Though not quite as divisive as tattoos, piercings can be a matter of contention among Christians. While some sport multiple piercings, others go so far as to equate piercings with witchcraft and paganism.
So, what is the truth? Are piercings fine, just like a bracelet or necklace? Or are they forbidden by God? To find out, we’ll have to consult the Bible.
Piercings in the Bible
The Bible doesn’t often address piercings. When it does, it’s typically a casual mention. For example, all the way back in Genesis, when Abraham sent his servant to ask for Rebekah’s hand for his son Isaac, one of the gifts he sent to Rebekah was a gold nose ring (Genesis 24:22).
A couple of times, the Bible does mention piercings in a negative way — along with fine robes and linen garments. The issues in such passages seem to be haughtiness and neglecting the poor, not the wearing of jewelry and clothing itself. See Isaiah 3:18-23:
In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, the earrings and bracelets and veils, the headdresses and anklets and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, the signet rings and nose rings, the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls.
One passage in the Bible shows a positive correlation with piercings. As God talks about His lavish love for Israel in Ezekiel 16, comparing Jerusalem to His wife, He says, “And I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head” (Ezekiel 16:12). It seems unlikely that God would paint an image of Himself engaging in a sinful practice. Instead, the passage shows this as God honoring and loving Jerusalem.
However, there is one verse that may not cast piercing in a favorable light.
Does Leviticus Condemn Piercings?
The passage that is most often pointed to as a condemnation of piercings doesn’t actually mention piercings at all. Leviticus 19:28 says, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”
The interesting thing about this passage is that it is often read without context. The surrounding passages refer to other rituals associated with paganism. The verse directly before Leviticus 19:28 states, “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard” (Leviticus 19:27). And the verse before that? “Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it” (Leviticus 19:26).
Christians, of course, cut their hair and eat meats that aren’t kosher. The context implies that this directive of the Lord was specifically for the Israelites, meant to keep them from engaging in activities that were part of the pagan rituals of their neighbors.
Another key phrase in Leviticus 19:28 is “for the dead;” in mourning, pagan worshippers would mutilate their bodies, often by slashing, to appease angry gods and hopefully help the dead find favor. This is similar to what occurs in 1 Kings 18 when Elijah is facing off with the prophets of Baal. In order to get Baal’s attention, the Bible says, “They shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed” (1 Kings 18:28). This seems to be in a different category than piercings.
Others have pointed to verses such as 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 as prohibitive of things such as piercings or tattoos. However, the entire passage (1 Corinthians 6:12-20) is specifically about sexual immorality. Take 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and add the preceding verse, verse 18, and it reads like this:
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
Even if this did not specifically refer to sexual immorality, the directive to “honor God with your bodies” would only be prohibitive of piercings if piercings dishonored the body — which is not a sentiment found anywhere in the Bible, thus rendering this circular reasoning.
Piercings were an ordinary part of the ancient near-Eastern culture. Even now, ear piercings have been common in Western culture for a long time. This is not to mention other parts of the world.
However, this does bring us to 1 Corinthians 10:23: “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say —but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’— but not everything is constructive.”
Just because piercings aren’t wrong doesn’t necessarily mean they are always good.
When deciding on whether to get piercings, we must consider our intentions. Are we simply doing it to try to fit in? Are we trying to be rebellious and make a statement? In our placement, what is our intention? Is it to be sexually provocative? Just like when we choose our clothing, we must consider whether we are operating in a God-honoring way. And that will be different for each person.
Another consideration is whether we are actually harming ourselves, putting outward beauty above taking care of our bodies. Though most piercings are benign, some can significantly alter the body or even hinder normal bodily functions or daily activities. Again, just like clothing, sometimes vanity can get in the way of doing the things we need to be doing.
On the other hand, sometimes piercings can be ministry tools. Christian symbols or statement pieces could spark conversations, leading to openings to share our faith.
In the end, it’s important to remember Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him,” and 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Whether we choose to have piercings or not, the most important thing is that we focus on God. “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
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Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology, and the Bible at Taylor University. She is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., the publicity manager at Mountain Brook Ink, and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services. She is the co-author of Dear Hero and has 200+ bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids. Find out more about her here and on social media @alyssawrote.