Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Ironic, Satirical, Caustic Humor of Our Lord Jesus and St. Paul

By Dave Armstrong (6-2-07)

Jesus and Paul used satirical and sometimes "caustic" humor. Jesus used heavy sarcasm and exaggeration in the Sermon on the Mount. His hearers were Christian believers or disciples, too. But look what He said:
39: He also told them a parable: "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?
40: A disciple is not above his teacher, but every one when he is fully taught will be like his teacher.
41: Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
42: Or how can you say to your brother, `Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.

(Luke 6:39-42; cf. Matthew 7:1-5 - RSV)
Perhaps the most famous instance of sarcasm in Paul was tongue-in-cheek desire for Judaizers to castrate themselves:
6: For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.
7: You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?
8: This persuasion is not from him who calls you.
9: A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
10: I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine; and he who is troubling you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.
11: But if I, brethren, still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the stumbling block of the cross has been removed.
12: I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves!

(Galatians 5:6-12)
Now, again, the Judaizers were Christians. They weren't pagans or nonbelievers. See the article on them in the Catholic Encyclopedia and the article "Jewish Christians" from Wikipedia. The relationship of Jews and Christians and the Law and the New Covenant in the early Church was very complex.

Paul called himself a Pharisee more than once. Jesus observed Temple rites and various Pharisaical traditions, and even commanded His followers to observe the teachings of the Pharisees and obey them (Matthew 23:1-3).

Therefore, when Jesus uttered His scathing denunciations of the Pharisees, it was not directed towards total unbelievers, but towards kinsmen who had gone astray and had become hypocrites. The New Testament refers to Christian Pharisees, and Nicodemus was one. Joseph of Arimathea was likely a Pharisee, as we know that he was a member of the Sanhedrin (Mk 15:43), and that body was dominated by Pharisees at the time of Jesus.

Paul was observing purification rites in the Temple when he was arrested (Acts 21:26-28).

Carl W. Conrad, a classic professor, wrote a post highlighting a number of instances of irony and sarcasm in Paul:
I'd like to invite the list to consider some potential instances of Pauline rhetorical "double-speak" and venture opinions on the extent to which the apostle may on occasion have indulged in deliberate misstatement of his honest perceptions or attitudes for rhetorical purposes.

1. In an exchange yesterday. . . originating on another list, the question arose whether or not it is the case that Paul on more than one occasion resorts to rhetorical exaggeration, equivocation, irony, even sarcasm in order to enhance, even at peril of distorting them, his intended messages. I want to point to a few texts where one may seriously doubt whether Paul means to be understood literally and some others that may be more ambiguous.
He suggested the following passages as instances of same: Romans 15:18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:4-5, 14:18; Gal 5:12; and concluded: "I think there may be several points in the Pauline corpus where we ought to suspect rhetorical exaggeration or even sarcastic humor."

Likewise, Bible commentator Mark D. Nanos wrote a book entitled The Irony of Galatians: Paul's Letter in First-Century Context (Augsburg Fortress, 2001). Reviewer Loren Rosson III stated:
Mark Nanos argues that Galatians must be understood primarily as a letter of "ironic rebuke", Paul's knee-jerk reaction to the news that his Gentile converts have begun to accept circumcision, and thus the "whole Torah", as a complement to their faith in Christ. Furious and exasperated ("like a parent scolding children being influenced by their peers"), he wrote this letter with smoldering sarcasm and vilifying rhetoric -- neither of which portray his converts or those advocating their circumcision (or Paul himself!) very accurately. Nanos calls this "ironic rebuke", which served the purpose of redirecting the Galatians to his circumcision-free gospel by means of humiliation and shame.
The only unarguable case of humor being used against nonbelievers is Elijah on Mt. Carmel, mocking the prophets of Baal. I never claimed otherwise, but it doesn't follow that, therefore, such humor, mocking, or sarcasm can never be used against fellow Christians, if they are playing the hypocrite. I have now proven beyond all doubt that this is perfectly permissible, and is one way that we imitate Paul (as he commanded us to) and Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, we have numerous instances of God the Father using humorous analogies, parables, etc., in rebuking the disobedience of His own people, the Jews. We are made in God's image. If God uses a great deal of humor while rebuking, then it follows that we can do so as well.

No comments: