Bad guys wear black, good guys wear white. The quaint cowboy movies and television shows of years past made it easy to spot the baddy--look for the black hat. Of course real life is never that simple, and sometimes good guys wear black (just ask Johnny Cash).
Tattoos have an overly simplistic stereotype as well. People out of touch with what is happening today might still think that only sailors, bikers, and convicts get ink, but the reality is very different. This art form has gone mainstream and is now found on soccer moms, CEO's, honor roll students, officers, and well... just about every kind of person out there. But the popularity of a cultural trend does not mean it is good. We need to be biblical, wise, and careful in all things.
Some people have done a quick search in the bible for "tattoo," found Lev 19, and determined that tattoos are off-limits. But I always point people to two passages of Scripture that can help us start to think through the issue.
Lev 19 and Idolatrous Tattoos
You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.(Leviticus 19:28 ESV)
This prohibition falls in with several others given to Israel to separate them from the Canaanite pagan practices around them. The cutting of the body was related to the religious mourning process when relatives died. Tattoos may have been made in the same vein, also associated with specific idols and false religions. God calls Israel, as his Nation, to look different from the pagans around them, and many of these commands had more to do with associated pagan beliefs than the actual practice (cutting the sides of the beard, verse 27 for example).
Isaiah 49 and Divine Tattoos
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. (Isaiah 49:16 ESV)
In Isaiah 49:16 God is assuring his people that he will not forget them. He cannot forget them. Just as a nursing mother cannot forget her child, neither can God forget his children. And he then uses an illustration that surprises some. He figurative spreads out his hands and says, "Look, I have written your name on my hands." This is most likely a reference to a kind of tattoo, a mark made with indelible ink. Of course God does not have actual arms, and therefore he does not have any real ink. But the point is clear enough. He uses a picture his people will understand. "How can I forget you when I have tattooed your name on my hand. I cannot even put my hand to work in anything without being reminded of you and the promises I have made to you."
Some scholars even suggest that Jews began tattooing their hands to remind themselves of the temple and the Lord. (see Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible; and note Is. 44:5)
We need to look at more Scripture, and we need to work through a few issues, but as we start it looks like God doesn't condemn tattoos in and of themselves. Such marks, when connected to pagan theology and worship, were forbidden. But, God appears to have found them to be a fitting picture of how he remembers us.