Jesus Was Funnier Than We Think

Why Christianity should make you laugh.

Why do church services seem so devoid of humor?

Why are religious people so often (fairly) characterized as gloomy?

In short, when, why and how were joy, humor and laughter removed from religion?

There are several theories about why humor may not be valued as it should be in religious circles. But ultimately, joy, humor and laughter are spiritual gifts that we ignore at our own peril.

Much of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry were about joy. But as the Quaker author Elton Trueblood points out in The Humor of Christ, because of the need to explain the suffering of Jesus, the sad parts can overwhelm the happy parts. The Gospel of John admits, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book.” In other words, the absence of many stories about Jesus joking or laughing is not proof that they did not occur. Most likely, Jesus laughed. To deny this is to turn Jesus into a wooden stick.

Table fellowship

Let’s look at one distinctive feature of His ministry, what scholars call “table fellowship,” that is, dining with friends. Jesus frequently called together His disciples, His followers and often strangers to dine with him. It doesn’t take too much imagination to picture these as joyful events—just think of enjoyable dinner parties and celebrations in your own life, full of laughter and good cheer, everyone delighting in one another’s company. There is a reason that one enduring image of heaven is a banquet. Maureen O’Connell, an assistant professor of theology at Fordham University, says, “At my house, we often laugh ourselves sick around the dinner table. Isn’t this the point of dinner parties?”

The Gospels reveal Jesus as a man with a palpable sense of joy and even playfulness. You can catch glimpses of this in His interactions with the men, women and children of His time as well as in many of the parables.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a good storyteller who doesn’t know the value of humor. Jesus probably knew that He had to “grab” His listeners. His stories were often sharp and provocative. After all, He was an itinerant preacher and so needed to attract His listeners quickly through a funny story, a clever parable or a humorous aside. Also, the constant themes of His preaching—love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; forgive someone seventy times seven times; the kingdom of God is at hand—were so ridiculous, so incongruous, that they may at first have seemed humorous to listeners.

A sense of humor

Jesus also embraces others with a sense of humor. In the beginning of the Gospel of John, for example, comes the remarkable story of Nathaniel, who has been told by His friends that the Messiah is from Nazareth.

Nathaniel responds, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

This is a joke about how insignificant the city was. Nazareth was a backwater town where only a few families lived.

Nathaniel’s humor doesn’t bother Jesus at all. In fact, it seems to delight him. “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” says Jesus. In other words, here is someone I can trust. Nathaniel then becomes one of the apostles. Jesus’ welcoming of Nathaniel into His circle is perhaps the clearest indication that He had a sense of humor. (Other than the other men He chose as apostles.)

When I imagine Jesus, it is not simply as a person who heals the sick, raises the dead, stills the storm and preaches the good news. It’s also as a man of great goodwill and compassion, with a zest for life, someone unafraid of controversy, free to be who He knows Himself to be and brimming with generous good humor. Full of high spirits. Playful. Even fun.


Let me be more provocative and suggest that thinking about Jesus without a sense of humor may be close to heresy.

In the early church (and this is a simplification of a devilishly complex history), two camps sprang up. On the one side were those who believed that Jesus only appeared to be human. Those groups are generally called Docetists, from the Greek word dokein, meaning “to appear.” On the other were the Adoptionists, who believed that Jesus was simply a human being, not divine at all, merely the “adopted” son of God.

Frankly, I think that more than a few contemporary Christians are still “closet Docetists.” That is, although they buy into the idea of Jesus’ humanity, they are still inclined to think of Him as God simply pretending, or playacting, at being human. But if we accept the idea of Him as a human being, we must accept all human attributes for him—laughing as well as suffering.

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To put it another way: What kind of a person has zero sense of humor? That’s a robot, not a person. Yet that’s the kind of one-sided image that many Christians have of Jesus. It shows up both in books and sermons and in artwork. And it has an effect on the way Christians live their lives.

Jesus must have been a clever, witty and even funny man. His humor nearly leaps off the page in some of His highly original parables in His zippy asides to the Roman authorities, in His tart replies to the scribes and the Pharisees and even in His off-the-cuff remarks. If we look at His human side, it’s hard to imagine someone being able to put up with the often spectacularly obtuse disciples without a sense of humor. If we look at His divine side, it’s hard to imagine God not smiling at some of the absurdities of the world.

