The word fool is defined as a person who acts unwisely or imprudently. The Bible has an added significance to this word as someone who disregards God’s Word.
Several Scriptures that describe such a person, often contrasting him- or herself with one who is wise and/or righteous, can be found in Ecclesiastes 10:2-3. A fool’s heart continually goes towards foolishness (Proverbs 26:4-12). Fools do not learn their lesson from their mistakes and they continue on with them, doing the same foolish things over and over again, leading to their own destruction (Isaiah 32:6).
The book of Proverbs lists quite a few more characteristics of fools in contrast to the wise: They don’t care about understanding (Proverbs 18:2, 6-7); they hate knowledge (Proverbs 1:22); they love doing evil (Proverbs 10:23); they broadcast folly or stupidity (Proverbs 12:23); they speak perversity (Proverbs 19:1); they are quick-tempered (Proverbs 12:16); they are deceitful and mock sin (Proverbs 14:8-9); they reject discipline and bring grief to their parents (Proverbs 15:5, 20; 17:25; 19:13); and they give in to sexual immorality through lustful behavior (Proverbs 6:32; 7:7-23).
There certainly are many characteristics of a fool but the ultimate description of a fool is one who says in his or her heart that there is no God (compare Psalms 14:1-3). And the Bible warns us that we should not associate with these types of people (Proverbs 14:6-7; 13:20).
Fools have the opportunity to become wise when seeking wise counsel and also applying it in their lives (Proverbs 8:5-11; 21:11).
In Matthew 5:22, Jesus gives a warning to those who call someone a fool. The term Raca, when spoken from a heart of contempt, seems to imply utter worthlessness. It was a very strong expression. But Jesus wasn’t saying that we can’t call the choices of another foolish. We say in our Q&A on Matthew 5:21-22, stating from The Nelson Study Bible, which gives the following explanation:
“‘You have heard’ refers to the teaching of various rabbis rather than to that of Moses. Jesus was questioning the interpretation of the Jewish scholars, not the Old Testament itself. The scribes and Pharisees said that a person who referred to another as Raca, meaning empty head, was in danger of being sued for libel before the council (or the Sanhedrin). On the other hand, Jesus said that whoever calls another a fool will have to answer to God. That is not to say that calling someone a fool will condemn a believer to eternal punishment in hell. Rather Jesus was saying that to utter such words is to place oneself in a worse condition at the time of judgment (see 1 Cor. 3:12-15).”
We do not have the power or the right to condemn anyone to “hell” or the lake of fire. That position of judgment belongs only to God which is further revealed through Christ’s warning in Matthew 12:36-37, “But I say to you that for every idle (careless, thoughtless, useless) word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, in their Commentary on the Whole Bible, provide this further explanation:
“To understand why it is so serious to call a brother a ‘fool’–the meaning of which might include a ‘child of hell’ or an ‘effeminate,’ that is, a sexually abnormal person–is because it is the fate of those kinds of people to end up in the lake of fire, unless they repent (compare Revelation 21:8; 22:15). It is a serious matter to falsely call a brother or a sister in Christ a sexually immoral person or a ‘dog,’ i.e., a homosexual. This is not to say that we must blind our eyes to true facts. Paul was not afraid to point out that some, including in the church, were–or had been–sexually ‘abnormal’ (compare 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 5:9-13). However, Christ warned us not to make incorrect charges of immoral conduct against others, and especially our brethren, because of motivation of hate and malice.”
The Broadman Bible Commentary says this:
“Jesus traced sin back to disposition, attitude, or intention. The overt act of murder has its root in anger, hostility or contempt for another. Jesus cited anger…, insulting one’s brother… and calling another fool… as being crimes for which one is [or should be] brought before the court (local court of 23 persons), the Sanhedrin (highest ruling body of the Jews), or for which he is liable to Gehenna. No court seeks to convict a person on the grounds of feeling or attitude, but feelings of anger or contempt are as dangerous as are the outward crimes for which one is brought into the courts or considered liable to hell [i.e. Gehenna fire–that is, ultimate extinction]. Jesus’ words… are to be understood as radical protests and warnings against wrong feelings toward another… That Jesus had his own community in mind is reflected in the recurrence of ‘his brother,’ a term reserved in Matthew for a Christian brother. Anger and contempt are not only self-destructive but destroy the fellowship of the church.”
What does the Bible say about foolishness?
A fool uses his reasoning skills to make wrong decisions, and foolishness is a result of a person misusing the intelligence or even the understanding that God has given him. As we already explained earlier, denying God’s existence is the most basic type of foolishness.
Foolishness is associated with a quick temper (Proverbs 14:16-17); perverse speech; and disobedience to parents; and it is counterproductive (Proverbs 19:3). Foolishness can also contribute to the unsuccessful efforts of the household (Proverbs 14:1). The contrast is stated in Matthew 7:24-26, describing the well-grounded wise man building his house on the rock, as opposed to the unstable foolish man who built his house on the sand.
