Jesus once warned: “Whosoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be in danger of the hell of fire” (Mt. 5:22). And yet elsewhere, the Lord, in addressing the scribes and Pharisees, declared: “You fools …” (23:17). While the superficial student might see a conflict here, actually, there is none; the respective passages are addressing different matters.
In the earlier context, Christ is condemning the impulsive, insulting use of hateful epithets for the purpose of venting one’s personal hostility. “Fool” (Greek – more) may be designed to reflect upon the character of an adversary, in the sense of: “You scoundrel!” (Bruce, 107).
On the other hand, the word “fool” (or a kindred term, e.g., “foolish”) may be employed calmly and objectively to describe someone who is acting in a senseless, stupid fashion. To certain misguided Christians, who were being seduced away from Christ towards the Mosaic regime, Paul could say: “O foolish Galatians…” (Gal. 3:1). J.B. Phillips rendered the phrase: “O you dear idiots of Galatia” (393).
It makes for a fascinating study to explore the sort of person who is denominated as a “fool” in Scripture. Let us consider but one example —that of the atheist.
A thousand years before the birth of Jesus, the poet-king of Israel wrote: “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God” (Psa. 14:1). The Hebrew term for “fool” is nabal, which signifies a “senseless” person. Especially is the word used of one who has “no perception of ethical and religious claims” (Brown, et al., 614).
In the Greek version of the Old Testament, the word rendered “fool” is aphron, literally, “mindless.” It represents “the lack of common sense perception of the reality of things natural and spiritual” (Vos, 44). In the passage just cited, the “fool” denies the existence of God (cf. 53:2); elsewhere in the same book the term describes one who insults his or her Creator continually (74:22). The prophet Isaiah employed the word of the individual who stands in contrast to a noble-minded person (32:5). Why is the one who affirms —“There is no God!” —a fool? There are many factors.
In defiance of one of the most elementary principles of logic, the atheist suggests that “something” (e.g., the Universe) came from “nothing;” that zero plus zero equals something greater than zero.
Victor Stenger, an atheistic professor at the University of Hawaii, admits that “everyday experience and common sense” supports the concept that something cannot come from nothing. Nevertheless, he suggests that “common sense is often wrong, and our normal experiences are but a tiny fraction of reality” (26-27). If you want to be an atheist, you must put your “common sense” on the shelf!
Atheists contend that the entire Universe, estimated to be 20 billion light years across (the distance light could travel in 20 billion years at the rate of 186,000 miles per second) accidentally derived from a submicroscopic particle of matter. As one writer expresses it: “Astonishingly, scientists now calculate that everything in this vast universe grew out of a region many billions of times smaller than a single proton, one of the atom’s basic particles” (Gore, 705). This is totally nonsensical.
Atheism contends that the marvelously ordered Universe, designated as “Cosmos” by the Greeks because of its intricate design, is merely the result of an ancient explosion (the Big Bang). Does a contractor pile lumber, brick, wire, pipe, etc., on a building site, blast it with dynamite, and expect a fine dwelling to result? Is that the way atheists build their houses? To so argue is to reveal a truly “senseless heart” (cf. Rom. 1:21).
In spite of millions of examples in nature, which suggest that biological life can only derive from a living source, atheists believe that billions of years ago, life was accidentally generated from inorganic materials. Common sense and experimentation argue otherwise, but skeptics are willing to abandon logic and opt for the myth of “spontaneous generation,” because the only other alternative is “special creation.” To atheists that simply is not a possibility. Why? Because the fool, for emotional reasons, has already decided: “There is no God.”
Atheists believe that blind, unintelligent forces of nature, via genetic mutations and the process of natural selection, produced the myriads of delightful creatures that inhabit Earth’s environment. The skeptic can see that a simple pair of pliers, with only four components, must have been designed by an intelligent being, yet he argues that the human body, with its 100 trillion constituent elements (cells), organized into ten magnificent systems, is merely the result of a marriage between Mother Nature and Father Time. How very stupid such ideology is!
Atheists believe that from a tiny speck of inorganic, self-created matter, human consciousness and moral sensitivity evolved. That is utterly ludicrous; can a rock decide to “think”? Can a proton “feel” guilt? The notion that morality has developed merely as a survival factor (cf. Hayes, 174), is asinine in the extreme. Plants have survived; do they possess a moral code? And what if one decides that he doesn’t care about the “survival” principle? Can he do any “wrong”?
When men refuse to have God in their knowledge, he gives them up to a “reprobate mind,” i.e., one which does not “pass the test” (Rom. 1:28). They are not “intellectuals,” as they fantasize; they are fools.
As G.K. Chesterton once said: “When men cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing; they believe in anything!”
Brown, Francis; Driver, S.R.; Briggs, Charles (1907), Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament (London: Oxford University Press).
Bruce, A.B. (1956), “Matthew,” The Expositor’s Greek Testament, W. Robertson Nicoll, Ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), Vol. I.
Gore, Rick (1983), “The Once And Future Universe,” National Geographic, June.
Hayes, Judith (1996), In God We Trust: But Which One? (Madison, WI: Freedom From Religion Foundation).
Phillips, J.B. (1972), The New Testament in Modern English (New York: Macmillan).
Stenger, Victor J. (1987), “Was the Universe Created?” Free Inquiry, Summer, Vol. 7, No. 3.
Vos, Geerhardus (1899), Dictionary of the Bible, James Hastings, Ed. (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark), Vol. II.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife and life-long partner, Betty.