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Remembering why the Bible is funny and why we shouldn’t ignore that

Bob Hartman

“You can tell the kids a fun story, as long as you tell them a Bible story first.”

Those were the instructions given to a babysitter by what I’m sure were well-meaning parents. She shared this with me during a storytelling workshop several years ago and all I could say was, “Why can’t the Bible story be the fun story?” Because of course, it can!

I have been retelling Bible stories for decades, and I have discovered exactly how outrageous they are. Yes, there are the obvious jokes: Camels and needles. Coins in fishes’ mouths. Ninety-year-old women chuckling at the possibility of their own pregnancy. One exasperated blind man trying to explain - again and again and again - what happened to him.

But because we have become accustomed to many of the outrageous and frankly quite ridiculous things that happen in the Bible, we miss the effect they have on ears that have not heard them.

A man swallowed by a fish? Ridiculous!

Someone surviving a sleepover in a lions’ den? Never!

Three friends climbing, un-singed, from a flaming hot furnace. Go on, pull the other one!

And, yes, even though “he stinketh” (a superb detail), a man walking out of his tomb wrapped in the grave cloths is less a 'Mummy' moment than an occasion for open-mouthed wonder and joy.


Didn’t Jesus die by being squished by a big rock?


In fact, that’s what happened when I once told the story of another man who walked out of a tomb to a group of year fives. “Didn’t Jesus die by being squished under a big rock?” Asked one of the boys. Once I’d explained to him exactly how Jesus did die, I suggested that he might have been thinking about what happened next. 

“Jesus was put in a tomb, a tomb much like a cave. And a big rock was rolled in front of it. Then, three days later, that rock was rolled away and Jesus came out of the tomb - alive!” I explained.

The boy’s mouth dropped open and his eyes grew big as saucers. And his response made it clear that he had never heard that story before. “Wow, really?!” He shouted, which is pretty much how any of us would react to the news that a recently buried friend was found purchasing a pasty from Greggs.

Familiarity with Bible stories may not breed contempt, but it does tend to breed a kind of complacency. A man rises from the dead. No biggie. But the wonder, and the outrageousness - the “Wow!” - is not lost on someone who has never heard those stories before. 

And that’s why we need to tell them with the “Wow”, and take the time to rediscover the humour before we tell them.


Tales from the Bible: the Unauthorised Version 


In celebration of the anniversary of the King James “authorised” Bible, I wrote Bumper Tales from the Bible: the Unauthorised Version! The idea was to tell familiar Bible stories from the viewpoint of biblical characters whose voices we hadn’t heard. And, in many cases, to explore the humour inherent in those stories. Finding that humour was simply a matter of asking questions of the text.

So, for example, I wondered what the soldiers who were sent marching around the walls of Jericho thought about their mission. And, in response, I created the character of a soldier who shuffles home, frustrated, every evening to his family. “Kill anyone today?” His wife asks. He shakes his head sadly, and with a sigh, explains how he and his mates have been treated to no end of abuse and ridicule by the residents of Jericho. And how they have hurled any number of different disgusting things at them, including out-of-date dairy products - which has left them quite literally cheesed off.

The story ends of course, with his discovery that Joshua had God’s plan in hand the whole time, and that his moaning was for nought. 

So, the story remains the same, but we have all had fun along the way.


Safety Officers and blowing winds 


My favourite story is the one narrated by the young man seconded to the Israelite Health and Safety Officer during David’s encounter with the giant. The Officer assures him that if he follows protocol, (safe storage of shields and spears, proper handling of baked goods brought from home) he will in the end get ahead - which of course he does when called upon to dispose of Goliath’s noggin!

You may recall the Aesop story about the competition between the wind and the sun. The aim is to get a man to take off his coat. So the wind blows and blows. But the more it blows, the tighter the man wraps the coat around himself. When the sun shines, the coat comes off. Of course it does. Finding the humour in Bible stories works the same way. It makes our retellings winsome and charming and fun, instead of cold and hard and dull. Because we are all more open to truth when the sun shines - when we are smiling instead of frowning.

So read those Bible stories. Read them with fresh eyes, alert to the outrageous, and in search of the humour. Then tell them with a twinkle in those eyes and let the sunshine as you do!



About the author: Bob Hartman has been a professional storyteller for 30 years. An ordained minister, he has written over 70 books, for both children and adults, many of them retellings of Bible stories and passages. He is also the author of YouVersion’s Bible App for Kids, which has been downloaded over 20 million times. His passion is to help people of every age find their way into the Bible, engage with it, and discover the God who inspired it.

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