Jesus lists all the evil things that come out of the heart of men in Mark 7:20-23, which defiles a man. As we can see, foolishness is breaking God’s Law and can most certainly lead to it, which is sin, and sin is lawlessness.
God’s way is foolishness to the fool, especially to those who don’t have the understanding but may think that they do, yet they are fooled and give in to foolishness (compare 1 Corinthians 1:18-25). God’s Truth is considered foolishness to the vast majority of the world because they don’t understand what the true Gospel is all about, and it doesn’t make sense to them (3:18-23). For that reason, they put their foolish trust into worthless things like idolatry (compare Jeremiah 10:8, 14-15). They may also put their trust into their leaders of this world (compare Job 12:23-25; 17:4). Paul warns the Galatians at that time for acting foolishly but this also coincides accurately with what is happening today (compare Galatians 3:1-9).
What does it mean when Paul talks about the foolish things of the world in 1 Corinthians 1:27? To whom is he referring?
We read in verse 26 of 1 Corinthians 1: “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.” As Paul was speaking to the Church of God in Corinth, he implies that they should be glad that not many were wise according to the flesh or mighty or noble. Such things often keep people from the sense of need that leads to salvation. If more of them had been wise, mighty, or noble, it is likely that many of them would not have been saved. Why?
Verses 27-28 say: “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are.”
God is not looking for millionaires, famous entertainers and athletes, politicians, all those considered great in the eyes of men, to save and to do His Work. This is not to say that He couldn’t call rich and famous people because He most certainly can do that and has done so. This could certainly be a distraction and God knows that, just like the example of the rich ruler who “wanted to follow Christ” but his riches were more important to him. The very things that put the “wise of this world” ahead in the world may actually put them behind with God. They have everything they need and want, living the life. They think that they don’t need God to help them. But God looks at the heart and He calls certain people for His specific purpose. His design is not by accident. In human thinking, strength is strength, weakness is weakness, and intelligence is intelligence. But to God, some of the seemingly strongest things are the weakest, some of the weakest things are the strongest, and some of the wisest things are the most foolish.
A simple, uneducated, untalented, and “clumsy” believer who trusts and believes in Jesus Christ and God the Father, and who faithfully and humbly follows Him and keeps His laws is immeasurably wiser than the brilliant Ph.D. who scoffs at God’s Law, who knows nothing beyond his books, his own mind, and his own experience. He sees nothing beyond this life, and he cannot be considered anything but foolish.
Barnes’ Notes of the Bible Commentary states that “the foolish things are the things esteemed foolish among people. The expression here refers to those who were destitute of learning, rank, wealth, and power, and who were esteemed as fools, and were despised by the rich and the great.
“To bring to shame; or that he might make them ashamed; that is, humble them by showing them how little he regarded their wisdom; and how little their wisdom contributed to the success of his cause. By thus overlooking them, and bestowing his favors on the humble and the poor; by choosing his people from the ranks which they despised, and bestowing on them the exalted privilege of being called the sons of God, he had poured dishonor on the rich and the great, and overwhelmed them, and their schemes of wisdom, with shame. It is also true, that those who are regarded as fools by the wise men of the world are able often to confound those who boast of their wisdom; and that the arguments of plain people, though unlearned except in the school of Christ; of people of sound common sense under the influence of Christian principles, have a force which the learning and talent of the people of this world cannot resist. They have truth on their side; and truth, though dressed in a humble garb, is more mighty than error, though clothed with the brilliancy of imagination, the pomp of declamation, and the cunning of sophistry.
“And the weak things are those esteemed weak by the people of the world. The mighty are the great; the noble; the learned.”
It is more than just believing in Christ, as action is also required. We need to recognize that God has given us righteousness when we are willing to give up what the world has to offer (1 Peter 2:1-4). We are to have the mind of Christ as it says in 1 Corinthians 2:16.
We should be able to decipher between what is right and what is wrong, between righteousness and unrighteousness, between the Truth of God and the lies and deception that clouds this world we live in. If we rely on God and put our trust, faith and confidence in Him, then we can reject foolishness through the power of His Holy Spirit. Our thoughts can please God; our righteous decisions can glorify God; and our lives can be enriched, not just for ourselves but also the lives of those around us (compare Philippians 4:8-9).
When it comes to our eternal salvation, one is either a fool, meaning he rejects God’s Way of Life after knowing the Truth, or one is wise, meaning he continues to believe in Christ and God’s Law and commits his life to Him. Soon, all who have not yet been called will have the opportunity to discover that God’s Way of Life—what the world thought was foolishness—is, in reality, the wisdom of God offering them eternal salvation.
Lead Writer: Michael Link