Sarcasm and satire are related as they both use irony to make a point, expose foolishness, or simply to entertain. However, sarcasm tends to be more incisive, mean, and can be hurtful.
Does the Bible say anything about sarcasm or satire?
Jesus tells us that our words are important and that will be accountable for every word we utter: "… For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:34–37).
This seems to imply that sarcasm is never appropriate. But what about a softer form of sarcasm? What about satire or irony? While these figures of speech can certainly be inappropriate, it seems there are times and ways in which satire and irony can be appropriately used. We see God use irony and satire in His Word.
Paul, for example, used irony, possibly to the point of mocking, in 1 Corinthians 4:8–10 when he compares the God-honoring lives of the apostles with the self-focused lives of some in the Corinth church: "Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute."
However, very quickly Paul writes that his purpose in writing in such a way is to "admonish you as my beloved children," not "to make you ashamed" (1 Corinthians 4:14). Paul leverages the language to drive home a point. But his intention is loving, which he makes clear.
Satire is used to admonish idol-makers in Isaiah 40:19–20, to taunt Egypt in Jeremiah 46:11 (this is God speaking!), and Elijah's jabs at the Baal prophets in 1 Kings 18:27.
Jesus used satire in Matthew 7:5, in the form of hyperbole: "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."
There are no examples of sarcasm, however, in the Bible. The incisive, insulting, hurtful tone that sarcasm wields can find no place in the way Christians treat their neighbors. Jesus uses some harsh language to warn us all about how we use our language: "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire" (Matthew 5:22).
Irony and satire can be used, carefully, to make a point, admonish others, and to unsettle the ungodly. The intent should always be loving—wanting to reveal truth and help people see themselves and God more clearly. Satire and irony sometimes sting because the truth can be painful. But our intention should always be to edify, and our words should follow suit. We are instructed to hold back any "filthiness or foolish talk or crude joking" (Ephesians 5:4) and to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Ephesians 4:29 is a good gauge for whether our use of irony and satire is appropriate: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."
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