023
Can Someone Get to Heaven with Tattoos?

Can We Go to Heaven With Tattoos?

The short answer is “yes,” although some readers will instantly argue that tattoos are a sign that we are owned by the world and, therefore, the king of this world (Satan). 

Physical markings are prohibited in Leviticus 19:28 NIV, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.”

In the King James Version, "tattoo yourselves" is translated as "nor print any marks upon you." 

However, many people get tattoos before they surrender their lives to Jesus Christ. How should they regard their tattoos now? And once someone is saved, is it really sinful to get a tattoo?

The Biblical Setting and Modern Context of Leviticus 19:28

Immediately after the Exodus, there were signs among the Jews that they had adopted certain pagan rituals from the Egyptians, many of whom “would make deep gashes or cuts in their bodies as a form of self-sacrifice for the sake of trying to honor or appease the pagan gods of death. The Jews had apparently picked up this practice, and God here strictly forbids this.”

Erik Raymond explains the purpose of certain tattoos as distinct from scars caused by cutting. Tattoos were a mark of ownership, indicating that the Jews belonged to their Egyptian slave masters. They did not choose to bear these marks but were inflicted with them.

Critics of tattoos say that today’s markings indicate the ownership of this world. Yet, customers typically pay for artists to ink their bodies according to their personal choice. They are not held down and branded with the mark of a despot.

Moreover, the meaning of “tattoo,” according to Raymond, could mean either our modern understanding of making a permanent mark or merely painting.

So, does Leviticus refer to a painting or permanent marking? What was the Lord’s purpose when he commanded that Israel not mark their bodies?

Reasons For and Against Tattoos in Popular Culture

Tattoos have become so popular that unmarked skin seems to be a rarity. Statistics show that more than a third of Americans between 18 and 29 have at least one tattoo.

Why do they do it? Vinita Mehta outlined motivating factors, such as remembering “a significant experience or struggle,” such as surviving suicide (indicated by a semi-colon) or honoring a loved one, deceased or otherwise.

Tattoos frequently express identity or even tell a story. A further impetus is a love for the art form.

Responses against tattoos in this study “revolved around social and cultural factors, primarily religion. Christians, in particular, objected because they see their body as “the temple of the Holy Spirit.”

There could also be some fears around infection, but these are waning in the industry as the likelihood of contamination is rare unless one chooses an unlicensed tattoo parlor or tries to give oneself a mark using the stick-and-poke method.

Christians are among those who object. They believe that markings do indicate a sense of ownership and identity. They avoid following cultural trends because they want to say, “I am in this world, but I do not belong to this world.”

They choose to worship only the Lord, not their children or parents, or friends. These can become “objects” of idolatry if they take up more space in one’s heart and mind than God does or if one chooses to do what their kids/parents/friends think is right instead of seeking the Lord’s guidance.

Often, the birth-to-death date of a deceased loved one is a way of saying, “My loved one is always with me,” which is a dangerous deceit, encouraging grieving loved ones to seek out the dead for comfort instead of the living God. Grief is normal, but those who pass before us do not linger here.

Meanwhile, symbols designed to identify one as a survivor, an American, a member of a team, or a group can be harmless.

They can also suggest that one’s identity is wrapped up in something other than belonging to God. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Reminders are not bad per se; God sees the motivations of our hearts.

The Old and the New

Tattoos are just one subject of several, which cause some confusion today as they did in Paul’s time.

For example, there are still Christians who believe they must not eat pork, while Paul says, “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience” (1 Corinthians 10:25).

What we eat, the markings on our bodies, our clothes, and even dropping the occasional swear word — we still need to pay attention and take care, but the reason is not to tick all the boxes which make us right with God.

God does have rules he wants us to follow for our own good, but “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10).

The law is fulfilled by Christ. Now we can concentrate on filling ourselves with the Word of God and letting that pour out of us into the lives of others.

Can one get inked and still be a fruitful Christian, worshiping Christ alone? John Piper suggests that anyone considering getting a tattoo to ask himself or herself, “Is it bearing fruit for God?” Does one intend to use a tattoo as a means of spreading God’s glory?

Why Would a Christian Get Inked?

Piper suggests asking, “Is our choice to get a tattoo influenced by the desire to be like the nations who do not love God? [...] A follower of Christ makes a difference in how you dress and how you do makeup, and how you do hair. It is really plain. In fact, it is plain in the Old Testament, too."

God’s expectations are simple: diminish so that Christ can increase. Onlookers know the difference between Christians and non-Christians by the way they submit their whole selves to Jesus.

There is nothing in the Bible that says, “Go get marked up for Christ so people will know whom you live for.” Jesus says that his followers will be known by their love for one another (John 13:35).

The world will know Christians by the ways in which they actively love and how they lovingly obey him. Getting a picture of a cross on your arm is unnecessary.

And yet, he also does not say that ear piercing, make-up, nice clothes, or owning artwork is prohibited. Tattoos are not “wrong” in and of themselves. As always, one has to examine his or her heart.

Better still, beg God to “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).

If you are at all concerned, the Holy Spirit might be trying to direct you away from this expense. For example, if you are financially dependent upon others or you will go into debt in order to get a tattoo, this is irresponsible.

If the Holy Spirit is urging you to use your money in a more considerate or generous way, such as to pay rent to your parents if you still live at home, assist a neighbor with childcare costs, or support a charitable cause, then maybe you should hold off on the tattoo.

The Lord does not object to people spending their money on things that bring them pleasure, but if one’s pleasure comes at the expense of consideration for others or your spirit feels heavy, as though you are ignoring God, consider waiting on that tattoo.

The Finishing Touch

For those whose bodies already feature tattoos, they make for interesting conversation starters. Ice breaks more easily when there is a visible starting point to help you get going.

If you got your tattoo before you were born again in Christ and are tempted to be ashamed of it, choose instead to use it for God’s glory. Once you are saved, nothing can prohibit you from entering heaven.

Give curious individuals a chance to find out just how powerful Jesus’ work has been in your life — that this mark, and the past that goes with it, do not cut you off from his everlasting love. Tattoos might be beautiful, but not as beautiful as the transformative story you have to share.

Related podcast:

For further reading:

What Does the Bible Say about Tattoos?

Top 3 Inspiring Christian Tattoos to Get and Why

Did Jesus Have a Tattoo?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Marco_Piunti

Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.


Christianity / Theology / Heaven and Hell / Can Someone Get to Heaven with Tattoos?