Saturday, September 24

Does The Bible Contain Intentional Humor?

Certainly skeptics of the Bible may reply with a resounding "yes," with a claim that the very thought of expressing belief in God's Word is humorous. Yet a worldview is not a laughing matter, and is indeed a very serious thing. Belief in God, whether or not the Bible is true, and whether or not Jesus rose from the dead are important conclusions any individual must make. These decisions are detrimental in life regardless of personal opinions, and as such, The Truth Ministries and other apologetics ministries tend to be serious in tone. However, we are told in Proverbs 17:22 that "A cheerful heart is good medicine..." Recent studies confirm what Solomon wrote nearly 3000 years ago. Laughter reduces certain levels of stress hormones, bringing balance to the immune system, which also allows your body to help fight off disease. As such, would we not expect to find humor somewhere in the Bible? (Photo credit: After Eden by Dan Lietha and Answers In Genesis, no copyright infringement intended.)

Our Creator designed us with marvelous capabilities. The average human body can see, taste, touch, smell, and hear. We may utilize one sense at a time, or we may use all five senses at once. Psychologists continue to learn more and more about the human brain, which is part of the central nervous system, and other parts of the nervous system. Other scientists continue to discover more and more complexities in the human body, in nature, in outer space, and in our everyday lives. This same Creator made us, and it goes without saying that we generally have a sense of humor. Many of the readers have probably heard the old saying, "Laughter is the best medicine," which is derived from the Proverbs 17:22 previously mentioned. Perhaps the question that should first be asked is not whether or not the Bible contains humor, but whether or not God has a sense of humor. 

It is important to determine which type of humor we speak of. There is a type of humor which the world laughs at, which involves laughing at crude humor, and there is a type of humor which involves bringing others down or picking on others - all of which is contrary to Christian ethic (Colossians 3:8, 4:6; Ephesians 4:29; James 1:26). God demonstrates his sense of humor in such instances as when the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant. In 1st Samuel 5:1-5, we read, "After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon's temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon's temple at Ashdod step on the threshold."

Psalm 59:7-9 and Psalm 2:4 also record God laughing, indicating that He does indeed laugh - and the fact that He made us with a sense of humor indicates that He also has a sense of humor. With the knowledge that God has a sense of humor, could it be that He included humor in the Bible, apart from the instance in 1st Samuel? It is important to recognize that God's Word was given to us for a myriad of reasons, the main reason being that it describes God's plan of redemption for mankind from the very beginning, the salvation we can have through God manifested in the flesh as Jesus Christ. There are many historical references, scientific references, along with a plethora of other such things, it would not be unlikely to also find references to humor. The Bible does not hold back - it describes the lives of people who once lived, such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, King David, King Solomon, Jonah, St. Peter, St. Paul, and many others. Looking at mistakes made by those who lived in Bible times enables us to not make similar mistakes, which is another reason there are a great many accounts found in Scripture, along with a great many other uses and reasons which God gave us His Word.

Having listened to his friends, who were accusing Job of being punished for sin, but indeed was actually being tested (Job 1-2), we read in Job 13:5, "If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom!" Reading on, after a back and forth between Job and his friends for many chapters, God Himself speaks "out of the storm" and proceeds to ask Job a series of questions which Job could not possibly answer. God retorts, "Surely you know, for your were already born! You have lived so many years!" (Job 38:21). When God was manifested in the flesh, He often spoke in parables, which we find recorded in the Gospels. Though it is often missed, Jesus inserted humor into His parables, which probably had his audience roaring with laughter in some cases. Take the parable found in Luke 11:5-7, for example:

"Then Jesus said to them, 'Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' And suppose the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.'" In this parable, Jesus' first century audience likely understood that the man's dog, sheep, goats, and the like would be kept inside the house with him. As such, His audience can imagine the back-and-forth between the two people waking the entire household, including the animals and the children - a scene of hilarity. Yet another example involves Genesis 6-9. Noah was commissioned by God to build the Ark - a lifeboat - to save the human race and the animal population (the sea creatures did not need to be on the Ark, as it was a flood). In this instance, we recall, Noah must have been a brave man, living on a ship for several months - built out of wood - which probably contained two termites and woodpeckers.

After Eden (Credit: Dan Lietha & AiG)
In Acts 12, we read that King Herod had Peter arrested for his continual preaching of Christianity. The church was praying to God concerning Peter (v.5), and while Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, "Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. 'Quick, get up!' he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists" (v.7). At first, Peter believed it to be a vision, and followed the angel out of the prison, when the angel then left him. He then realized he was not in a vision, but that a miracle had occurred. "When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, 'Peter is at the door!' 'You're out of your mind,' they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, 'It must be his angel.' But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished." Peter, having escaped prison, went to Mark's household (who wrote the third gospel, Mark), where a servant answered the door, and much like in a sitcom, a scene ensues wherein Peter is left waiting while the occupants discuss who it could be - until they finally realize that the solution to see who it is, is simply to open the door.

