Does Bible forbid tattoos? Religion prof says 'no,' but warns: 'Think before you ink'

A man with tattoos on his body and face is pictured during the third International Tattoo Festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on July 20, 2015.

More and more Americans are getting tattoos nowadays. In fact, a recent Harris Poll survey said one in every five US adults has gotten himself or herself inked. That's 21 percent of the population, which is up from the 16 percent and 14 percent who reported having a tattoo in 2003 and 2008, according to the survey.

Tattoos can be seen on the skin of many entertainers and athletes. In fact even the 2009 version of Barbie has numerous tattoos on its body.

With the increasing popularity of tattoos, many Christians might be wondering: Does the Bible prohibit this kind of body drawing?

For religion professor Will Honeycutt of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, the Holy Bible does not forbid Christians from getting tattoos per se. 

Honeycutt clarified that Leviticus 19:28—the Bible verse most quoted by some Christians when discussing the alleged immorality of getting a tattoo—should not be interpreted in this sense. The Bible's New International Version translates this verse from the Old Testament as: "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord."

The religion professor said this verse does not prohibit tattoos per se, but the act of scarification, which is the act of cutting images or words into the skin.

He also noted that the word "tattoo" only entered the English language during the late 1700s—too distant from the Biblical times.

However, while the Bible does not prohibit tattoos, per se, the Scripture does not give a license for unrestrained tattooing either, Honeycutt said.

He cited seven questions that Christians need to answer satisfactorily to themselves first before they make a decision on having a tattoo.

1. Modification – "Our body is not our own, but rather God's temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)," Honeycutt said, noting that the Bible views the body as God's handiwork, which is not to be disfigured. "We must ask ourselves how much we can modify our bodies to suit our desires while not disfiguring the beauty of the human form as God made it," he said.

2. Motive – "Why get a tattoo? If it is in rebellion to parents, it is clearly not acceptable (Ephesians 6:1-3)," Honeycutt said, adding that "while artistic self-expression can be OK, our primary motive for anything we do should be to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31)." He said "this means seeking to honour and draw attention to him, not ourselves."

3. Modesty – Honeycutt said a person seeking to have a tattoo should ask himself or herself: Am I seeking to direct people's thoughts toward God or myself? "Tattoos often accentuate certain areas of the body and get our thoughts on that body part. It is hard to believe that anyone with a 'tramp stamp' (a tattoo on the lower back) is really seeking to direct people's thoughts toward God," he said.

4. Marketability – Honeycutt said getting a tattoo may not be a good idea if a person is seeking to apply for a job since many companies forbid their employees from having visible tattoos on their body

5. Message – Honeycutt said people need to be mindful that tattoos are nearly permanent and will likely be with them for life. Tattoos carry a message that a person wants to convey at one point in his life. But as the person matures he may outgrow that message and develop "tattoo regret," he said.

6. Money – Is having a tattoo just a waste of money? Honeycutt said the basic price for a tattoo job, according to one website, is $80 to $100 an hour. "We are responsible to God for how we use our money. It's also important to keep in mind that the removal technologies being developed are even more expensive than the cost of getting a tattoo in the first place," he said.

7. Medical concerns – Honeycutt warns about the health risks involved with tattoos. Some people who have been tattooed developed severe allergic reactions, infections, unsightly scars, and blood-borne diseases like Hepatitis B and C, he said. "Tattooing deliberately opens skin and exposes your blood to unknown bacteria," he said.

Hence, Honeycutt's final advice to anyone seeking to have a tattoo is: "Think before you ink."