Is Laughing a Sin?


As a priest, I often hear many people’s confessions. Without going into detail, I will only say that in general people’s sins are more or less the same. And no wonder, because we are all human beings. But sometimes I hear at confession something like, “I sinned by jesting: I joked and laughed...” Is laughing a sin? Let’s figure it out.

We all have an idea of funniness from early childhood. Babies smile at funny sounds, older children laugh merrily at videos of funny animals, while adults have stricter criteria for laughing. At the same time, we all understand that humor can be appropriate or not. The boundaries of appropriateness and the assessment of how funny a joke is are very subjective. There are as many opinions as there are people. But we all understand that if someone begins to have fun at a funeral or, on the contrary, is gloomy while everyone is having fun, it means that most likely something is wrong with him.

However, many people, including Orthodox Christians, have a stereotype that only weeping over your sins in repentance is pleasing to God, while laughter and fun are evil. In their opinion, laughing people are frivolous, they don’t repent of their sins, so if they are laughing now, they will cry later. Is it really the case?

To begin with, I suggest looking for answers in the Holy Scriptures. It’s a fact that there is no direct approval or prohibition of humor in the Bible. And this fact, alas, often becomes a sticking point.

Laughing is seldom mentioned in the Bible and, as a rule, in negative contexts: For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity (Eccl. 7:6). Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness (Jm. 4:9). The discourse of fools is irksome, and their sport is the wantonness of sin (Sir. 27: 13). Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better (Eccles. 7:3). From these verses many conclude that the Bible almost forbids us to laugh. But let’s not be like some sectarians who just take small quotes out of context in order to appeal to them the way they want. Taken in context, all these verses speak of unrepentant sinners and pagans who are called to repentance and the abandonment of sin. The point is not laughing itself, but its causes—and this is important to understand.

The Book of Job contains the consolation of the Righteous Job in his grief: Till He [God] fill thy mouth with laughing, and thy lips with rejoicing (Job 8: 21). Here, as we see, laughing and joy are shown in a positive sense. Laughing, joy and merriment always go together, and everyone knows this. Rejoicing and joy are mentioned more often in the Scriptures. Let’s look at a few examples.


Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off (Neh. 12:43). A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones (Prov. 17:22). The Book of Proverbs also says: A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken (Prov. 15: 13). That is, there is a contrast between despondency and rejoicing, and here merriment is shown as a blessing.

In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord says: Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in Heaven (Mt. 5:12).

Above all, Christians follow Christ and, when possible, should try to imitate Him. There is no exact description in the Gospel of how He laughed, as opposed to referring to His tears when He arrived at His friend Lazarus’ burial site.

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto Him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how He loved him! (Jn. 11:33-36).

However, there are indications of Christ’s joy in the Gospel as well. Here is one of them.

These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. This is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (Jn. 15:11–13).

As we know, Christ is fully God and fully Man—that is, being God, He assumed human nature, which means that nothing human is alien to Christ except sin.

If we imagine that the Lord never laughed or smiled, then how did He behave at feasts, where He was often invited?

V. I. Nesterenko. The Wedding in Cana of Galilee. 2001 V. I. Nesterenko. The Wedding in Cana of Galilee. 2001     

There are narratives of how the Lord and His disciples were invited to the houses of people to recline at meals (in ancient Judea food was eaten while lying on the left side, and there were no tables and chairs). And there must have been wine there.

Now many of you will argue and say that wine at that time was not strong, that it was just juice and was diluted with water, so no one got drunk at all. I will disagree. Judea belonged to the Roman Empire, and Greece was nearby, where they even had their own pagan gods of winemaking—Dionysus and Bacchus—who were always portrayed drunk. So it is unreasonable to believe that there was some other, “non-alcoholic”, wine in Judea.

Psalm 103 has the words: And wine that maketh glad the heart of man (Ps. 103:15). And the Psalter was written long before the Birth of Christ. From ancient times, as in the whole world, wine was consumed at festive meals in Judea, and it is logical to assume that there were both jokes and laughing.

At the marriage in Cana of Galilee (Jn. 2:1–11), the Lord turned water into wine. Moreover, he did this when the wine in reserve had ended during the banquet. The ruler of the feast praised the bridegroom for saving the good wine until then, although everyone usually serves the good wine first and reserves the worse for when the people have drunk well.

