What is “coarse jesting”?

laughter grace thumbWhat is “coarse jesting”, or, in one translation, ‘crude joking’? Is it simply letting your humor occasionally run away with you and taking you over lines you didn’t mean to cross? 

The Greek word used in Ephesians 5:4 is eutrapelia, from eú = easily + trépo = to turn = well-turned, i.e. ready with a witty answer). It literally means to turn a phrase smoothly to a witty or vulgar effect. This suggests something like a pun, or perhaps a double entendre. 

On one level, it is quite an innocent word with the derivation of versatility. According to William Hendriksen: 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.”

Conversations on this level are entertaining and enjoyable. The issue comes when the speaker uses this versatile facility to suggest other nuances. Hendriksen continues: “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 Greek word eutrapelia in Ephesians 5:4 is therefore translated “coarse jesting”, or a wittiness given to telling coarse jokes, “which things are improper.” They are improper because they are “not worthy of the calling” with which believers were called.

The idea of “turning” is interesting. It suggests a rapid-fire comeback, or picking up on a pun or a bizarre word-association on the spot, which can be very entertaining. But John Eadie suggests that the word “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.”

But isn’t it odd –at first glance- that “coarse jesting” should be linked in Ephesians 5 with fornication and filthiness?

Perhaps not.

The general context of how followers of Jesus are to conduct themselves in speech is carefully drawn in the New Testament. We are warned against “every idle word” (Matthew 12:36), and encouraged to “Let your speech be always with grace” (Colossians 4:6). James (3) warned against sins of the tongue, which, of course, are really sins of the heart.

However, it isn’t hard to see the tie-in between the sins of 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. It has been said that the real indicators of a person’s character are what makes him laugh and what makes him weep. Simply put, there is nothing for the follower of Jesus in obscene language or sexual innuendo.

As a final word, I really enjoyed Barnes’ comment on this verse. Here it is: “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 much 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.

Excerpt from my book Laughter and Grace, available here  (or message me here)

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This entry was posted in Christianity, Contemporism, Evangelism, Faith, God, Is it me?, Jesus, life, Listening, Missionary, Morning Devotions, New Testament and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to What is “coarse jesting”?

  1. Norberto says:

    I genuinely dislike this conclusion. As a person who has a great and witty sense of humor and who enjoys seeing others laugh, I feel in a way, pained by this. Having a good sense of humor is one of the qualities about me that I would hate to lose. I can see how sexual innuendos can be tarnishing to the image of the Christian, but cmon, do we really need to lose our ability to laugh at ourselves and make light of situations? Being “serious” just doesn’t seem to be ‘me’. Maybe someone can explain to me the difference between having a sense of humor and of ‘crossing the line’

    • kenbaker says:

      Hiya Norberto. Thanks for stopping by.
      Is there a difference between jesting” and “coarse jesting”? How do you understand the Bible’s point here?

    • Ken says:

      I believe the world accepts coarse jesting as an everyday occurrence, but because we try our best to walk according to what the scriptures say God gives us wisdom. The more we read the scriptures the more our old man falls away as we put on the new man in Christ Jesus

  2. MaxT says:

    God has made all things, and they were intended for good, we fallen people have used many of God’s creations in fallen ways with fallen intentions. Sex for ex. is pleasurable because God made it that way, but it is to be used at the proper time of spiritual growth and stability to glorify God with a new creation. In the same way Jokes: a sense of humor, being able to laugh and grow at ones mistakes and bad situations, the easiest way to connect with a stranger — If it is out of God worshiping love, truly I think laughter should be another “armor of God”. Some of the most devote people I have met and admired also have a great sense of humor.

  3. Alexandria Sweeting says:

    I just simply have to repent. this scripture has been rightly divided, with truth. our conversations as believers must be seared with a hot iron. I have thought it over and i repent.

  4. Ricky says:

    I completely agree because I too was guilty of this sin, and I repent in the name of Jesus!

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