It might surprise you that the question “can we go to heaven with tattoos” is a much pondered one in the Christian community. And the answer, like most things theological, is unclear.
Whether or not having a tattoo will impede your entry into heaven really depends on your interpretation of scripture — as well as your whole approach to Christianity.
In this article we’ll take you through what the bible has to say about tattooing, and then let you reach your own verdict on whether St. Peter will embrace your tattoo sleeved arms, or banish you to the fiery pits of hell with the other body art enthusiasts.
What does the Bible say?
Laws of Leviticus
Leviticus 19:28 reads, “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord”.
Well this is actually pretty crystal clear: tattooing is not encouraged in the bible.
However, in this verse, tattooing or marking of the body is forbidden when used as a means to commemorate the dead. It’s therefore specifically making reference to funeral rituals and customs which deviate from Jewish tradition.
It makes sense that God would want to clarify how we should differentiate ourselves from other, non-Judeo religious/spiritual practices during this time. Indeed, later in Leviticus, we’re advised to “not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for ourselves” (26:1), as this was common practice by so-called pagan groups.
However, in the context of today — when tattooing is not linked to spiritual or pagan rites, but is merely for aesthetic purposes — perhaps it can be seen as permissible.
Made in God’s Image
The other argument against the virtue of ink, is that it involves altering the human body and therefore God’s creation:
‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).
“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit … and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
The idea, then, is that we should try to keep our bodies “pure” and untarnished, and tattoos are a kind of violation of God’s perfect creation.
However, when taken to the extreme, this would mean we should also refrain from getting haircuts or manicures.
In fact, Leviticus 19:27 does state: “You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard”. Bad news for The Beatles!
So getting a tattoo potentially counts as tainting God’s creation, but so does all manner of things that would be unreasonable to refrain from.
The New Testament
All the above citations come from the Old Testament. While many Christians still view the old testament as highly valuable and insightful, the laws it advocates are actually formally overridden in the New Testament.
The Old Testament contains a total of 613 commandments for God’s people to abide by. These are chiefly found in Leviticus, where laws against homosexuality, eating shellfish and mixing fabrics are clearly stated.
However, Christ’s death and subsequent resurrection symbolised a fulfilment of these laws. This meant that Christians were henceforth no longer required to live by these commandments.
There are numerous references to the abolition of the laws detailed in Leviticus:
Romans 10:4: “Christ is the end of the law.”
Colossians 2:13-14: “God forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”
“By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” – Hebrews 8:13
This would entail that Leviticus 19:28, which states that you must not get a tattoo to mark a person’s death, is now obsolete (along with the ones forbidding you to get a bowl cut, eat shellfish or wear polyester).
Can you go to Heaven if you Keep Sinning?
Supposing for a second that tattoos are in fact a sin against God, does that necessarily mean that tattooed folk will be forbidden entry to heaven?
Many Christians would say that we are all guilty of sin, but can still find salvation through repentance and faith.
There are numerous verses in the bible which seem to suggest the path to heaven is through believing in Christ and repenting of your sins:
Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourself; it is the gift of God.”
Acts 16:31: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Roman 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
So even if you believe tattoos are sinful, that really doesn’t mean that you can’t still make it into heaven. Having faith is the key factor in determining your place in the afterlife, not your ink.
Can We Go to Heaven with Tattoos?
According to scripture, it seems that tattoos are not necessarily a barrier to entering heaven. However, naturally, not everyone would agree.
Ultimately, it’s your call. If your faith is important to you and you want to avoid doing anything which could potentially jeopardise your relationship with God, then maybe it’s best to skip the tattoo parlour for now.
If you’re interested in exploring what else might be sinful, then check out What does the Bible say about weed?