02 Dec 2012

Was Jesus Funny?

Religious 37 Comments

I have been reading–and adoring–a collection of essays by G.K. Chesterton (Heretics). In “On Mr. McCabe and a Divine Frivolity” he writes:

Mr. McCabe thinks that I am not serious but only funny, because Mr. McCabe thinks that funny is the opposite of serious. Funny is the opposite of not funny, and of nothing else….Whether a man chooses to tell the truth in long sentences or short jokes is a problem analogous to whether he chooses to tell the truth in French or German….Mr. Bernard Shaw is funny and sincere. Mr. George Robey is funny and not sincere. Mr. McCabe is sincere and not funny. The average Cabinet Minister is not sincere and not funny.

The whole collection is like the above. I literally had to stop writing “WOW” in the margins because it was getting redundant. I honestly can’t think of any essayist who has struck me as so profound, ever.

Anyway, in this essay Chesterton claims that the Bible shows that God laughs and winks. But he doesn’t provide an exact citation, and I’m not sure what he means. I would love to believe Chesterton is right–since, after all, I call myself a Christian and others no doubt call me a wiseguy–but I’m not so sure it’s explicitly in the Bible.

Ironically, I am more confident that the God depicted in the Old Testament was “a funny guy” than Jesus in the gospels. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but the stuff in the Old Testament is hilarious the way Dr. Strangelove is hilarious. The nation of Israel is so petty and childish, it’s laugh out loud funny. Try reading the book of Jonah and picture Woody Allen as the main character, and you’ll see what I mean.

(Of course, if I wanted to be a wiseguy, I could say, “Of course God has a sense of humor. He picked the Jews as His chosen people!” But this is a serious blog post.)

But if I’m hard-pressed to find a smoking gun of the God of the Old Testament being funny, it’s even harder to find textual support that Jesus was. The gospels famously tell us, “Jesus wept,” but they never say, “Jesus laughed.” They clearly depict Him as being superbly witty, but was He actually funny? It’s possible that when He chastised the scribes that the common folk were laughing–that could explain why they killed Him. But the Bible doesn’t ever come right out and say that.

So I have three theories. Maybe some of you have others.

(A) Jesus really wasn’t funny.

(B) Jesus was a riot at times–the guy turned water into wine so people could keep drinking at a wedding feast–but the gospel writers didn’t think those were the important things to write down.

(C) Jesus/God the Father are funny, but they are so much smarter/wiser/moral than everyone around them, that their humor is totally deadpan. God could say, “You’re wondering if I’m funny?! Did you open your eyes and look out the window today?”

To put it another way, I think we can all agree that someone who goes through this world with a wonderful sense of humor, is much better off than someone who never smiles. Wouldn’t it stand to reason, then, that the Being who designed this world, understands the importance of humor?

37 Responses to “Was Jesus Funny?”

  1. Z says:

    I always thought when Jesus said ‘Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and give unto God what is God’s’ was pretty funny. He was basically being kind of a ‘wise guy’ when he said that so that he could avoid getting into trouble.

    • Gamble says:

      Hi Z,

      This passage has been used to justify slave like taxation rates and other horrid government abuse. Allow me to give you a flip side view.

      IF government and Jesus were 1 in the same, Jesus would not have created this delineation.

      Additionally, Jesus is encouraging us the really think about what does belong to God and what does belong to caesar (government)? I am guessing Jesus knows it all belongs to Him and none of it belongs to caesar!

  2. Egoist says:

    Since Judeo-Christianity arose as a slave religion, “blessed are the poor”, etc, maybe there just wasn’t a lot of laughter in general, and that translated to lack of humor in the bible.

    Or maybe theological authors treat laughter in religious affairs as disrespectful.

    • Jayson Virissimo says:

      Taking into hedonic adaption into account, I doubt that slaves laughed significantly less than non-slaves on average throughout history.

      • Bob Murphy says:

        I actually have no idea of course, but if we take movies as realistic, I would rather be cracking jokes with slaves than the plantation owners.

      • joeftansey says:

        Hedonic treadmilling doesn’t occur at the extreme ends of the human condition. People in horrific circumstances stay systematically depressed.

  3. konst says:

    A priest or Christian writer once mentioned this passage as being funny or showing that God has a sense of humour – Jonah 4:1-10

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jonah+4&version=NKJV

  4. Simon Grey says:

    I don’t know if one could conclusively say that God or Jesus is funny, in part because humor is highly subjective in its interpretation. If God does have a sense of humor, it’s likely different from man’s sense of humor (Cf. Is. 55:9). Psalms 2 says that God laughs at the plots of men. I’m not sure if this means that God is derisive or if he finds man’s plotting to humorous in its ignorance, but this might point to God having some sort of a sense of humor.

    However, there are little sprinklings of humor throughout the Bible. Elisha openly mocked the prophets of Baal in I Kings 18 (“perhaps Baal is sleeping”). Paul was known for wordplay (Gal. 5:12 is definitely a dick joke, to put it crudely, and Romans 2:29 is basically a pun, although it doesn’t translate readily to English).

    Also, while the Bible never claims that Jesus laughed, there is a hint in Matthew 11 that perhaps he wasn’t all buttoned-up about everything, so to speak. In verse 17, he compares the current generation to children in the marketplace calling out and saying “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” His explanation of the comparison is that people basically complained that John the Baptist was too serious while Christ was not serious enough.

    In all, it’s probably helpful to remember that the Bible is not a humor book, but is rather a book about God. Since God is a pretty serious matter, it should make sense that the Bible is a pretty serious book. It’s not without humorous moments, and it certainly doesn’t preclude God from having a sense of humor. However. the question of whether God has a sense of humor and, if so, how it’s manifested, is not a question that God deems to be all that necessary to answer. Still, I’d like to think that he has, to use an expression, a pretty wicked sense of humor.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Good points Simon. I had never caught that in Galations 5:12 before, Yikes!

