Sarcasm is a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or mock. Generally speaking it is inadvisable to consistently employ sarcasm with those close to us. When a wife drops a glass and her husband says, “nice going,” sarcasm can wound. Yet scripture often employs sarcasm to expose foolishness and mock error. Nave’s Topical Bible records no less than 25 instances of sarcasm in scripture. Consider three examples.
The first two chapters of Job record all manner of tragedy befalling Job and his family. As Job sits in anguish and mourning, his worthless friends come and lecture him. They tell him how bad things only happen to bad people. Zophar made one of the boldest statements when he said, “God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves” (Job 11:6)—in other words, “you deserve worse!” To this Job answers, “no doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you” (Job 12:2). His statement dripping with sarcasm, Job says, “You’re right! You’re the elite! And when you die there’ll be no wisdom left in the world because you have it all!” Job employed sarcasm to expose ignorance.
Jesus often employed sarcasm. The Pharisees were criticizing Jesus and his disciples because they were not honoring Pharisaical traditions vis-à-vis ceremonial washings. To expose their hypocrisy, Jesus sarcastically answered, “you have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (Mk 7:9). Did Jesus really think the Pharisees were doing a fine job? Obviously not. Jesus went on to give examples of commandments of God they were ignoring while militantly enforcing their traditions. Jesus employed sarcasm to expose hypocrisy.
Among the problems in the church in Corinth were the presence of false apostles—men who claimed to be sent from God and claimed divine authority. Some Corinthians were being led away by these false apostles while abandoning a genuine one like Paul. Paul directly warned his brethren about those who proclaimed a different Jesus and strange Gospel (2 Cor 11:4). Then he sarcastically stated, “indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to those super-apostles” (2 Cor 11:5). There is no such thing as a “super-apostle.” Instead, Paul mocked these false apostles who so elevated themselves by giving them an ironic title.
First, noticing when scripture employs sarcasm will help us understand God’s word. Second, noticing sarcasm helps us understand that God’s Word is not a dry and cold rulebook, but an engaging piece of divine literature. Third, sarcasm illustrates foolishness. Scripture sarcastically mocks those who are wise in their own eyes, harsh hypocrites, and false teachers.