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We examine the social significance of tattooing in religions around the world.

Check out meanings of Religious Tattoos & Symbols of Faith & Spirituality


This site is devoted to Judeo-Christian body art. Lots of great info here!

By Ron Dicker, The Forward
[Oct 11th, 2009]

Craig Dershowitz started with a Kabbalah Ladder on his back, then followed with the word ZION on his right forearm. His entire torso remains a mural in progress.

Marisa Kakoulas considers herself a Grecian urn, ready to be decorated. The suit she wears as an attorney conceals her black-ink tapestry, making her feel like a superhero, she said.

They are Jews with tattoos, a trend that began on the fringe and is moving toward the mainstream. Ink-wearing Jews are not as omnipresent as in some other groups, given the proliferation of tattoos in sports and the entertainment industry, but their numbers are increasing, according to tattoo wearers, artists and the rabbis who bear witness to the branding of their flock...  more

Multnomah Bible College reverses its ban on tattoos. Christians rejoice.

BY PAIGE RICHMOND | prichmond at wweek dot com
[July 11th, 2007]

Matt Farlow's body belongs to God. The Multnomah Biblical Seminary grad student claims that all of his tattoos "glorify Christ," except for his first piece of ink: a small, now-faded lightning bolt. Since Farlow, now 33 and married with two kids, became "full-on Jesus-centered" in his 20s, he's marked his body with only religious imagery. And now that Multnomah Bible College (and its grad school, the Seminary) finally allows students to show off their body art, Farlow can display a full-sleeve tattoo of vibrant symbols depicting the Holy Trinity and the Greek name of God. ...  more

By Jennifer Hollett

Toronto Star
Once associated with truckers, convicts and sailors, tattoos are now finding favour with hip young Christians

Crosses, praying hands, and scripture. While icons of faith, these images are also popular and trendy tattoos. Mary J Blige's tattoo cross was visible at The Grammys, and Justin Timberlake has both a cross and a guardian angel inked on his skin. With the new generation of young Christians decked out in jeans and Chuck Taylors, tattoos compliment the look with a permanent commitment to Christ.

Tattoos used to be associated with truckers, sailors, and convicts. Over the last decade, things have changed with alternative culture moving into the mainstream, introducing body art to anyone and everyone. This includes Christians. Jay Bakker is probably the best-known alt pastor thanks to his parents Jim and Tammy Faye, and the One Punk Under God documentary series on the Sundance Channel. His personal style includes bad boy tattoo sleeves, piercings, and black t-shirts.

Read the rest of the article


Knight Ridder Newspapers
Martha Arana wears her faith on her skin -- in permanent black, red and green ink.

Arana, a 24-year-old Wichita State University social work student, recently had a cross wrapped with a vine and two roses tattooed on her right ankle. It was her first tattoo.

Her 21-year-old sister, Maria Arana, got the same tattoo at the Elektrik Chair, a tattoo parlor in Wichita, Kan.

"Whenever we've gone through stuff, the only thing that gets us through is our faith," said Martha Arana, a Catholic. "So we both decided to get something that symbolizes our faith."

The two are among countless people of faith nationwide who have tattoos that reflect their spirituality and religious beliefs.

But is a tattoo an appropriate way to display faith? Read the rest of the article

What Does the Bible Really Say?

Many Christians will often quote scripture, and it is usually Leviticus 19:28, which is in the Old Testament of the Bible, when stating that Christians should never receive a tattoo as it is specifically prohibited. A closer examination of the passages in question is in order because of discrepancies in historical accuracy, translation and interpretation.

One popular edition of the King James Bible reads: "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord." - Leviticus 19:28

A historically and linguistically correct translation of Leviticus 19:28 could of course never have mentioned the word "tattoo". Tattoo is a specifically Polynesian word that entered the English language after the voyages of Captain James Cook to Tahiti in the eighteenth century - which is when tattooing became popular again in the West. Interestingly, tattoo and taboo are the only two Polynesian words to enter into English language usage.

