Did Jesus Have a Tattoo? (2023)

Our oldest son was in his early twenties when he came home with phaino, the Greek word for “shine” used in Philippians 2:15, on his arm. When asked the “why” behind his decision, he said he hoped people might ask him about it, giving him an opportunity to share his faith. I appreciated his response because he’d given it thought before getting the tattoo and not simply caved to peer pressure. Over the years, our son’s hope has been realized more than once.

Still, the question remains. Is it okay for Christians to get a tattoo? Did Jesus have a tattoo, and if so, what was the “why” behind it?

Does the Bible Say that Jesus Has a Tattoo?

In Revelation 19, John writes that Jesus appears dressed in a robe dipped in blood. Verse 16 adds that “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” is written on his robe and his thigh. Many Christians debate whether it’s biblical to get a tattoo and point to this verse as proof that Jesus did have a tattoo, and therefore, it’s okay for them to have one too.

Before we explore the debate, let’s briefly consider the context. Revelation 19 is the climatic chapter of the Book of Revelation, revealing the second coming of Christ to establish His earthly kingdom. There are various interpretations of when the second coming will take place, but here’s a pithy overview of three main interpretations:

1. The Premillennialism view holds that Jesus will return before the millennium, the thousand years of peace, before Satan’s final defeat, leading to the new heavens and the new earth. Many in this camp believe Jesus will rapture believers before, during, or after this event.

2. The Postmillennialism view believes Christ’s return will happen at some point, but he will not necessarily reign for a thousand years. They use a non-literal method of interpreting prophecy, believing Christians will establish God’s kingdom before the second coming.

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3. The Amillennialism view believes the thousand-year rule of Christ started when He came to earth because Satan’s power is already limited, or bound, by Christ in what he can and cannot do. After a thousand years, it is believed that the enemy will no longer be bound but released to deceive and destroy before the second coming of Christ.

As Kay Arthur used to say during Precept Bible studies, when studying a passage that is not explicitly clear on its timing or meaning, we are walking on holy ground. In other words, the Word of God is true regardless of our take on a particular passage, and sometimes, our trust and reverence for the Word must be enough. John Calvin summed up the book of Revelation in six words: Only God knows what this means.

Why Does Jesus Look Different in Revelation 19?

In Luke 2:6-7, we see Jesus as Immanuel, a babe in a manger. In the Gospels, we see Jesus as a Good Shepherd—man yet also God. In 1 Corinthians 5:7, we see Jesus as our Passover Lamb, a willing sacrifice who suffered so that we might have everlasting life. And in Luke 24:6, we see Jesus as our Risen Savior, for He arose from the grave after three days, conquering sin and death once and for all.

But in Revelation 19, we see Jesus as Warrior, Faithful and True, and the Word of God. His eyes are described as blazing like fire, and He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood. Out of His mouth is a sharp sword used to strike down many nations. And on His thigh is the title “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

Why Is 'King of Kings and Lord of Lords' Written on Jesus’ Thigh?

Some debate whether “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” was actually inscribed on Jesus’ thigh. Some speculate if the passage means a banner with the words falling across his thigh. Others wonder whether the words could be inscribed on a sword held by Jesus’ thigh. We don’t know the answer to this, but we do know His title is significant: “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

In an International Standard Bible Encyclopedia article, Burton Scott Easton explains that many biblical cultures considered the thigh sacred, which may explain the Israelites sacrificing a ram’s thigh to God (Exodus 29:22).

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The ancient custom of placing one’s hand under a master’s thigh implied that they considered themselves subject to that person, that a promise had been made which must be fulfilled. In Genesis 24:2-9, the oldest servant in Abraham’s house was made to swear he would not take a wife for Isaac from the Canaanites by placing his hand under Abraham’s thigh. In Genesis 47:29, Joseph took an oath not to bury Jacob in Egypt by placing his hand under his father’s thigh.

The title “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” was written on Jesus’ thigh to signify the fulfillment of a promise that God would one day bring righteous judgment.

Does Jewish Law Forbid Tattoos?

Leviticus 19:28 says, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.”

To this day, Orthodox Jews are instructed not to get tattooed. In ancient cultures (like the Canaanite cultures surrounding the Israelites), it was common in pagan worship for one to get marked or tattooed to appease their gods and show their commitment to their deity. Israelites also felt that marking the body desecrated God’s handiwork.

To this point, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 tells us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in us, and whom we’ve received from God. Paul reminds us that we’re not our own, that we were bought at a price, and because of this, we’re to honor God with our bodies.

So, with these words in mind, is it a sin for a Christ-follower to get a tattoo?

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Is it a Sin to Get a Tattoo?

Based on the above two scripture passages, Christians have traditionally viewed tattoos as unbiblical. But is it a sin?

In fact, there isn’t a scripture passage that commands a Christian not to get a tattoo. As in all things, it comes down to the heart, to the motivation of the person who wants the tattoo.

Acts 15 and other New Testament passages talk about honoring God and following some core Old Testament laws (like staying sexually pure and not worshipping idols) but not worrying about following the rest of Jewish law to the letter. For example, Galatians 3:24-25 reminds us that the law was our guardian until Christ came so that we would be justified by faith. And now that He has come, we are no longer under the law. Paul routinely exhorts churches in his letters not to obsess over only eating ceremonially clean foods or being circumcized and certainly not to be arrogant if they follow those laws. So, as we now live under grace and have no condemnation (Romans 8:1), we don’t need to worry that we’re sinning if we break Leviticus 19:28.

Instead, we must ask if what we’re doing is God-honoring. The Corinthians passage exhorts us to do that. We must determine if getting a tattoo will bring glory to God. This debate is for the individual to decide—it’s wise to prayerfully consider the “why” behind the desire before getting a tattoo.

Pagan cultists desire to identify with their deity reflected their “why” (and especially their hearts).

Christ-followers can identify with and glorify their God in myriad ways, including tattoos. A former pastor used to say how our message (the gospel) never changes, but our methods do. For some Christians, displaying a spiritual milestone, a favorite Bible verse, or imagery revealing how God is working in their lives on their bodies is their method of reaching the lost for such a time as this.

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Our oldest son, who now has several tattoos, is an introvert and finds it difficult to start conversations. But if someone asked about the story behind his tattoo, he would eagerly share and, hopefully, open a dialogue that points to Christ.

It’s doubtful that a person would ask a stranger about their faith. They just might ask a stranger about their tattoo.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” — Oswald Chambers

Photo Credit:Jon Tyson/Unsplash

Did Jesus Have a Tattoo? (1)Cathy Baker is the author of Pauses for the Vacationing Soul: A Sensory-Based Devotional Guide for the Beach and Pauses for the Vacationing Soul: A Sensory-Based Devotional Guide for the Mountains. She writes from a tiny studio lovingly known as The Tiny House on the Hill in the Foothills of SC. As an author, Hope Writer, and Bible teacher for over twenty-five years, she encourages women to pause and embrace the seemingly small, mundane moments of their day for God’s glory. She invites you to join her in the tiny house where you’re always welcome to come in and take a seat.


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