Ask Pastor Roger Barrier - Church Leadership

You can help ground America's leaders in God's word!

What Is 'Holy Laughter' and Is it Biblical?

What Is 'Holy Laughter' and Is it Biblical?

Editor's Note: Dr. Roger Barrier went to be with the Lord on February 16th, 2024. Dr. Barrier's family is honoring his legacy by continuing the ministry of Ask Roger and preachitteachit.org for years to come as they share more than two thousand still-unpublished sermons and Ask Roger articles. All articles authored by Dr. Barrier that are published and republished are done posthumously.

Roger,

I recently experienced something called “holy laughter” (as it was explained to me by a friend at church), but I cannot find any Scripture to back up what I was told. Is this a biblical term or something related to hysterical behavior? Does this somehow tie into speaking in tongues? Is this something I should be doing or not?

Sincerely, Curious

Dear Curious,

I am familiar with the term “Holy Laughter,” having heard it in the context of some extremely charismatic spiritual practices. I’ll be glad to share what I’ve learned, but let me begin by stating that as far as I can determine, not one single Bible verse verifies or even mentions the concept of “holy laughter.”

Of course, many verses refer to joy, singing, praising, uplifted hands, and dancing as manifestations of our response to and worship of the God we adore. King David had a wonderful time rejoicing and “dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets” (2 Samuel 6:14-15).

I believe that if someone rooted in God’s Word and enjoying His presence is suddenly overcome with laughter, well, to me that’s great. I’ve chuckled at the incredible creativity in His creation … really, an elephant’s trunk is just funny. And genuine joy, Christ-centered happiness, is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

Laughter in the Bible

Laughter is addressed a number of times in the Bible. Often it is used to describe a mocking or scornful response, as was the case with Abraham and Sarah who laughed when God told them they would bear a child in their old age.

Some verses use it as a sign of derision (Psalm 59:8; Psalm 80:6; Proverbs 1:26), and still others make pointed statements about the nature of laughter itself. Solomon made the following observation in Ecclesiastes 2:2: “I said of laughter, ‘It is madness,’ and of pleasure, ‘What does it accomplish?’”

However, that’s not the Holy Laughter you are asking about.

Where did “Holy Laughter” Originate?

The term "holy laughter" was coined to describe a phenomenon during which a person laughs uncontrollably, presumably as a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit's joy. It is characterized by peals of uncontrollable laughter, sometimes accompanied by swooning or falling down to the floor.

Holy Laughter has a history. The first recorded instances occurred during the First and Second Great Awakenings during the 18th and 19th centuries. While preaching in America in the late 1700s, the phenomenon of Holy Laughing burst forth during John Wesley’s series of revivals. At first, he considered it to be “of the devil.” However, after several observations, he considered that in some ways it may be the result of the Holy Spirit.

Holy Laughter today is occasionally seen during charismatic revivals, small prayer group settings, or church worship services. Some consider holy laughter to be a sign of the filling and/or baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Others explain holy laughter as psychologically induced “mass hysteria.” This occasionally occurs in highly emotional environments when someone begins an activity and those around are mentally and emotionally stimulated to join in the behavior.

In sum, since the practice is never mentioned in the Bible—and certainly not in conjunction with any spiritual gift—many agree that all manifestations are psychologically driven. On the other hand, those who experience Holy Laughter explain the behavior as inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Should You Pursue Holy Laughter?

Finally, should you be pursuing holy laughter in your spiritual life?

No, probably not. Practices like it are extraneous to the Christian life.

As best as I can tell, if holy laughter is Holy Spirit inspired, there is nothing you can do to cause it to happen or bring it on by trying. If the Holy Spirit ever inspires holy laughter in you, then enjoy it. Otherwise, don’t do it and don’t worry about it.

I hope this helps!

Love, Roger

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/digitalskillet 

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier went to be with the Lord on Friday, February 16th, 2024. He was a faithful servant of Christ with a lifetime worth of ministry and mentorship. Dr. Barrier held degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. He used his immense expertise daily to guide and mentor others in their spiritual walks. He had a global impact with his book Listening to the Voice of God, which is available in both Thai and Portuguese. His newest book, written with his daughter Brianna Barrier Wetherbee, is Look Like Jesus: A Guide to Spiritual Growth. He and his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier, founded Preach It, Teach It, a pastoral teaching site that provides countless resources, including articles, sermons, podcasts, sermon starters, Bible studies, and devotionals. His family will honor Dr. Barrier’s legacy by continuing the ministry of Ask Roger and preachitteachit.org for years to come as they share more than two thousand still-unpublished sermons and Ask Roger articles. 

This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.