Another, presumably older translation of Leviticus 19:28 reads, ""Do not cut your bodies for the dead nor put marks upon you. For I am the Lord." - Leviticus 19:28

It is widely believed among Biblical scholars that Leviticus 19:28 refers to an ancient practice in the Middle East of people cutting themselves and rubbing in ash when in a period of mourning after an individual had died. It was a sign of respect for the dead and a symbol of respect and reverence and a sense of profound loss for the newly departed; and it is surmised that the ash that was rubbed into the self-inflicted wounds came from the actual funeral pyres that were used to cremate the bodies. In essence, people were literally carrying with them a reminder of the recently deceased in the form of tattoos created by ash being rubbed into shallow wounds cut or slashed into the body, usually the forearms. This rite would have been part of a culturally accepted process of grieving.

The sanctions prescribed in Leviticus against mourning the dead mark a significant change in peoples belief system about an afterlife. Once it is established within the Christian church that life does not end with death; but is the beginning of a new and perhaps better afterlife; literally in God's Heaven, then there is no purpose in mourning the death of an individual who is a "believer". In the Christian belief system, that individual is not dead, but in Heaven and it is presumed that all believers in Christianity will ultimately be united. The death or passing of an individual from the mortal or worldly plane becomes not a source of mourning but rather a source of rejoicing for believers in the Christian faith.

For those individuals who claim to follow Scripture to the letter, it is interesting to note that other passages in Leviticus proscribe individuals from cutting their hair or trimming their beards, wearing clothes that are made of a mix of textiles and growing certain crops beside each other; ie, the "mingling" of seed. It is safe to assume that the practice of shaving would have been a heinous violation of Leviticus.

At the same time it must be said that Leviticus contains the seeds of laws and statutes, that if followed, are the basis of a fair and just community. Here is one translation of Leviticus that is worth reading in its entirety.

Religious Tattoo design ideas at Tattoo Johnny


Despite the opposition that young tattooed Christians faced from parents and ministers, it seems that their diligence has paid off. No longer are tattoos so widely viewed as evil, pagan proofs. As a matter of fact, Christians today have several logical justifications for their tattoos.

Christians claim a freedom from the words of Leviticus based on the freedom from the Law that came through Christ's atonement of our sins. This is a fact mentioned by the apostle Paul numerous times throughout the New Testament.

In a humorous line found on the website of the Christian Tattoo Association said: "You shall not…tattoo any marks on you…" obviously means don't do it yourself, see a professional.

Another popular argument for Christian tattoo refers to the mention that our bodies are the temples of God. If this is so, then Christian tattoos are serving in place of stained glass windows and frescoes.

Finally, supporters for Christian tattoo refer often to the Book of Revelation to several references that could translate to Jesus wearing marks like a tattoo, and us receiving the marks of our new names, and the seal of God.

If you're looking for inspiration for a Christian inspired tattoo design, here is a list of symbols that have played a big part in the Christian faith.

The Cross: Available in several different designs and variation, crosses have become a favorite among Christians with tattoo. In addition, many of the separate denominations of Protestant Christians have their own church emblem or seal which contains a cross.

The Peacock: The peacock was used as an early symbol of the resurrection by Christians in history. Each time the peacock sheds his feathers, the new feathers far surpass the old ones in their beauty.

The Lily: This flower design often appears in connection with the Easter season and has come to symbolize immortality and eternal life.

The Phoenix: This mythical bird, whose life cycle was a constant series of fiery death and rebirth from the ashes, was also a popular Christian sign for the resurrection.

Wheat Heads (generally three of them): This design represented the Bread of Life.

The Pelican: This water bird became a symbol of atonement to early Christians because it was believed that pelicans would draw blood from their own breast in order to feed their young.

The Palm Leaf: While alluding to Jesus' greeting and worship upon his arrival into Jerusalem for his final Passover, the Palm Leaf is also a symbol of heavenly reward.

The Shepherd: Often drawn with the Shepherd carrying a lamb over his shoulders, this image served as a reminder of Jesus' loving care as our heavenly shepherd.

The Triquetra: Easier to understand when illustrated, this geometrical design is composed of one continuous line that creates 3 equal arcs (each arc generally triangular in design) with was used to explain eternity in a continuous form, and the indivisibility of the Trinity.

Nimbuses: Also known as halos, nimbuses are often used in conjunction with pictures of Jesus, Mary, the apostles, saints and martyrs.

I.N.R.I.: This Latin inscription appeared on the head of the cross and says "Jesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum, or "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews".

