Looking back, I was always taught that tattoos were against the Catholic faith. But with so many people that have them – myself included – does this mean we’ve all committed a sin? Let me explain in this article, and hopefully, help you make up your mind on whether to tattoo or not to tattoo.
Catholics can get a tattoo since there are no rules against it. Technically, the Church is not opposed to tattoos. In fact, the Pope himself said to “not be afraid of tattoos” as it has always been used as a “sign of belonging” for many people. However, he does remind us not to exaggerate either.
That said, there are tattoos that one should avoid. What are they, and why do other people tell us that getting tattoos is a sin? Find out all the answers to these questions below.
Is It a Sin for a Catholic to Get a Tattoo?
There is no rule or law that explicitly says getting a tattoo is a sin – not in the Code of Canon Law or the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There is also no mention of tattoos as a sin in the New Testament.
The basis of other people saying that it is an act of sin is from a book in the Old Testament, which says: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:28)
While the Old Testament is absolutely important to every Catholic, this verse from Leviticus is not particularly mandatory for Christians just as other verses in the Bible do not apply to us. Some examples are the texts:
“You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff” and “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.” Like the verse about tattoos, these are written by Moses in the same book and the same chapter.
If you read the Old Testament, you’ll also find that we are told the following:
- Not to eat or touch pigs (Leviticus 11:7-8)
- Not to eat the fat or blood of animals (Leviticus 7:22-27)
- Not to touch the dead (Numbers 19:13, Numbers 19:16, Numbers 31:19)
- Circumcise men (Leviticus 12:3)
- Priests should not have any defect (Leviticus 21:16-23)
- Women are unclean during their period (Leviticus 15:19)
That said, there are hundreds of old laws in the Bible that no longer apply to Christians in this day and age. This is why St. Paul declared that we are not bound to observe such laws. These are called “ceremonial laws” and are part of the old covenant. Most of them were given to Israel by God and used to determine what was clean and what was not.
However, when Jesus Christ died for our sins, he also fulfilled all these ceremonial laws. Through him, we were made clean, pure, and sanctified. In Him, we are also brought to a New Covenant. So these ceremonial laws have already passed and are no longer in effect for Christians. This is different from our “moral laws”, which are still relevant and very much valid in our faith. These were given to us by God and shall never pass away. These include the 10 commandments.
By knowing this distinction, we can now determine whether getting a tattoo is a sin or not. The practice of getting a tattoo in itself is not a sin since it’s part of the ceremonial laws. However, if your intention in getting one is to disobey your parents, take the Lord’s name in vain, or risk your health, then it is a sin. Furthermore, if you use potentially insulting, satanic, or any other images or symbols that go against the Christian moral law in your tattoo, then it may also be a sin.
What Did Pope Francis Say About Tattoos?
To further prove that the Church does not oppose tattoos and does not see them as a sin, Pope Francis even discussed it during a Pre-Synodal meeting in 2018. When a seminarian from Ukraine asked about tattoos, the Pope said “Don’t be afraid of tattoos”.
Pope Francis also recalled how different cultures like the Eritreans use them to “distinguish and identify themselves”. He also said that tattoos can be used by priests to connect with people and approach the youth. This is because they can be a great way to start conversations about what they mean.
The Pope did, however, remind us not to exaggerate tattoos. So before finally deciding on getting one, make sure that it doesn’t go against the beliefs and teachings of the Catholic Church. This means avoiding anything immoral and satanic.
What Religions Don’t Allow Tattoos?
While tattoos have been used in many cultures and religions for a very, very long time, some are still opposed to it. Judaism, for one, forbids any permanent changes to one’s body (except for circumcision). Remember, our Old Testament Bible verses are the same as their bible verses. So what Moses wrote in Leviticus 19:28 is part of their law. Now, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any Jews with tattoos. It’s just most of them prefer not to get one.
There is also Islam, which is perhaps the strictest religion when it comes to tattoos. All of its members are absolutely forbidden to get a tattoo. This is because, in their faith, one’s body is Allah’s creation. So a permanent tattoo is considered as something that desecrates that work. Now, those who have a tattoo and wish to convert to Islam will be forgiven, and this will be considered as part of their past. Take note, however, that any new tattoo will be seen as disrespectful in the Islamic faith.
Then, there’s Christianity. While we’ve already established that tattoos are not a sin, there are still some Christians and Catholics who are against them, especially the elderly. Some would say that according to the Bible, our bodies are the temples of God and His creation. Thus, it shouldn’t be changed. Of course, this is true. However, to make this a moral issue is wrong as there’s clearly no magisterial teaching about it. So whether they love them or hate them, Catholics are free to get a tattoo.