Against Foolish Talking and Jesting
Ephesians 5:4
Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.

It may be demanded then, what the thing we speak of is, or what this facetiousness doth import? To which question I might reply as Democritus did to him that asked the definition of a man, "It is that which we all see and know"; anyone better apprehends what it is by acquaintance, than I can inform him by description. It is indeed a thing so versatile and multiform, appearing in so many shapes, so many postures, so many garbs, so variously apprehended by several eyes and judgments, that it seemeth no less hard to settle a clear and certain notion thereof, than to make a portrait of Proteus, or to define the figure of the fleeting air. Sometimes it lieth in pat allusion to a known story, or in seasonable application of a trivial saying, or in forging an apposite tale: sometimes it playeth in words and phrases, taking advantage from the ambiguity of their sense, or the affinity of their sound; sometimes it is wrapped in a dress of humorous expression; sometimes it lurketh under an odd similitude; sometimes it is lodged in a sly question, in a smart answer, in a quirkish reason, in a shrewd intimation, in cunningly diverting, or cleverly retorting an objection; sometimes it is couched in a bold scheme of speech, in a tart irony, in a lusty hyperbole, in a startling metaphor, in a plausible reconciling of contradictions, or in acute nonsense; sometimes a scenical representation of persons or things, a counterfeit speech, a mimical look or gesture passeth for it; sometimes an affected simplicity, sometimes a presumptuous bluntness giveth it being; sometimes it riseth from a lucky hitting on what is strange, sometimes from a crafty wresting obvious matter to the purpose; often it consisteth in one knows not what, and springeth up one can hardly tell how. Its ways are unaccountable and inexplicable, being answerable to the numberless rovings of fancy and windings of language. It is, in short, a manner of speaking out of the simple and plain way (such as reason teacheth and proveth things by), which by a pretty surprising uncouthness in conceit or expression doth affect and amuse the fancy, stirring in it some wonder, and breeding some delight thereto.


1. Such facetiousness is not absolutely unreasonable or unlawful, which ministereth harmless divertisement and delight to conversation. For Christianity is not so harsh, so envious, as to bar us continually from innocent, much less from wholesome and useful pleasure, such as human life doth need or require.

2. Facetiousness is allowable when it is the most proper instrument of exposing things apparently base and vile to due contempt. When sarcastical twitches are needful to pierce the thick skins of men, to correct their lethargic stupidity, to rouse them out of their drowsy negligence; then may they well be applied.

3. Facetious discourse particularly may be commodious for reproving some vices and reclaiming some persons (as salt for cleansing and curing some sores). It commonly procureth a more easy access to the ears of men, and worketh a stronger impression on their hearts, than other discourse could do. Many whose foreheads are brazed and hearts are steeled against all blame, are yet not proof against derision.

4. Some errors likewise in this way may be most properly and most successfully confuted; such as deserve not, and hardly can bear a serious and solid confutation.

5. This way is also commonly the best way of defence against unjust reproach and obloquy. To yield to a slanderous reviler a serious reply, or to make a formal plea against his charge, doth seem to imply that we much consider or deeply resent it; whereas by pleasant reflection On it we signify the matter only deserves contempt, and that we take ourselves unconcerned therein.

6. So easily without care or trouble may the brunts of malice be declined or repelled. This way may be allowed in way of counterbalancing and in compliance to the fashion of others. It would be a disadvantage unto truth and virtue if their defenders were barred from the use of this weapon; since it is that especially whereby the patrons of error and vice do maintain and propagate them.

7. Furthermore, the warrantableness of this practice in some cases may be inferred from a parity of reason, in this manner: if it be lawful (as by the best authorities it plainly doth appear to be), in using rhetorical schemes, poetical strains, involutions of sense in allegories, fables, parables, and riddles, to discoast from the plain and simple way of speech; why may not facetiousness, issuing from the same principles, directed to the same ends, serving to like purposes, be likewise used blamelessly?

8. I shall only add, that of old even the sagest and gravest persons (persons of most rigid and severe virtue) did much affect this kind of discourse, and did apply it to noble purposes.

9. In fine, since it cannot be shown that such a sportfulness of wit and fancy doth contain an intrinsic and inseparable turpitude; since it may be so cleanly, handsomely, and innocently used, as not to defile or discompose the mind of the speaker, not to wrong or harm the hearer, not to derogate from any worthy subject of discourse, it cannot well absolutely and universally be condemned; and when not used on improper matter, in an unfit manner, with excessive measure, at undue season, to evil purpose, it may be allowed. It is bad objects, or bad adjuncts, which do spoil its indifference and innocence.


1. All profane jesting, all speaking loosely and wantonly about holy things (things nearly related to God and religion), making such things the matters of sport and mockery, playing and trifling with them, is certainly prohibited, as an intolerably vain and wicked practice. All injurious, abusive, scurrilous jesting, which causelessly or needlessly tendeth to the disgrace, damage, vexation, or prejudice in any kind of our neighbour (provoking his displeasure, grating on his modesty, stirring passion in him), is also prohibited.

3. I pass by that it is very culpable to be facetious in obscene and smutty matters.

4. All unseasonable jesting is blamable.

5. To affect, admire, or highly to value this way of speaking, either absolutely in itself, or in comparison to the serious and plain way of speech, and thence to be drawn into an immoderate use thereof, is blamable.

6. Vain-glorious ostentation this way is very blamable.

7. Lastly, it is our duty never so far to engage ourselves in this way, as thereby to lose or to impair that habitual seriousness, modesty, and sobriety of mind, that steady composedness, gravity and constancy of demeanour, which become Christians. We should continually keep our minds intent on our "high calling," and grand interest; ever well tuned, and ready for the performance of holy devotions.

(I. Barrow, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.

WEB: nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not appropriate; but rather giving of thanks.

A Sting in the Jest
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