Eph 5:4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. (ESV)
It’s quite common nowadays to hear among the more popular, younger preachers a large amount of humor being infused into their messages. It seems that many of these preachers are fond of injecting occasional tasteless anecdotes in their sermons, and this in turn, often bolsters their popularity with the younger generation who, like most of us, enjoy a good laugh.
A few of these preachers however, have been criticized for their particular brand of humor used from the pulpit, and rightly so. There are lines that can be crossed which should not be, and the difficulty of seeing the line itself is often the result of an unclear, and undefined boundary in the use of humor in preaching. But it’s not only in preaching that the line can be crossed. It can occur in our everyday conversations with others.
It goes without saying that salvation and sin are serious issues, and it is not insignificant that one will be hard pressed to find the type of humor we’ve grown so accustomed to hearing from some in the sermons of our Lord and that of the apostles.
I like to think I have a good sense of humor, and was told many a time growing up that a Christian didn’t need to walk around as if they’ve been sucking on green persimmons for the better part of their lives. It’s still good advice, thanks Dad.
But where is the line, biblically speaking, on the use of humor in our speech? on what we’ve often heard called “coarse jesting”, or, as the ESV has it, ‘crude joking’? What is it specifically? Is it simply telling the occasional less-than-tasteful joke?
It’s an interesting word study folks.
The greek word used in Ephesians 5:4 is eutrapelia, from eú = easily + trépo = to turn = well-turned, i.e. ready at repartee, jocose) literally means to turn easily and describes witticisms in a vulgar sense.
I’ve consulted a number of commentaries on the word, and by far, the most helpful I’ve found was the commentary of William Hendriksen in Barnes New Testament Commentary. Hendriksen tells us:
Judged on the basis of its derivation it is very innocent, for it means literally “that which turns easily.” The closest to it as to etymological significance would be versatility; for this, too, has reference to turning easily. The versatile person is able to turn with ease from one subject to another, being at home in all of them. Similarly, the word which the apostle employs was often used in a favorable sense, to indicate the nimble-witted individual. However, it is also possible for certain speakers to move very easily into the mire of unbecoming expressions. They seem to have a garbage can type of mind, and every serious topic of conversation reminds them of an off-color jest or anecdote. The word used in Eph_5:4 has therefore come to mean coarse jesting, wittiness in telling coarse jokes. There need be nothing wrong with a joke. Good humor is what everybody needs. But the kind to which Paul refers should be thoroughly avoided. Regarding such practices the apostle adds: which things are improper. They are improper because they are not worthy of the calling with which believers were called. (emphasis mine)
also helpful were the following:
The idea is that the person “turns easily”, making quick comebacks with clever words having for example double meaning. This includes facetiousness, course wittiness, ribaldry. It refers to the “turning” of one’s speech for the purpose of exciting wit or humor that ends in deceptive speech, so formed that the speaker easily contrives to wriggle out of its meaning or engagement…(eutrapelia) denotes that ribaldry, studied artifice, and polite equivoque (double meaning), which are worse in many cases than open foulness of tongue…Pleasantry of every sort is not condemned by the apostle. He seems to refer to wit in connection with lewdness—double entendre. (John Eadie, D., LL.D. The Epistle of St Paul to the Ephesians)
coarse jesting means to be talking to somebody, usually of another sex in this context, and you have a hidden agenda. You are baiting the person with what you are saying. You have a double meaning. You are seeing if they are going to listen to you so you can move to the silly talk and then to the filthiness which leads you to the greed which says, “I want something. I want to feel good.” (Ephesians 5:6-7: Don’t Be Deceived)
It seems surprising at first glance that “foolish talking” and “jesting” would be condemned as in the same category of sins as fornication and filthiness. Nevertheless, there are many Biblical warnings against “every idle word” (Matthew 12:36), and it may be significant that the only Biblical reference to “jesting” is a warning against it. There are also many such Biblical commands as: “Let your speech be always with grace” (see note Colossians 4:6). It seems that the popularity of many Christian speakers today is measured by the amount of humorous anecdotes and witticisms that they can inject into their messages, but one never finds this element in the sermons of Christ, the letters of Paul or anywhere in the Bible. Sin and salvation are sober, serious issues.