It would be silly to assume that the Lord sat at the feast with melancholy condemnation, saying that they were drunkards and not weeping over their sins... Certainly not! He made merry with everyone. And He performed His first miracle of the transformation of water into wine lest the feast be overshadowed.

By the way, from this we can draw a joyful conclusion: God, our loving Heavenly Father, not only gives us through prayer what we need, but can also give us what we want to pamper His children within reasonable limits.

Christ Himself, denouncing the Pharisees who had rejected John the Baptist, said the following words: The Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized by him. Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! (Lk. 7:30–31; 33–34).

This vivid denunciation of the Pharisees in the spirit of “decide who you need: you don’t like anyone”, coupled with the above, reveals that joy and merriment, and therefore laughter, were not alien to Christ.

But I must clarify. Some alcohol lovers often appeal to such things to justify themselves, saying, “Christ drank wine, and the Bible speaks well of it, so alcoholism is not a sin.” I should emphasize that there is a huge difference between entertainment for joy and drunkenness to the point of losing one’s mind and human appearance. In his Epistle to the Ephesians the Apostle Paul openly warns people against getting drunk. Everything is good in moderation. So, the Lord does not mind joy and merriment, and therefore, laughing. But is laughing always pleasing to God? No.

There are many places in the Bible where ridicule is condemned.

Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; Himself He cannot save (Mk. 15:31). But they had his messengers in derision; and, look, when the Lord spake unto them, they made a sport of His prophets (2 Esd. 1:51). Laugh no man to scorn in the bitterness of his soul (Sir. 7:11). So is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith, Am not I in sport? (Prov. 26:19).

So, the Holy Scriptures’ attitude towards humor is clear. Mocking is bad, as is constant idleness, but there is nothing wrong with rejoicing and having fun in a circle of family and friends, provided you don’t forget to devote time to serious things, both spiritual and worldly.

As Archimandrite Pavel (Gruzdev; 1910–1996) said, kind laughter is not a sin. Above all, the Christian conscience should be the yardstick. A joke must go through some “filtering” as to whether or not it contains disrespect for God or saints, offends people, or contains obscenities or filth.

Besides, if a joke denounces human sinfulness, this is a good joke, even an edifying one. As the saying goes, many a true word is spoken in jest. And there is another saying: There is a grain of truth in every joke.

There is a very fine line here. It is good to laugh at the denunciation of sin, but as long as this doesn’t attack a specific person. As Archimandrite Seraphim (Rosenberg; 1909–1994) wisely said: “Hate sin, but love the sinner.”

I don’t know what is worse—when someone lacks a sense of humor or when he has it but considers it evil, waging an inner struggle.

As the editor of the “Orthodox Jokes!” group in VKontakte, I often get talking-tos from Orthodox (or not very Orthodox) people for almost all my publications. When there is a “borderline” joke, we discuss with the team whether it is worth posting, how to edit it or what text to write so our publication can be appropriate.

But some people may be indignant where there is absolutely nothing to be indignant about. Here is an example.

Although I was not the author, accusations of blasphemy flew at me for this image. But this picture denounces human hypocrisy. Deep in our hearts, each one of us is like a hamster: we understand sin, we ask for forgiveness, but we don’t want to reform.

Orthodox humor is very specific. We must avoid ridiculing people, avoid blasphemy and any political topics. At the same time, jokes should be funny. Orthodoxy needs humor. It is generally useful regardless of our religious beliefs. And in our difficult times humorous publications help people at least a little escape from despondency and be distracted from harsh reality.

But many are still afraid to smile because they consider it a sin. They are afraid that laughing, fun, and sincere joy will lead them astray from the path of salvation. They are afraid to take each step, fearing to commit a sin. I would like to remind such people of Christ’s words: Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom (Lk. 12:32).

There are various paths to salvation—a huge number of them. Some saints attained holiness by constant shedding repentant tears; others, as St. Seraphim of Sarov, always rejoiced with love and smiled at everyone around; others simply performed good deeds, and God exalted them.

There are many ways to please God, and everyone can find one for themselves. The main thing for us is not to judge our neighbor because he sins differently from us.

Priest Alexei Taakh
Translation by Dmitry Lapa


Brisingrius11/5/2022 3:04 am
Wait a minute,“in ancient Judea food was eaten while lying on the left side, and there were no tables and chairs……”So there should no any table in THE LAST SUPPER ???
Stephen10/19/2022 4:08 am
A priest, a rabbi, and a lawyer walk into a bar . . .
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