Did Jesus laugh? If not, is laughter wrong?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: Some people think that laughter/laughing is a sign of a mocking or scornful response or derision because of Psalm 59:8, Psalm 80:6, Proverbs 1:26, Ecclesiastes 2:2, and Proverbs 14:13. However, don't these Scriptures contradict with Job 5:22, Proverbs 17:22, and Psalm 126, which talk about laughter/laughing in a good light? Additionally, some people think that not once does The Bible records Jesus Christ as laughing. However, doesn't Luke 10:21, when reading right after Luke 10:19-20 make it appear that Jesus Christ did laugh? Finally, even if Jesus Christ did laugh, isn't it possible that The Bible just didn't think it was important to record it in order not to make The Bible volumes of books? Finally, there is no Scripture that flat out says laughter/laughing is a sin either, correct? Thank you. 

Answer: As you have noted, the Bible has different descriptions of laughter, some of which require emotions that are the opposite of some other. Does this form a contradiction in Scripture? No. But contradiction is a technical term, so to answer your question, we must understand when elements are (or are not) in contradiction and then apply the biblical instances of laughter to that criteria and see where we stand.

Let us first consider the logical statement that fits your question best: “A cannot be non-A.” That is, nothing can be itself and that which negates itself in the same place and at the same time. When we apply laughter to this formula we get “laughter cannot be non-laughter.” So, if any of the Bible’s references to laughter conflict logically with its definition, then we would have a contradiction. Do any of your Bible references represent laughter as non-laughter? No. Let us look at its definition.

The World English Dictionary defines laughter as “…The experience or manifestation of mirth, amusement, scorn, or joy.” This contemporary definition matches the Bible’s use of the word very well. What does this mean in the world of contradiction? Since the Bible’s use of the word laughter always matches the definition, none of its uses can be said to be in contradiction with another. Laughter legitimately (by definition) manifests in joy and mirth — as well as scorn.

The fact that it usually takes opposite emotions to generate the extremes does not make them negate one another. Both our experience and the definition give us more information about what laughter is — and not contradictory information. When a person laughs in joy at one moment and then laughs in scorn in another, we do not think that he has violated logic. These are common human behaviors. And what does the Bible do among other things? The Bible reports on common human behaviors. It does so plainly, without word tricks and without contradiction.

Having addressed the technical aspects of contradiction, let us move on to whether or not Jesus laughed. Luke 10:19-21 shows Jesus in a joyous spiritual moment, but it does not say one way or the other whether he was smiling or laughing — although I cannot imagine him speaking this without a smile — but the Bible does not say so specifically, and therefore, neither can we.

At this point, we must talk about the scope of the Bible’s words, because (and as you have noted) the Bible could not include every detail of every character at every moment for practical reasons. The question for any writer (and this includes those under God’s inspiration) is, what should I include and what should I exclude? Broadly stated, a writer should include only the details that are important to the story. Any other details would distract the reader, which directly counters the purpose of any communication. The Apostle John told us just this.

“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25, ESV)

And he gave us the criteria for inclusion in his gospel.

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30–31, ESV)

Let us continue exploring exclusion by examining a parallel inclusion to see if we can find a difference. The Bible does not tell us whether or not Jesus laughed, but it does indeed tell us that Jesus wept. These two elements are equal and opposite, so what’s up with the inclusion vs. exclusion?

The fact that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) was of critical importance to the story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus. We needed to know how this affected Jesus. Now, John could have told us that Jesus was sad, and that would have been true—perhaps even adequate. But instead, he showed us — and this is profound! Jesus — who, although fully God as attested from heaven and as shown through his miracles — was fully human. He wept over the family’s loss, and he wept over his friend’s death. Furthermore, this shows us how disturbing death is at its core — even for the God-man.

But there is no biblical story where Jesus’ laughing would have had this kind of impact. As such, showing him laughing for the sake of including it somewhere would have been fraudulent to the narrative and gratuitous to the content — high crimes in any piece of writing, let alone God’s word.

The gospel writers reveal a fully emotional Jesus. They tell us that he showed compassion, anger and indignation. He was zealous, troubled, greatly distressed, very sorrowful, depressed, deeply moved and grieved. He sighed, wept, sobbed, groaned and agonized. He rejoiced very greatly. He was full of joy. He was surprised and amazed. He greatly desired, and he loved. What’s missing among all of these emotional displays? Laughter. We do not see him laugh. But do not make too much about its absence.

First, the fact that the Bible did not record him laughing is incidental; it cannot be held as proof that he never laughed. Second, although we have quite a list of his emotional displays, the list is not intended to be comprehensive. Other stuff happened that did not make the list. Third, the fact that he was so well-rounded emotionally — so very much like us — virtually assures that he also laughed. Jesus was not dour or in any way emotionally atypical. For this reason, I must assert that, since laughter is so common among us humans, it is plausible that Jesus laughed — it is just not provable by scriptural citation.

Perhaps we can better understand the biblical silence on laughter by considering another of the biblical silences: Did Jesus go to the bathroom? The Bible never tells us whether he did or didn’t — but what do you think? Is it reasonable to assume that Jesus performed the ordinary and everyday biological tasks required of humans? Or did he receive special dispensation from the Father? In my opinion, any Father that would make Jesus go to the cross would also make him go to the bathroom. True, the Bible does not say one way or the other, but it is entirely reasonable to assume that Jesus acquiesced to the demands of his biology. After all, we do see him eating.

My guess is that most people would respond to the question, “Did Jesus ever relieve himself?” with something like a, “Yes — of course!” But the same people would respond with less assurance to the question, “Did Jesus ever laugh?” I find this peculiar because both answers rely on the same data: the Bible is silent about both; the Bible shows other people doing both; the Bible shows Jesus doing what other people do. For these reasons, I assert that Jesus laughed… so I really hope that it’s not a sin! Let’s talk about that.

Nowhere in the Bible is laughter defined as a sin. That being said, there are definitely sins that nearly always include laughter, like drunken rioting. The worst laughter that I can imagine would be laughing at the man you were about to murder. The best laughter that I can imagine is that of a child laughing in delight during play. The fact that these could sit on either end of the laughter scale tells us two things: first, we are working with a gradient. Second, laughter is never alone. Let’s look at the latter first.

Since laughter is never alone, we should never consider it as discrete and say that it is either sinful or good. It is merely an expression of the underlying structures which may or may not be sinful. As to the gradient, this describes those gray areas that are very familiar to Christians. Somewhere along that line between the child’s delight and murderous laughter, the laugh changes from innocence to sin, and it could occur at different spots for different people.

For instance, few people would argue that laughing heartily at an off-color joke when you are with a bawdy crowd would be a sin. But what if your intentions were to be polite? Would it slide enough on the scale so that it was no longer a sin? How about if it was a Christian who is telling the same joke — would it be a sin to laugh? If so, would it be a bigger sin or a smaller sin? What if your pastor told a dumbed-down version of the joke knowing where it came from? Would your knowing where it came from make your laugh more sinful than that of the person sitting next to you?

As you can see, there are no clear answers as to when laughter will represent sin. So, the problem will never be the laughter itself; the problem will always be what generated it.

For some perspective on joking visit the following link.


(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)