Wiersbe adds that here Paul …
warned against sins of the tongue, which, of course, are really sins of the heart. It is not difficult to see the relationship between the sins named in Ephesians 5:3 and those in Ephesians 5:4. People who have base appetites usually cultivate a base kind of speech and humor, and often people who want to commit sexual sins, or have committed them, enjoy jesting about them. Two indications of a person’s character are what makes him laugh and what makes him weep. The saint of God sees nothing humorous in obscene language or jests. (Wiersbe, W: Bible Exposition Commentary. 1989. Victor)
Christians should be grave and serious, though cheerful and pleasant. They should feel that they have great interests at stake, and that the world has too. They are redeemed–not to make sport; purchased with precious blood–for other purposes than to make men laugh. They are soon to be in heaven–and a man who has any impressive sense of that will habitually feel that he has muck else to do than to make men laugh. The true course of life is midway between moroseness and levity; sourness and lightness; harshness and jesting. Be benevolent, kind, cheerful, bland, courteous, but serious. Be solemn, thoughtful, deeply impressed with the presence of God and with eternal things, but pleasant, affable, and benignant. Think not a smile sinful; but think not levity and jesting harmless. (Albert Barnes. Barnes NT Commentary)
He doth not condemn the innocent pleasantries and mirth of a cheerful conversation; but that kind of obscene discourse which we mean by the French expression of double entendre; when men, for the sake of merriment and sport, convey lewd sentiments and thoughts to others, under chaste and cleanly expressions. This seems to be the proper meaning of the word εὐτραπελία, jesting,in this place. The original sense of it is, ‘an artfully turned discourse.’ And accordingly it is used either in a good sense, to denote proper wit; or in a bad sense, to signify any kind of lewd and scurrilous discourse, that artfully conveys an ill meaning. And as it is here joined with ‘filthiness and foolish talking,’ it is plain that the apostle intended by it such ambiguous forms of speech as are intended to raise mirth by dishonest and corrupt meanings.
So ‘crude joking’, as I understand it, whether it be in daily conversation, or as in the case of some notable preachers, from the pulpit, is the readiness to turn any speech, in a witty manner and with deliberate intent, into sinful speech. Perhaps that is over-simplifying for many of you, but that seems to sum it up for me.
How would you sum up ‘crude joking’? As always, I welcome your comments.
Interesting choice of commentators. I myself have discussed this small discussion of Ephesians on more than one occasion, but most recently here. I think you are spot on. One of the most well known contemporary examples of this form of speech is that special phrase from The Office.
Just for the record James, I will often go to commentaries that I very often disagree with in certain respects when doing a word study. Not always, but I find it gets the mental juices flowing. By far, the “common-taters” I most often consult in my regular study are Calvin, Henry, and the puritans….for the record. 🙂
sounds like a fantastic practice
Continuing with the discussion, I do the same. I listen to the emergents, entertainment-drivens, WOFers, and anti-Calvinists to get my dander up. Then I go to the word of God which continues to convince me of why they are all wrong…
BTW, I heard a guy ‘refuting’ Calvinism the other day. Boy, what a hoot. His “proof” was ALL flimsy conjecture and personal opinion. No scripture at all… Now I have jeard guys use some of out-of-context verses before bt this was the first time I have heard someone use personal opinion and unproven theories alone. I guess when your audience does not study for themselves, you can get away with saying anything you want (enter the emergents, seekers, WOFers, entertainment guys…)
Thanks for the discussion.
I think of innuendo, dirty jokes, jokes with cussing when I think of coarse jesting,, but I also think of harsh jokes or teasing with someone as the butt of the joke – that which disrespects someone.
With the relatively new onset of these contextualisng pastors who are speaking all forms of filth and unwholesome words from the pulpit, it is refreshing to see people making a stand on this.
You are spot on.
I love it that this is being addressed. And I have enjoyed reading the comments. I think we might need to consider that “jesting” is dealing with more than sexual or illicit jokes. I believe the writer has sufficiently covered that with “filthy conversation” or “filthiness.” One commandment uttered in the OT was “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Jesting is from a word that means easily turned and the word “vain” comes from the Hebrew meaning “empty.” We should all be very careful about speaking of anything divine in an empty meaningless way. I recently heard a joke about a young man writing Jesus a letter and Jesus not answering. Without going into all the details the young man doesn’t get an answer so finally he goes to a manger scene and takes Mary and tells Jesus if he doesn’t answer he is not giving him his mother back. I realize this is quite different than the examples given so far. The problem I have with this is that I don’t think I would go without correcting a young child, for if indeed a child is witty enough to come up with such on his own he should know not to make light of holy things. The rebuttal is that such is not told to be sacrilege, but to show how children think. My children are long gone from home and I am now a grandfather. I think this verse is telling us to make a distinction between things that are holy and things that are common (profane). I think we should not laugh at something that if it were true would not be funny. When I say I would correct a child I do not mean harshly, for more than likely such humor has been derived from an adult. Divine things should never be spoken of lightly.
