by Jerry Richardson
Were you taught by your parents, as I was, never to call anyone a fool? What is the basis for that training? Without doubt it is the following statement by Jesus as found in the Bible (quoted here in three versions):
"But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”
– Matthew 5:22 [NASB]
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
– Matthew 5:22 [KJV]
But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice (enmity of heart) against him shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court; and whoever speaks contemptuously and insultingly to his brother shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, You cursed fool! [You empty-headed idiot!] shall be liable to and unable to escape the hell (Gehenna) of fire.
– Matthew 5:22 [AMP]
Notice the nuances in interpretation brought out by the three translations above. The New American Standard Bible [NASB] does not use the King James Version's [KJV] phrase, “... angry with his brother without a cause...” because the two versions, NASB and KJV are based upon slightly different Greek texts. Also, notice that the Amplified Bible [AMP] includes the phrase “...continues to be angry with his brother or habors malice (enmity of heart) against him...”. Continual anger and Malice are wrong (sinful). However, Anger, according to the Bible, is not per se right or wrong. Anger is a human emotion and its rightness or wrongness depends upon the context, the motives behind the anger, and the mode of expression.
Would it be wrong (sinful, not mistaken or ill-advised) for a Christian to entitle an article, Ship of Fools: Obama's Intimates and Advisors?
– Reference (1) at bottom.
Now without pausing to discuss that it may be, sometimes, wrong to refer to someone as a fool, the question is, is it always wrong? I would like to point out that the actual contextual use of fool in the above verse is often overlooked. Here is the verse in the larger context spoken by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount:
"You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.” – Matthew 5: 21-26 [NASB]
This is a much deeper and more important passage than is sometimes supposed. Jesus is here correcting what was apparently taken, by his contemporaries, as a spiritual principle. That is, the sin inherent in murder was only, or was primarily, the physical act. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus used a verbal form that he often used to correct error: “You have heard...”, “But I say...”.
The incorrect principle, “You have heard...”, was to assume that it was only the physical act of murder that was sinful. Not so. Jesus was saying, “But I say...”, that the sin of malicious hatred is as sinful (for the individual sinner) as the physical act of murder; in this regard He indicts a specific misuse of anger, an outward expression of the malice of hatred. Hatred, in whatever of its many possible manifestations is consistently condemned by the Bible. But just in case you've missed it, the Bible does not comdemn all anger:
“BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.”
– Ephesians 4:26-27 [NASB]
[Here is an unmistakable example of righteous anger demonstated by Jesus.]
“And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, "Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a place of business." His disciples remembered that it was written, "ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME." – John 2: 14-17 [NASB]
So what does the use of the word fool in Matthew 5:22 have to do with anger? Let's see.
First, let's get a modern English definition of the word fool. From the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary we find: Main Entry: fool (noun): “a person lacking in judgment or prudence.”
– Reference (2) at bottom.
Second, let's get a Biblical definition of the word fool. The transliteration for the Greek word, μωρός, translated fool in Matthew 5:22 is mōros, from which we get our English word moron. The definition of mōros from Strong's Greek Lexicon is: “...dull or stupid (as if shut up), i.e. heedless, (morally) blockhead...”
– Reference (2) at bottom.
If you examine the two definitions closely, it becomes apparent that they are quite different. Our English word fool reflects a lack of judgment and does not necessarily connote lack of intelligence or lack of moral character. But, the Biblical word fool, used in Matthew 5:22, reflects lack of intelligence (stupidity), someone who will not be reasoned with (heedlessness), and someone who lacks moral discernment (desire and ability to distinguish between right and wrong).
Here then is how the use of the word fool works. If you call someone a fool in the modern English sense of the word, you have simply said that they lack good judgment (The capacity to assess situations or circumstances shrewdly and to draw sound conclusions.) In other words, they have a judgment problem. Could be for any number of reasons, including simply a lack of experience.
However, if you call someone a fool using the word in the Matthew 5:22 sense, you have said that they are stupid, moronic, won't heed sound advice, and that they are a blockhead (solid and impenetrable to reason) in terms of moral discernment. In other words they have an intellectual problem, a learning problem, and a moral problem. But there is more.
There is more needed to make the act the sinful act that is described by Jesus in Matthew 5:22. This more is critical to understanding Matthew 5:22; The sinful act that Jesus described involves a murderous anger, a maliciousness that displays a will and a desire to destroy someone else using lawful, humanly-unpunishable means (in other words murder is absent, but not the will to destroy).
In Matthew 5:22, a person using the term fool is using it with murderous anger; and is using the term to destroy another person's notion of their own intelligence and of their own moral character, or to destroy someone else's reputation (their good name).
The act Jesus described is the attempted spiritual destruction of another person. In Jesus' view, physical murder, relative to the person committing the act, was not any more serious.
Attempted spiritual destruction is the ultimate put-down, and the ultimate in hatefulness, even if physical murder is not involved. This meaning of calling someone a fool is not even close to the modern meaning of the use of the word which describes someone who lacks sound judgment. We should be careful not to back-read modern meanings into Biblical words, and into their contextual use. To correctly understand the Bible, we must understand what words meant at the time, and in the context in which they were used (historical, contextual hermeneutics).