  5. Teve Torbes says:

    It seems to me that life is a joke, but I can’t tell if that joke is on me. Is God laughing at me or with me?

    God either has an incredible sense of humor or cruelty. Most religious-type people reject the possibility of cruelty and all that’s left is this laugh-riot world we live in.

  6. Steven V. says:

    Mark Discoll from Mars Hill in Seattle actually talks about this. You should check it out, it’s pretty funny… ;-)

  7. Gamble says:

    OT God is wrath.
    NT God is love.

    No jokes in Bible.

    Jesus showed love with exception of ANGRY moment when he flipped money changers table.

    Sorry, eternal destiny is serious subject.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Gamble OK, but GK Chesterton’s point in the essay was that “funny” and “serious” are not opposites. Maybe he’s wrong, but you are asserting something that might not be true.

      • Gamble says:

        Hi Bob,

        Serious and funny may not be opposite however I have yet to find jokes and humor in the Bible. Bob you are a smart guy of above average IQ, show me the passage containing humor.

        Sober, Vigilant, Discernment, Compassion, Love, Courage, Perseverance, Patients, Long suffering.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          Gamble that’s what this entire post is about. People are offering examples of what they think might be funny. Maybe they’re wrong, but you’re acting like nobody is trying.

          • Gamble says:

            Crying is the opposite of laughing and sorrow is the opposite of humor?

            I have found no humor or jokes in the Bible and will check back with this thread to see if anybody does.

            • Bob Murphy says:

              Gamble I doubt we’ll find humor in your comments! (That’s a joke.)

              • Gamble says:

                Nope.

                It is not funny that most of my daily efforts are sent down the government rat hole, never to be seen again.

      • basile de koch says:

        Hello Bob,
        In my opinion, the main point in GKC’s thought is not about funny and serious, but sense and nonsense. According to him, the best way for us to try to imagine God’s sense of humor is Nonsense.

  8. Janet H. Thompson says:

    I think Jesus was being funny when the Jews wanted to stone the adultress, and he just squatted down and started “doodling” in the sand, while saying, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” and then when they all walked away, Jesus says to her, “Woman, where did they all disappear to??” (I paraphrase) This scene always cracks me up, and I take it as Jesus having a wicked sense of humor.

    Interesting comments. Thanks for the thought provocation.

  9. Ken B says:

    Bob, you’d like his Father Brown stories. They’re fabulous, and echt Chesterton.

  10. Blackadder says:

    A lot of the parables seem to have a humorous element. We don’t see it oftentimes because they have become so familiar and we have internalized the spiritual message involved. But if I step back and look at it, some of the images and stories (persistent widows and dishonest stewards, camels and needles, parents who give their kids scorpions, etc.) do strike me as being pretty funny.

  11. Blackadder says:

    I’ll add: to a large extent jokes and humor rely on background knowledge that is culture specific. So that something may seem hilarious to one group of people while another will not even realize that there is a joke.

  12. joeftansey says:

    I would have lost my sense of humor after the first genocide. I’d probably have developed some kind of paranoid anxiety disorder.

  13. knoxharrington says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGQRBkv4di8

    We know he wasn’t a very good carpenter.

  14. RPLong says:

    Mr. Murphy, have you ever read The Name of the Rose? There is a really excellent discussion in that book as to whether or not God/Jesus laughs. I don’t have a stake in the issue, so I won’t add any thoughts, but I do highly recommend that book (at this point it is basically self-recommending), especially that chapter if you happen to be interested in the philosopohy of this question.

    • Ken B says:

      Bob might enjoy the discussion of whether Jesus owned his own clothes too.

  15. Matt Flipago says:

    James Martin S.J. talks a good deal about this, and wrote a book about a similar topic, although I think more was humor in the spiritual life than the bible.

    here a small article with some ideas. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/25/my-take-reclaiming-jesus-sense-of-humor/

    Points in the bible where Jesus was funny include most of the parables and phrases. Stuff like, why do you notice the speck in your brothers eye, but not the log in yours, that stuff is funny, but a lot of humor is lost in translation, in cultural changes, and the constant repetition in a serious context.

    • Matt Flipago says:

      Another clear example of a sense of humor is the story of Nathaniel. Nathaniel makes a joke “Can anything good come from Nazareth. Jesus responds with ‘Now there is a man with no duplicity.” and Nathaniel becomes an Apostle. It shows both Nathaniel and Jesus had a sense of humor.

      Also I agree the old testament is full of ironic situations. It’s got some very dark humor. If Mordecai’s death isn’t ironically funny, I don’t know what is.

      • Ken B says:

        Job is a knee-slapper.

        Actually Job is written with an eye to wit if not exactly humor.

  16. Mike K says:

    In my opinion, to see if Jesus laughed, we have to look at why He wept. John 11 is the story of good friend Lazarus dying. In verse 33-35 we see that Jesus looked upon Mary and the Jews, leading Him to be troubled and weep. Now why did He weep? Had He forgotten, as verse 4 says, that “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God”? I don’t think He cried because He was sad Lazarus died, for His plan was to raise Lazarus all along. I think He cried because He felt compassion on the multitude and wanted to share in their mourning. He saw crowds a number of times in the Gospels and was moved with compassion. (Matt 9:36, Mark 8:2 ) So while I can’t point to a verse and say He laughed, I don’t see it outside of the realm of possibility to say that He might laugh at a joke, not because He didn’t know the punch line. but because He shared in human emotions as a way to show compassion or camaraderie.

  17. Helen says:

    yes Jesus is definately funny because when i have conversations with him and i tell him youre so right after he gives me advice he once said . I know shouldn’t I? After all I’m God.

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