So let us set aside the notion that Jesus was a humorless, grim-faced, dour, unsmiling prude. Let’s begin to recover His humor and, in the process, His full humanity.

Adapted from BETWEEN HEAVEN AND MIRTH by James Martin, S.J. Copyright © 2011 by James Martin, S.J. Used with permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.

Top Comments



Gina commented…

Haha. I mean, Jesus was fully God and fully man. Not all humor is sinful, and in fact I think you're right, humor is a gift from God. I have a relationship with God and because of that I try to laugh with Him too! God doesn't want us to be serious with Him all the time. I tell him jokes like, "Hey God, knock knock?.....oh wait you already know who is there." Dang, God always ruins the punch lines. I think he laughs at me anyway. :P



Jeff commented…

I think there are three main reasons it's hard for us to see humor in the Scriptures. Number one is that they have been quoted to us consistently with a very serious face. Number two, as James Martin points out in this article, not everything was written down about Jesus. They didn't have twitter... So I'm sure they wrote what they believed to be the most relevant to the message of the Gospel. The third reason is that we are reading a translation from a language and culture that we are not familiar with - it's very hard to pass on humor from one culture to another, never mind the difference of about 2,000 years!!

Anyway, have you ever wondered why the Lord is constantly saying "Verily, Verily I say unto you..."? He spoke Aramaic (at least as far as I can tell) which was a very humor oriented language full of exaggerated expressions. Think about it - it's the person who tells the most jokes that has to very carefully explain when he is not joking! ha! So the Lord says, "Now listen, I'm not joking! This is serious - I really mean it," and, of course, this is what His disciples thought must be written down. No one forgets the jokes anyway, so why write those down, ha!

Remember Baalam's donkey? Now that was funny!

The story of the prodigal son is also full of such extreme behavior that it could only have been seen as either a shocker or a 'dark' comedy. Imagine a son asking for his inheritance - his father was still alive!! But on top of that his father gives it to him!! Now that's funny! But we miss that in our culture because it just seems so normal.

And what about the practical joke of sneaking up on the disciples in the middle of the night walking on water!! Okay - maybe not funny, but maybe it was. It's really hard for us to judge just reading a few short lines.

What about: Let he that is without sin among you cast the first stone. After that then everyone else can through as many stones as they want. That was so clever and funny, but we just miss that part, because it was also so full of deep truth and mercy, which is what we want to learn from it. But let's not miss the humor!

I'd recommend asking the Lord to show you about His humor. He'll show you through everything including the Bible, your life and the lives of those around you. Often through the funny things you, yourself, end up doing! Also remember that His jokes are all in good taste - He would never offend, like your closest friend.



Kcmike66 commented…

"Life is what God allows to happen to us when we are making plans for other things" always makes me laugh.

Kevin Wright


Kevin Wright commented…

This article reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend not too long ago. I will say this. In the times we live in where humor is often substituted with outright flippancy we need to not fall into the cultural rut of abusive trends that happen with humor for "relating" purposes!



Gina commented…

Haha. I mean, Jesus was fully God and fully man. Not all humor is sinful, and in fact I think you're right, humor is a gift from God. I have a relationship with God and because of that I try to laugh with Him too! God doesn't want us to be serious with Him all the time. I tell him jokes like, "Hey God, knock knock?.....oh wait you already know who is there." Dang, God always ruins the punch lines. I think he laughs at me anyway. :P



Deanna replied to Gina's comment

Gina. . .your little joke with God was the cutest thing. . .it made me smile. :] For some reason, that makes me love God so much. Thanks. I know this is unrelated an completely random, but whenever I wear sandals I think about Jesus, because he probably wore them, and that makes me laugh. :D

Lynn Pal


Lynn Pal commented…

Church and Laughter

If there is no laughter, Jesus has
gone somewhere else. If there is
no joy and freedom it is not a
church: it is simply a crowd of
melancholy people basking in
a religious neurosis. If there is
no celebration, there is no real

Steve Brown

Meaghan Smith


Meaghan Smith commented…

You'll be able to either visit authorized branches of FEMA or contact them by means of their official website to acquire application kinds for residence restore grants.

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