I actually wrote on this same thing with the specific target of the coarse breast cancer ‘awareness’ logos that seem to be so popular… I agree with you on this one Joel and would very much appreciate your comments on my article as well, or any of you actually… to help me be sure I’ve rounded the subject out well… thanks http://wretchthatiam.blogspot.com/2011/10/raising-awareness-or-coarse-jesting.html
Reblogged this on 5 Pt. Salt.
Y’all ever heard the one about the priest, the rabbi and the yogi who unwittingly wandered into a gay bar one Halloween?
I have always thought of “course jesting” as that speech which goes beyond what is necessary to convey the appropriate message. I base this in part on Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” I guess I sort of equate “course jesting” and “corrupt communication” and I notice that in 4:29 we are to stop at whatever ministers “grace unto the hearers”. So a word that means a bad thing like my grandfather’s colorful use the courser phrase for “bovine scatology” could conceivably be edifying to hearers. But in most cases a guy can get by without going that far. And so it is with our use of humor. I cannot come up with a scenario in my head wherein a dirty joke would be edifying. But I must say that I really appreciate the new angle on this subject. You might even say that I found it to be edifying.
Is it really only crude jesting Paul is talking about here? The word seems to allow wider latitude, although context may limit it to off-color humor. I tend to agree with Barnes on this one, “cutting up” is very unbecoming a Christian. (not that I am innocent of this…) I recently met a man in Wal Mart and we got to talking….turns out he is a pastor….he just made one joke after another the whole conversation. I was taken aback. This is a man that is called to preach the Word of life to a dying world that is on a fast track to hell and he is acting like a stand-up comedian? I just kept thinking, where do you see Christ or the apostles acting like this?
In regards to “course jesting” I believe it deals with deception in trying to belittle someone, but writing it off as a joke. It’s source is pride and arrogance, and in some cases jealousy. Some examples are making comments or compliments to a woman that are properly for a man i.e “Nice mustache” because a lady has a little hair fuzz on her upper lip. Or directed at a man can be “Nice purse sir it matches your shirt,” because the man is carrying his daughter and her diaper bag over his shoulder.
More then anything it is the attitude and words that are in appropriate.
In scripture the goal is always to win souls, build saints up and keep unity among the brethren. Also the teaching are to give wisdom so we don’t make each other stumble.
Many times it is course jesting that is the cause in people leaving our churches. An often we write these people of that fall away as thin skinned, over sensitive and humorous, but in fact many times we are being insensitive and selfish, as is the nature of course jesting.
Prov 26:19 is someone who lies to a friend and then says, “I was only joking.”
in this case:
1. The woman dose not have a nice mustache that is a lie. The insinuation is that she looks like a man, which is actually an insult.
2. An the man dose not have a nice purse, that is a lie too. The insinuation is that he looks like a woman which is an insult.
These are just two examples though there are many. I hoped this helped a little.
I personally had to laugh when I read the comment about the purse. Most Christians are so bound and wouldn’t know freedom, joy, etc if it bit em. If I was carrying a diaper bag and a friend of mine made a comment about my man purse or whatever, I would laugh heartily, not be offended etc. Offending someone you don’t know, is new to your church etc is one thing. But to make a blanket statement about joking in this context being sinful is crazy! I long for the day when the church can laugh at itself. Jesus was not the serious, never laughed, joked around guy people make Him out to be. He made us in His image and there are way too many really cool people who have the ability to make people laugh, be the life of the party etc. When I was a very young believer; I hung around a group of guys that were not believers. We (together) would take anything possible that anyone would say and twist it into a sexual innuendo. That is the biblical meaning of coarse jesting. Period! It is literally “to turn around good or well” simply meaning that someone is good or quick at turning words. People make comments that would leave one thinking that the quick wittiness of many people or exercise of, is actually from the enemy. This is a mocking of our great Father and how he made many of us. I am a life of the party type guy and people laugh and enjoy a different aspect of God sometimes as a result. Relax Christian friends, God is offended by a whole lot less than we are many times. He will show us in our spirit when that line is crossed. In the mean time: A merry heart does good like medicine.
Pingback: Coarse Jesting – Thoughts on Crude Joking and Where to Draw the Line – The Rural Commoner