What Does The Bible Say About Joking

Is it all right to joke? The Bible contains hundreds of references to humour and laughter, however, it offers no clear answers just as to what’s permissible and what’s not when it comes to joking. Although the Bible does not forbid the act of joking, it cautions against the use of mocking, derisive and offensive humour that can negatively influence the reputation of others, or hurt their feelings.

In the New Testament book of James, it is written: “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Otherwise you will be condemned.” (James 5:12). This is an exhortation not just to tell the truth in matters involving oaths, but also to be sincere and straightforward in all speech. In other words, joking should not be used to replace the truth.

Ephesians 5:4 states “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” This points to the importance of filtering out any kind of joking that can be considered offensive or disrespectful. It infers that the kind of joking that is appropriate should be productive, encouraging, enjoyable and ultimately, bring glory to God.

In a society where joking is embraced, we should use our sense of humour to bring out the best in each other and refrain from jokes that may be taken in detrimental ways. Proverbs 1:10–19 encourages us to “receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; that prudence may be given to the simple”. This implies that while humour may be an instrumental part of society, it can also be used to create disharmony. Therefore, the source and content of jokes should be judiciously examined before being uttered.

The best way to look at joking and laughters is in the light of its ultimate outcome: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength” (Proverbs 17:22). Humour can be a powerful tool for healing … if it is used with wisdom and discretion.

The Power of Words

This verse appears in the Book of Proverbs: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits”(Proverbs 18:21). Using the power of words responsibly is a biblical principle that resonates in our everyday lives. Words should be carefully chosen for their power to harm or to heal. In other words, a joke should not be offensive, but funny instead. It should provide enjoyment, joy, and be productive.

Jesus reminded us to show mercy to others, concluding in Matthew 7:12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets”. This implies that the kind of jokes one should tell must be such that would never hurt the feelings of others. If a joke in question can potentially offend someone, it should be avoided.

Sympathetic Laughter

What if a joke is not necessarily offensive, yet it is still unsuitable to be said in certain situations? The Bible encourages us to use wisdom in such situations. For example, the book of Proverbs says “S imeon and Levi are brothers— their swords are weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.” (Genesis 49:5–7). This underscores the importance of avoiding jokes that are hypocritical or that may cause personal injury.

It is, however, possible to find humour even in the bleakest of situations. Consider the wisdom of Peter who said that Christian believers must be “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). In other words, even when discussing topics that could be sore, one should be polite, courteous and understand how to use the power of humour wisely to add lightness to the conversation.

Humour in Worship

The Bible does make room for jokes in religious settings. The apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:7 to “ Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”.

The use of humour can deepen faith. In Psalm 126:2, a psalmist praises God for his work saying: “Then our mouths were filled with laughter, and our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” Here, humour is seen as a tool to praise the Almighty.

Furthermore, Ecclesiastes sheds some light on the human tendency to laugh, showing how the appropriate use of humour can be a way to dissipate tension and sorrow. In Ecclesiastes 3:4 it is written: “A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

Using Humour for the Right Reasons

Finally, the book of Genesis discloses how our Creator used humour to diffuse a situation between Abraham and Sarah. In the passage, Sarah laughs while overhearing God’s assurance to Abraham that she will bear him a child (Genesis 18:9–15).

In summary, while the Bible does not give us a specific instruction as to how or when we should use humour, it encourages us to use our humour responsibly, unselfishly and with the right motives. To do otherwise could lead to serious consequences with far-reaching effects.

Integrating Humour into Life

Humour can be a great way to foster unity, comfort one another and build strong relationships. It should be used to nurture and help others, not to make fun of or hurt someone’s feelings. To avoid any offence or hurt, humour should be kind and appropriate at all times. Proverbs 17:22 says “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” Humour should, therefore, be used to bring out joy and life, not to mock and hurt.

Humour can be a powerful tool in our Christian lives, especially when used as a positive influence without leading to negative consequences. We can use humour in the context of teaching, learning, appreciation and to bind our relationships with fellow believers in Christ, who has come not to break hearts, but to offer unconditional love and hope.

Leading a Life of Humour

It is the responsibility of Christians to be wise and judicious in their use of humour in order to reflect the love of God in their reactions and reactions of others. It is essential for Christians to recognise the power of humour and use it as a means to build bridges and relationships with others, but also to remain balanced in its delivery. Ecclesiastes encourages us to use both humour and humility: “The heart of the wise instructs his mouth, and adds persuasiveness to his lips” (Ecclesiastes 8:1).

Humour should be seen as an effective way to connect people and bring out the best in each other. Humour should, however, be moderate and remain within biblical boundaries, to prevent it from escalating into a destructive force or creating divisions.

Ecclesiastes’ Advice on Humour

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the wise teacher uses humour to drive home a point. “There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous people who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked people who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 8:14). Here, humour is used to show us that justice is sometimes not best served in this life, and this could be a source of frustration to many. The wise teacher is implying that, as it is a futile exercise to rely on getting recompense from others, one should live a life that pleases God through belief and obedience to his teachings.

The wise teacher offers this humorous reminder in Ecclesiastes 7:20: “Surely there is no one on earth so righteous that he always does good and never sins”. This implies that humour should be used both to bring comfort in hard times, and to remind us that no one is perfect.

Humour in the Bible

The Bible is full of examples of how humour can be employed. In fact, the Bible itself is directed with an overall message of humour as it tells of God’s loving kindness and quick wit. For instance, Gensis 18:3 reads: “… My Lord, if I have found favour in your sight, do not pass by your servant.” And the Lord replied, “I will…come back to you another time, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” Sarah laughed at this suggestion, yet God proved his words were true.

The Bible is a treasure trove of stories, parables and metaphors that demonstrate how humour can help build relationships, comfort people in times of sadness and provide humour in teaching. Humour can lighten dark times, and is an essential tool for mutual understanding and appreciation in any situation.

Humour in Everyday Life

In everyday life, therefore, humour can be a powerful tool to help unite people and offer an uplifting perspective. But humour also has its risks as it can be easily misused. Utilising appropriate humour requires knowledge and experience. As the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:1: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” In other words, our humour should never be smug or arrogant, but should always be used to support and bring out the best in others.

Humour has been part of human nature since time immemorial and is a healthy technique to bring merriment. However, as Christians, we must be conscious of the power that humour can have on ourselves, as well as others, and use it judiciously, a skill that can only be learnt through practice and experience.

Humour to Honour God

Humour should be used to honour God and serve the needs of others. It should be used to improve relationships and aid social development. In the same way, humour should not be used to belittle, denigrate or disrespect anyone. Cheerful laughter and humour is a way to spread love and harmony, as God desires and expects of us

Marcos Reyna is a Christian author and speaker. He is dedicated to helping create disciples of Christ through spreading the power of the gospel to others. He has written several books and articles on a variety of theological topics, including matters of faith, worship, biblical studies, practical ethics, and social justice. A trained theologian and devotee of spiritual writing, Marcos has a mission to spread Christian love everywhere. He lives with his family in Nashville, TN where he spends his days encouraging others to seek Christ's grace in all things.

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