Coarse Jesting

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)


960307_crazy_faces 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:

John Eadie:

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)

Barber says:

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.