Why do some Bibles say jesting and others say coarse jesting? What exactly does that mean? Does the Bible say that coarse jesting is wrong, but not jesting? Does that mean it is sinful to joke with your friends in an innocent and friendly matter? I have never felt convicted by the Holy Spirit about this.
Most contemporary Bible versions of Ephesians 5:4 use the word “jest” or “coarse jesting.” The NASB and KJV read as follows,
. . . and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. Ephesians 5:4 (NASB)
Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. Ephesians 5:4 (KJV)
The question we are concerned with is, “What is the meaning of “coarse jesting” or “jesting” in Ephesians 5:4?”
Meaning of “Coarse Jesting”
The Greek word that is translated as “coarse jesting” or “jesting” in Ephesians 5:4 is eutrapelia. This Greek word occurs only one time in the New Testament, right here in Ephesians 5:4. We do not have any other passages in the New Testament to help us understand how it is used. Therefore, we must rely exclusively on Greek lexicons and Greek scholars.
The most significant Greek scholar of our time was A.T. Robertson. He defined eutrapelia as follows,
Jesting (εὐτραπελια [eutrapelia]). Old word from εὐτραπελος [eutrapelos] (εὐ, τρεπω [eu, trepō], to turn) nimbleness of wit, quickness in making repartee (so in Plato and Plutarch), but in low sense as here ribaldry, scurrility, only here in N. T.
Ribaldry has the meaning of a person whose language is vulgar, lewdly humorous or whose jokes are vulgar. It refers to language that uses sex in a rude or humorous way.
A second Greek lexicon called the Theological Lexicon of the New Testament defines eutrapelia as “obscenity.
. . . eutrapelia is a form of hybris and cannot be virtuous except among people who have tact and are well-bred; otherwise, it is unwholesome and tends to vulgarity, even obscenity.
Notice that the lexicon states that eutrapelia includes vulgarity and obscenity.
Another Greek lexicon also states that eutrapelia refers to vulgar or indecent joking.
. . . vulgar speech, coarse joking, indecent jesting (Eph 5:4+).
The last lexicon will show that the lexicons are consistent and in agreement that it refers to vulgar, indecent or shameful language or joking.
. . . coarse jesting involving vulgar expressions and indecent content—‘vulgar speech, indecent talk.'
The English Standard Version (ESV) Bible more accurately reflects the meaning of eutrapelia in its translation of Ephesians 5:4. The ESV is currently the best translation available in 2019.
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. Ephesians 5:4 (ESV)
Many comedians use vulgar and use sexually explicit language in order to make their audience laugh. Teenagers and adults like to share sexually explicit jokes. Such behavior is eutrapelia or “coarse jesting” or “jesting.” Therefore, Christians must not share sexually suggestive jokes or use such language. It displeases the Lord Jesus. Instead, we should seek to keep our thoughts and speech pure before the Lord.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. Philippians 4:8 (NASB)
Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. Colossians 4:6 (NASB)
1. A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament. Baker Book House. 1933. iv, p. 542.
2. Ceslas Spicq and James D. Ernest, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament. Vol 2. Hendrickson Publishers. 1994. p. 146.
3. James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
4. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. United Bible Societies. 1989. p. 393.
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