How do you explain that Jesus called people “fools”? Wouldn?t he be
subject to hell fire according to his own words? What does this mean to
us? Who can we call fools? Who not? (The explanation, that Jesus was
filled with Gods Spirit and knew what?s necessary doesn?t seam to be

Matthew 5:22 But I say unto you, That whoever 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, “You fool,” shall be in danger of hell fire.

Matthew 23:17 Youfools and blind: for which is greater, the gold, or the
temple that sanctifies the gold?

Matthew 23:19 You fools and blind: for which is greater, the gift, or the
altar that sanctifies the gift?

That is an excellent question. To be honest, I had never
thought about it in that way. I believe the way to understand such a
question is to look at the passages in their context. I believe the word
fool is being used in a very different context in the passages you refer
to. In Matthew 5:22, Jesus condemns as sinful saying to someone “you
fool.” In the context, he is talking about murder. He is talking about
angrily lashing out at someone and cursing them. Jesus, obviously, would
not use a curse word, so he used what was, for him, a fairly strong term
of derision, if used in anger toward someone. Let me make it practical.
It is not sinful to show to someone in a calm and rational way, just
between the two of you, that their actions are foolish. It is sinful to,
in the throes of anger, lash out at someone and call them a fool. That is
like pouring gasoline on a fire in the midst of an emotional conflict.

In Matthew 23, Jesus is definitely using some strong words.
He is labeling some of the hypocritical behavior of the Pharisees as very
foolish. I would say that there is at least a hint of righteous anger in
his pronouncements. However, I would point out that he is not calling out
any one single individual and calling him a fool?insulting him in front of
his friends. If he had done so, I believe he would have crossed the
line. I believe it is wrong for me to call someone out in a public
setting and ridicule that individual publicly with strong condemnatory
language, even if such a statement, if made in a calmer, private setting
would be more or less accurate.

Let me add one comment on Jesus’ behavior. I believe Jesus
was in a much better position to make strong public statements about sin
than we are. He was tempted in every way, yet was without sin. Through
his amazingly loving and calm response to every conceivable form of
derision and criticism, he earned the right to speak to people more
directly than most of us. Isaiah 42:3 describes the Messiah’s behavior
with the phrase, “A bruised reed he did not break.” What was wise
behavior on the part of Jesus in Matthew 23 might be foolish behavior if
one of us did the same thing. We should admire and appreciate Jesus’
boldness, but I would not suggest exactly copying some aspects of his
style of condemning the Pharisees, as most of us have not earned the right
to speak so strongly. When Jesus said in John 8, “let he who is without
sin throw the first stone,” he was the only person present with the right
to throw a stone, based on that criterion. We would do well to admire and
even imitate Jesus’ boldness, but given our own sin, we should be careful
how we speak about the sins of others, especially in a public setting.

The word fool (admittedly, a Hebrew rather than a Greek word
for fool) is found 46 times in the book of Proverbs. There are many kinds
of actions an individual might take which would be foolish behavior
according to God. It is not wrong for a follower of Jesus to pull aside a
brother or sister, or even an non-believer whom they love and are trying
to help, and point out that their behavior is unwise (a gentle way of
saying foolish). However, even Solomon does not call his enemy Mr. X a
fool. Public statements about what is foolish behavior is fine, but
calling out an individual in a crowd and calling that person a fool is not
advised or demonstrated by either Jesus or the writer of Proverbs.

I hope that helps. One thing I have not done here is go into
the Greek or Hebrew language to bring out the subtleties of the word
translated as fool. I will leave that assignment to you. (to be honest,
this is partly because I do not have my analytical concordance with me as
I answer the question, but it still might be a good exercise for you.).

John Oakes

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