So what does the use of the word fool in Matthew 5:22 have to do with anger? The use of the word fool indicated sinful, malicious anger when it was used as a word to assault someone's character.
Jesus himself used the word fools (same Greek word), not in the Matthew 5:22 sense, to describe especially advanced cases of spiritual blindness. In the verses below, Jesus is pointing out to the Scribes and Pharisees their hypocrisy in their effort to justify breaking an oath:
"Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated. 'You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, 'Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.' "You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? – Matthew 23:16-19 [NASB]
Jesus is here using the word fools in a legitmate descriptive manner. He is describing a blind, hypocritical act of self-justification for breaking an oath. He is describing a legalistic spin that was used to justify not keeping a promise. There can be huge, often overlooked differences in the use of the same word: motive and context.
The words that Jesus used, in Matthew 5:22, to illustrate the outward expression of an inward, murderous, malicious anger, raca (empty one, worthless) and fool [both words found in the KJV], were no doubt commonly used in Jesus' day as the most vicious, verbal attacks that could be lawfully mounted by one Jewish person against another.
Let me provide you with a modern equivalent to the Biblical word fool as used in Matthew 5:22.
The word racist is no longer being used only in the proper sense of a person with a prejudiced belief that one race is superior to others; and the belief that the superior should be rewarded, and the non-superior penalized, simply on the basis of race. When it is used in this sense, it is a perfectly proper word.
Racism in the proper sense is an ugly, un-Christian concept. It is correctly illustrated in pre-Civil-War Slavery in the United States, and in all other places that slavery has existed and continues to exist:
“Modern-day slaves can be found laboring as servants or concubines in Sudan, as child "carpet slaves" in India, or as cane-cutters in Haiti and southern Pakistan, to name but a few instances. According to Anti-Slavery International, the world's oldest human rights organization, there are currently over 20 million people in bondage.”
– Reference (4) at bottom.
Racism is correctly illustrated by Nazism in pre-WWII Germany under Hitler; and in modern Muslim countries by their treatment of dhimmis (non-Muslim subjects of a state governed in accordance with sharia-law). Racism is sinful and hateful and ugly in whatever form it is found.
However, the words racist and racism are, for the most part, no longer being used correctly in America. What has happened?
A perfectly useful word, racist has been perverted, by self-serving race-hustlers such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, into a label for a person who disagrees with the actions or the words of non-white liberals.
But to qualify for the label racist, according to the liberal metanarrative (an abstract, comprehensive explanation), you must be a white person, and generally you need to be conservative. According to the liberal metanarrative (much used by race-hustlers), people of color cannot be racist because they are victims of racism. This, of course, explains why the race-hustlers do not call staunch, black conservatives, such as Thomas Sowell, racists.
Men like Thomas Sowell are often called Uncle Tom or some other derogatory term which accuses them of selling out their race. Thomas Sowell is currently a senior fellow of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University; he is a brilliant economist and columnist who cogently and vehemently disagrees with liberalism. He is an open and forthright critic of Barack Obama:
“Congressman Joe Wilson got into more trouble for telling the truth than President Barack Obama got into by telling a demonstrable lie about adding millions of people to the insurance rolls without adding a dime to the deficit. As regards providing medical insurance for illegal immigrants, I doubt that the president will do that. More likely, he will legalize them first and then give them medical insurance.”
– Thomas Sowell, – Reference (5) at bottom.
“While talking about bringing us together and deploring “divisive” actions, Senator Obama has for 20 years been a member of a church whose minister, Jeremiah Wright, has said that “God Bless America” should be replaced by “God damn America” — among many other wild and even obscene denunciations of American society, including blanket racist attacks on whites.
Equality means that a black demagogue who has been exposed as a phony deserves exactly the same treatment as a white demagogue who has been exposed as a phony.
We don’t need a president of the United States who got to the White House by talking one way, voting a very different way in the Senate, and who for 20 years followed a man whose words and deeds contradict Obama’s carefully crafted election-year image.”
– Thomas Sowell, – Reference (6) at bottom.
Amazing! In modern America, political disagreement from some people is now being characterized as racist; the word racist is being used to maliciously assassinate people's character and reputation if they disagree with an approved (by race-hustlers) agenda. If you have been tracking the current on-going assault against Rush Limbaugh, you have witnessed a demonstration of what I am describing.
The word racist has morphed into a malicious hate-word that is being used for the same purpose that the word fool was used for in the days of Jesus: As a method of angry, hateful, personal assault on someone's character. Matthew 5:22 is not about criticism or disagreement; Matthew 5:22 is about the politics of personal destruction, the sin of attempted character assassination.
What is our conclusion. Any words or actions that are an expression or an extension of hatred are sinful. However, we must remain aware that there will always be people with self-serving agendas who will try to redefine words in order to play one of the oldest con-games in the world: The gotcha-game of the guilt trip. This game is currently being used in an attempt to exclude certain people and their agendas from honest and deserved criticism. The words racist and racism have been redefined to suppress honest criticism. Don't let the game work.
(1) Ship of Fools: Obama's Intimates and Advisors
(2) Definition of Fool from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
(3) Biblical definition of Fool from Strong's Greek Lexicon
(4) Modern Slavery
(5) Random Thoughts
(6) Double Life of Barack Obama