Two examples are found in Matthew 28. After the angel appears to roll away the tombstone of where Jesus lay, "The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men" (they fainted, v.4). However, when the women come upon the empty tomb, women who had been weeping and were in low spirits, Matthew 28:5 records, "The angel said to the women..." and the women listened to what the angel had to say. It is interesting that the guards, who had been battle-trained, and were "tough" men, fainted... yet the women did not. Another point to ponder involves what happened after the soldiers awoke. Some of the guards went into the city and told the chief priests what had happened. The priests "devised a plan, [and] they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, 'You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we are asleep'" (v.12-13). Aside from obvious issues with this theory, explored in the April entry, "Did The Disciples Steal The Body of Jesus?", a thought then comes to mind: if the soldiers were sleeping, how could they have known who stole the body?

The Bible is replete with humorous references, especially in the Hebrew and Greek. The witticism, idioms and hyperboles come across more when read in their original language then in some English translations. As aforementioned, while Jesus taught many serious things, His teachings were not without humor. According to Reverend Peter Weatherby, "Jesus has a particular eye for the ironical and paradoxical. He gave His disciples nicknames: Peter the Rock who was big on words, but a coward when it mattered; James and John, hotheads, were 'Sons of Thunder'. He told stories about judges who gave justice only after being pestered repeatedly, businessmen who amassed riches only to die the next day, and about priests too precious to help a man who had been beaten up. He talked about people who gave stones in the place of bread, and saw the speck in the eye of another but ignored the log in their own eye. He talked about the blind leading the blind. He called the holy men of his day whitewashed walls." Consider Matthew 23:24, for example, in which Jesus says, "You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel." Here, Jesus essentially says, "you are like someone who has strained a fly from his cup but has swallowed a camel!" Jesus, no doubt, "told them how he really feels." 

There is also a reference in Matthew 7:3 which says, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?" Other examples are found all throughout Scripture. For instance, in Genesis 17:17, after God tells Abraham that he will have a son with Sarah, we read that "Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself: 'Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?'" God, who knows the thoughts of our mind (Psalm 94:11), evidently was not the happiest with Abraham for his unbelief that through Him this would be impossible, and told Abraham to name his son, "Isaac," which means "he laughs," because Abraham found it funny that he, at the age of 100, would have a son.

We can imagine the smiles and laughs within the actual event found in John 1:45-51, "Philip found Nathanael and said unto him, 'We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.' 'Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?' Nathanael asked. 'Come and see," said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, 'Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.' 'How do you know me?' Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, 'I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.' Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.' Jesus said, 'You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.' He then added, 'Very truly I tell you, you will see 'heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on' the Son of Man.'" 

1st Kings 18:20-39 records the "battle of the gods," if you will. The prophets of Baal and Elijah compete to determine which god is the true God. In 1st Kings 18:27 we read, "It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, 'Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.'" (NASB) The phrase translated as "gone aside" is the Hebrew word סיג (ciyg), which comes from the root word סוג (cuwg) meaning "refuse." Essentially, Elijah was saying, "Call out for your god; either he is going to the bathroom, is taking a walk, or maybe he is asleep!" The wit of Elijah, along with many others, can sometimes be "lost in translation." The Bible has been accurately preserved, but it helps to own a Hebrew and Greek lexicon to determine what certain words can be translated as to get an overall better understanding of a passage. 

Surely, the Bible contains many humorous references, and certainly studies have been done of the various witticism, hyperbole, and idioms present in the Greek and Hebrew, along with more in-depth looks at the many instances which can be called humorous. Although our God has a sense of humor, we must remember that life must not be merely "fun and games," not mere laughter all the time. Laughter is good, as a "cheerful heart is good medicine..." (Proverbs 17:22), but we must carry out or task as Christians, and at the same time, be able to "contend for the faith" (Jude 3) and be prepared for the "defense of the gospel" (Philippians 1:16). There is more to God's Word than meets the eye. Upon further studies, we discover a great many things - from history to law, to science and humor, but most importantly, as noted earlier, it contains God's redemption plan for mankind through God the Son, Jesus Christ (see Romans 10:9). Does the Bible contain humor? It certainly does, and indeed God has a sense of humor, one of the traits which he gave to mankind.

The Truth Ministries would like to thank you for taking the time to read this article of "The Truth." Feel free to email us at vexx801@yahoo.com or thetruth.ministryweb@gmail.com, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website.  It is the mission of this ministry to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2nd Corinthians 10:5). Take care, and God bless you reader. Troy Hillman