Irony, Sarcasm, Satire, and Hyperbole
Though “irony,” “sarcasm,” “satire,” and “hyperbole” are all ways of saying one thing and meaning another, they go about it in different ways.
Irony is the discrepancy between what is said and what is meant, what is said and what is done, what is expected or intended and what happens, what is meant or said and what others understand, or two or more incongruous objects, actions, persons juxtaposed. Irony is often confused with sarcasm and satire.
– Someone saying, “It’s such lovely weather outside!” when it’s actually raining heavily.
Sarcasm is the use of irony with the added intention to mock, ridicule or express contempt. Sarcasm is praise which is really an insult; sarcasm generally involves malice, the desire to put someone down.
– Someone saying, “Your intelligence astounds me!” when they actually mean the exact opposite, i.e. that the person is stupid.
– “This is my brilliant son, who failed out of college.”
Satire is the use of irony with the added intention to expose vices or follies of an individual, a group, an institution, an idea, a society, etc., usually with a view to correcting it. “Satire is parody with a point.” Steven Colbert
– “Overpopulation could easily be solved by serving poor children as veal.”
Hyperbole is exaggerated statements of claims not intended to be taken literally.
– “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!”
Biblical Examples of Humor [not all examples justify our use of said rhetoric device, especially sarcasm]
– Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? Numbers 16:13
– Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Exodus 14:11
– Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? 1 Samuel 21:15-16
– “Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” Judges 10:14
– And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 1 Kings 18:27
– Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. Psalm 115:4-8
– “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Job 38:4. The whole of God’s response to Job in Job 38-41 is a sarcastic mockery of Job’s complaints and demands.
– Go up to Gilead, and take balm, O virgin daughter of Egypt! In vain you have used many medicines; there is no healing for you. Jeremiah 46:11
– And the Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.” Numbers 11:23
– Ecclesiastes 5:10-20. Satire in proverbial literature. These proverbs deal with the futility of trying to find satisfaction in money.
– Jonah is satire in narrative form. While most of the satire in the Bible is serious, the Book of Jonah is a masterpiece of humor in the Bible—the story of a pouting prophet whose career is a veritable handbook on how not to be a prophet. Jonah embodies the nationalistic, ethnocentric zeal that views God as the exclusive property of the Jews.
– Amos is an example of satire in prophetic literature. As a plainspoken satirist, the prophet Amos spews out a kaleidoscopic collection of literary forms and objects of attack. What unifies the book is its satire: From start to finish, Amos either attacks vice or appeals to a standard of virtue from which the wealthy and privileged classes of his society have departed.
– Luke 10:25-37. The parable of the Good Samaritan embodies satire in parable form. The object of attack is self-centeredness, indifference, and lack of compassion toward people in need. The Good Samaritan’s acts of mercy embody the satiric norm of love and compassion.
– Zechariah 5. It’s a fantastic vision of a flying scroll, a woman named Wickedness, and two flying women with stork-like wings. The objects of attack are people who steal and lie.
– 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! 1 Corinthians 4:8
– “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.” Matthew 7:5
– “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:25
– “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26
“There are many different types of humor. These include: puns, wordplays, riddles, jokes, satires, lampoons, sarcasm, irony, wit, black humor, comedy, slapstick, farce, burlesques, caricatures, parody, and travesty. The differences among these different humor types is not always great. In particular, burlesque, caricature, parody, and travesty are very much alike and refer to literary or dramatic works that mimic serious works in order to achieve a humorous or satiric effect. Likewise, the difference between satire and lampoon is not that great. The bottom line is that humor has the ability to make people laugh, smile, or chuckle, at least inwardly. Perhaps it does the same for God. For a greater list of detailed examples of humor in the Bible, skim the following…”
– Hershey H. Friedman, Humor in the Hebrew Bible
– GotQuestions, What Does the Bible Say About Sarcasm and/or Satire?
– Jon Acuff, Three Rules of Christian Satire
– Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ
– Michael Svigel, Coffee As a Means of Grace
– Michael Svigel, Toward an Evangelical Theology of Cussing
– Michael Svigel, The Gospel of Keith
– Michael Svigel, The Gospel of Keith (2nd ed.)
– Richard Beck, The Theology of Peanuts
– Richard Beck, The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes