Is there humor in the Bible? (Jonah as a case study in comedy)

Whoever said the Bible is not funny has never read Jonah, the drama king of the prophets. Enjoy God's sense of humor with this journey through Jonah!

21 days ago   •   4 min read

By Jordan Hopkins

When you stare at a Bible, do you think humor?

Well, not knee-slapping funny, right?

To be honest, if you'd asked me when I was younger whether or not the Bible is funny, I would have said, "Nope. Not really."

Though the Bible is a different kind of funny than today's modern comedies, there's still classic elements of humor any person can relate to.

Things like...

  • Irony
  • Random mishaps
  • Hyperbole (exaggerations)
  • Character foils which contrast each other
  • Puns

Okay, so here's one of my favorite comedic characters, who also happens to be a drama king.

Meet Jonah...

God's "subtle" corrections

So, Jonah is a prophet who's commanded by God to go and preach to the people of Nineveh so they can turn from their sins. But Jonah wants none of it. He boards a boat and flees the opposite direction.

If the Bible were a serious book, God would strike Jonah down right there for his disobedience.

Instead, God uses some "subtle" moments to nudge Jonah in the right direction.

Overboard

First, a giant storm wracks the boat he's trying to flee away on.

The sailors are panicking. They're tossing barrels and goods overboard to save the ship. I mean, the waves are literally eating-up the boat, beating it to smitherines.

The sailors are at a loss. They begin to question, Whose god is at fault for this?

In this moment, one of them finds Jonah. But, how would you picture Jonah during a torrential storm destroying the boat you're fleeing on?

Well, let's check on him...

But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

Jonah 1:5-6 (NIV)

What!? A deep sleep? And then the irony: Here's a "pagan" sailor yelling at Jonah, God's prophet, to go call on his "god" for help.

It gets better.

The sailors "cast lots" to let their gods decide who the guilty person is.

Of course, Jonah's lot is drawn. (I picture God waving a finger here and saying, "Hmm, that one.")

So, they proceed to toss the prophet overboard. The "raging sea" subsides. It's crystal calm.

Swallowed

God spares Jonah's life, but not with a typical miracle. There's no walking across on dry ground. No dolphins to pull him to safety.

Rather, God sends a giant fish to swallow Jonah whole.

He spends three days in the belly of the fish, repenting in seaweed and bile.

As soon as Jonah utters, "Salvation comes from the lord," the fish gives in to the heartburn and "vomit[s] Jonah onto dry land."

The vomiting up of a disobedient prophet is a total low comedy moment! (Low comedy relies on more physical, direct humor – think Three Stooges and fart jokes).

Jonah drama king

So, if there were a candidate for the biggest drama king in the Bible, it'd be Jonah.

Here's why...

Jonah is then commanded by God to actually go to Nineveh and fulfill his task. Let's see how Jonah responds this time...

Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. (3:3)

Homeboy is hustling this time!

Now, when Jonah gets there, he's no Billy Graham. He offers a short warning that unless they repent they will see the destruction of the city.

The king responds immediately, and the whole city repents "covered in sackcloth." Moved by their sincerity, God relents from the destruction.

The End.

jk!

Instead, the drama king returns: God's compassion angers Jonah. He doesn't see it as fair...These unholy pagans aren't getting what they deserve!

Here's Jonah's response to God:

He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah 4:2-3 (NIV)

Told ya...total drama king.

There's just layer upon layer of irony here...

  • Jonah is mad at God, for being too merciful.
  • The one who is being unforgiving is frustrated at the One forgiving.
  • Gentiles are repenting faster than Jonah, a Hebrew raised with the Torah.
  • Jonah would rather die than see a city not perish...what!?

Yes, this is all. in. the. Bible.

But, ironic humor aside...there's some beauty in all of this.

You see, Jonah is emblematic of all of us. We all harbor unforgiveness and an unwillingness to repent until we're softened by the Gospel. Softened by the One who is a "gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love."

You see, it's in the middle of the humor God teaches us the beauty of His mercy.

But wait...there's more!

Now, there's actually more to Jonah's comedic irony, but I want to leave it here...at what I believe to be the crux, the heart of the story. Please, for yourself, read all four chapters in one sitting. It's short, action-packed, heartfelt, and...funny.

So, does God have a sense of humor? Does the Bible have its spurts of comedy?

You betcha.

If you're interested in hearing about more comedic moments in the Bible, let me know!

🔥 Bonus Sauce!

Allen is hilarious and brings you a list of 5 funny stories. Enjoy!

"Funniest Stories in the Bible" Allen Par

Spread the word