Is It Biblical to Be Funny?
- Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Comedy and related themes run throughout the Bible. The word joy and its derivatives appear roughly two hundred times in our English Bible. The word laugh and its derivatives appear roughly forty times.
Sadly, too many coats of varnish have been painted over what is a divinely inspired, earthy book that honestly records the foibles and follies of sinners like us by furrowed-browed, pointy-fingered religious types who forget Ecclesiastes 3:4, which says that there is “a time to laugh.” Consequently, very little has been written on the subject of biblical humor. There are a few exceptions, such as A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking by Douglas Wilson (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003) and The Humor of Christ by Elton Trueblood (New York: Harper & Row, 1964).
However, the Bible includes humor of various kinds, from situational comedy to satire, sarcasm, and irony. Entire books of the Bible, such as Amos, are comedic satire.3 Perhaps the most humorous line in Amos is where God refers to the female members of the Bashan city council as fat cows: “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’”1
The names of people in the Bible are also worthy of the occasional chuckle, unless, of course, you named one of your kids by picking a cool name from the concordance without finding out what it meant, such as Achan (trouble), Agrippa (causes pain), Balak (destroyer), Careah or Kareah (baldy), Chesed (a devil), Chilion (dying), Eglon (fat cow), Emmor or Hamor (an ass), Esau (hairy), Gatam or Mordecai (puny), Harumaph (flat nose), Irad (wild ass), Jareb or Midian (contentious), Mahli or Mahlon (sickly), Nabal (fool), Naharis (snorer), Nahash (serpent), Og (long neck), Parshandatha (dung), Sanballat (enemy), or Isaac (laughter).4
The Bible even uses what the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery calls “scatological humor” in both the Old and New Testaments.5 The story of the godless king Eglon is recorded in Judges 3:15–30. God’s holy, divinely inspired word says Eglon was “a very fat man.” The Jack Bauer-esque southpaw Ehud “reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his [Eglon’s] belly. And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out.” The story ends by explaining how Eglon’s feces came pouring out of his pierced intestine. The stink was so bad that his servants who were waiting outside his chambers, unaware he had been whacked by the Mob, possibly by a guy in a shiny sweat suit complete with gold chains dangling over lots of chest hair, wrongly assumed the stink was a post-chalupa rough go of things on the toilet.
New Testament scatological humor includes Philippians 3:8, where Paul uses a particularly provocative word, skubalah, to describe religion. Various translations render it “rubbish,” “garbage,” “refuse,” “filth,” “dung,” “dog dung,” and “turds.” Greek scholar and expert Daniel B. Wallace6 explains the word used in Philippians 3:8:
If [skubalah] is translated “s**t” (or the like), a word picture is effectively made: this is all that the “flesh” can produce—and it is both worthless and revolting. That the apostle is not above using graphic and shocking terms has already been demonstrated in vv. 2–3. The reason for the shocking statement in v. 8, then, may well be to wake up his audience to the real danger of his opponents’ views. It is not insignificant that there is precedent for the apostle’s white-hot anger over a false gospel being couched in not-so-delicate terms: his letter to the “foolish Galatians” is replete with such evocative language.7
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