The Ship: Showing an image of a ship sailing through rough and stormy sees, this tattoo design speaks of the churches ability to sail unscathed through all perils and still remain alive and well.

The Lamp: Often depicted as the typical oil lamp you associate with genies, the lamp signifies the Word of God.

Fish: Everyone has seen the Christian fish, on cars, arms, legs, back, mailboxes, business signs - it shows up every where. Early Christians used it to identify one another by one person drawing an arched line in the sand with a stick or toe. If the other person was a believer, they would complete the design. The fish was used for this reason because in Greek, the first letter in their translation of "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior" spells out the Greek word for fish (ICTHUS).

The Candlestick: An image that proclaims to the world that you follow Jesus, "the Light of the World".

The Dove: Associated with God's spirit resting on Jesus during his baptism, the dove is now generally associated with the Holy Spirit of the Trinity.

3 Intertwining Circles: If you're looking for a Christian symbol to incorporate into a tribal or Celtic tattoo design, this just might do this trick. These three equal sized interwoven circles symbolize equality, unity and the co-eternal nature of the 3 persons of the Godhood.


1). A Conch Shell - It is an emblem of power, authority and sovereignty whose blast is believed to banish evil spirits, avert natural disasters, and scare away poisonous creatures. The sound of a conch is said to represent the deep, resonant voice of Buddha the conch is used in Tibetan Buddhism to call together religious assemblies. During the actual practice of rituals, it is used both as a musical instrument and as a container for holy water.

2). A Lotus - The Lotus is one of Buddhism's best recognized motifs since every important deity is associated in some manner with the lotus, either being seated upon it or holding one in their hands.

The roots of a lotus are in the mud, the stem grows up through the water, and the heavily scented flower lies above the water, basking in the sunlight. This pattern of growth signifies the progress of the soul from the primeval mud of materialism, through the waters of experience, and into the bright sunshine of enlightenment.

Significantly, the color of the lotus too has an important bearing on the symbolism associated with it:

White Lotus - This represents the state of spiritual perfection and mental purity.

Red Lotus - This signifies the original nature and purity of the heart. It is the lotus of love, compassion, passion and all other qualities of the heart.

Blue Lotus- This is a symbol of the victory of the spirit over the senses, and signifies the wisdom of knowledge.

Pink Lotus - This is the supreme lotus, generally reserved for the highest deity. It is associated with the Great Buddha himself.

3). A Wheel - The wheel consists of three parts: the hub, the rim, and spokes (usually eight in number). Its basic form is that of a circle - which is recognized across all cultural traditions as a shape that is complete and perfect in itself. These qualities reflect the teachings of the Buddha.

4). A Parasol (Umbrella) - Above the mountain is the dome of the sky. This is symbolized by the umbrella, whose important function is to cast a shadow, the shadow of protection.

A traditional Tibetan Parasol is fringed around the edges. The dome symbolizes wisdom, and the hanging skirt, compassion. Thus the composite form of the parasol signifies the union of these dual elements.

5). An Endless Knot - The endless knot is a closed, graphic ornament composed of right-angled, intertwined lines. It is theorized that it may have evolved from an ancient naga symbol with two stylized snakes. Since the knot has no beginning or end it also symbolizes the infinite wisdom of the Buddha.

). A Pair of Golden Fishes - In Buddhism, the golden fishes symbolize happiness, as they have complete freedom in water. They represent fertility and abundance as they multiply very rapidly. Fish often swim in pairs, and in China they represented conjugal unity and fidelity, where a pair of fishes would often be given as a wedding present.

7). A Banner Proclaiming Victory - The victory banner was adopted by early Buddhism as an emblem of the Buddha's enlightenment, heralding the triumph of knowledge over ignorance. It is said to have been placed on a mountain top by Buddha himself, symbolizing his victory over the entire universe.

8). A Treasure Vase - The vase is a short, round vessel with a short, slim neck. On top, covering the opening, there is a large jewel lid indicating that it is a treasure vase.

The symbolic meaning of the Treasure Vase is usually associated with the ideas of storage and the satisfaction of material desires. In the mythologies of many different cultures there are recurring stories that contain the idea of an inexhaustible vessel.