Who's a Fool?

March 31, 2015

by Peter Amsterdam

April 1st is commonly known as April Fool’s Day in a variety of countries around the world.1 My outlook on April Fool’s Day and who was the real fool changed when I was quite young. One year, my older brother played an April Fool’s joke on our family that backfired. It just so happened that on that particular night our family dinner was steak with all of the trimmings, which was a rather special dinner in our household. After the plates were served and everyone started eating, my brother cried out “April Fool’s!” He had put sugar in the salt shaker, and everyone had therefore salted their steaks with sugar. I have to say no one thought it was funny—least of all my dad, who was pretty upset. I remember thinking, Hmmm, in this case I think my brother might have been the fool. I don’t remember playing April Fool’s pranks after that, as it seemed wiser to have someone play the prank on me rather than the other way around.

While the “fool” in April Fool’s isn’t a “fool” in any of the biblical senses, the coming of April Fool’s Day got me thinking about what Scripture says about fools.

The verse that generally comes to mind when I think about this is, The fool says in his heart, There is no God.2 Of course, there are many seekers who are searching for answers to the meaning of life and who don’t believe in or are unsure of the existence of God. These aren’t the people the Scripture is referring to as fools. Rather it is those who have rejected God and refuse to give Him any place in their lives.

The Hebrew word translated as fool in this verse is nabal (naw-BAWL), which is translated as foolish and senseless in the following verses:

They have dealt corruptly with him [God]; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation. Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people?3

Remember this, O LORD, how the enemy scoffs, and a foolish people reviles your name  Arise, O God, defend your cause; remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day!4

It’s also the word used by Job when he called his wife a foolish woman after she told him to curse God and die.5

So when nabal is used for someone who is foolish, it’s a strong word indicating someone who has rejected God.

But that isn’t the only kind of fool spoken of in the Bible. Other Hebrew words are also translated as fool or foolish which have slightly different meanings. One of them is pĕthiy (pethEE), which is translated as naïve, simple, and foolish. The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.6 Another word translated as fool/foolish is ’eviyl (ev-EEL), which has the definition of one who despises wisdom, who mocks when he is guilty, who is quarrelsome or licentious. The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.7 A further word translated as fool is kĕciyl (ka-seal), meaning a stupid fellow, dullard, simpleton. Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding.8

As believers, we aren’t fools in the sense of nabal, since we believe in God. However, nabal is used only in eighteen of the over three hundred references to fool, foolishness, and folly and their synonyms. It’s possible for us to be fools or foolish in the sense of the other words translated as fool. We can be naïve, simple, quarrelsome, licentious, or act stupidly.

The book of Proverbs portrays foolishness and folly as the opposite of wisdom, and the fool as the opposite of a wise person. Being aware of what Scripture tells us about the wise and foolish enables us to test our actions and attitudes to judge whether we are acting wisely or foolishly.

Here is a selection of verses from the book of Proverbs which contrast the wise and foolish. I find it helpful to hold up my actions and attitudes against these and other verses and to ask myself how I may be acting wisely or as a fool. I’ve used the New Living Translation Bible version here, as it renders these proverbs in contemporary language.

Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.9

A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted.10

The wise are glad to be instructed, but babbling fools fall flat on their faces.11

Wise people treasure knowledge, but the babbling of a fool invites disaster.12

Wise people think before they act; fools dontand even brag about their foolishness.13

Doing wrong is fun for a fool, but living wisely brings pleasure to the sensible.14

The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence.15

Avoiding a fight is a mark of honor; only fools insist on quarreling.16

A fools proud talk becomes a rod that beats him, but the words of the wise keep them safe.17

Sensible people keep their eyes glued on wisdom, but a fools eyes wander to the ends of the earth.18

Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions.19

Better to be poor and honest than to be dishonest and a fool.20

Dont waste your breath on fools, for they will despise the wisest advice.21

Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.22

As Christians, we want to live in accordance with the teaching of Scripture, as those who are wise and not foolish. We want to be salt and light in this world; we want to reflect God’s wisdom and love. To do this, we each should, as the apostle Paul said:

Be very careful, then, how you livenot as unwise but as wise.23

1 April Fool’s Day is a time when people play practical jokes on others. The person upon whom the joke is played is called the April Fool.

2 Psalm 14:1 ESV.

3 Deuteronomy 32:5–6.

4 Psalm 74:18,22 ESV.

5 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job 2:9–10.

6 Proverbs 22:3.

7 Proverbs 10:8.

8 Proverbs 10:23.

9 Proverbs 12:15.

10 Proverbs 12:16.

11 Proverbs 10:8.

12 Proverbs 10:14.

13 Proverbs 13:16.

14 Proverbs 10:23.

15 Proverbs 14:16.

16 Proverbs 20:3.

17 Proverbs 14:3.

18 Proverbs 17:24.

19 Proverbs 18:2.

20 Proverbs 19:1.

21 Proverbs 23:9.

22 Proverbs 29:11.

23 Ephesians 5:15 NIV.