Matthew 5:22 and Jesus and Paul's use of "fool"

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Jake

Puritan Board Senior
How are we to understand this verse: "Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." (Matthew 5:22), seeing that both Jesus (e.g., Mt 23:17, 19; Lk 11:40; Lk. 24:25) and Paul (e.g., I Cor 15:36; Gal 3:1) called men fools, including specifically?

Are we to understand that the use of this word is not absolutely sinful (hence "in danger of hell fire"), but that it can be sinful if used wrongly by sinful men?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Is "fool" a true description of a man, based on biblical criteria; or is the epithet an abusive ad hominem attack?

Mt.5:22 has more than one clause, and is part of a whole paragraph dealing with the 6th Commandment.

Mat 5:21-22 "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother [without a cause, KJV] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.​

The context teaches that Jesus is offering yet another correction to the legalistic, letter-of-the-law parsing of the scribes who tended to ignore the intent of the law, thereby coming up with "obedience" that was self-justifying. Indeed, it often had the character of permission.

The scribes taught that to keep the 6C, one had only refrain from murder. Jesus upped the spiritual ante, by condemning sinful anger as the seed of murder, making that "liable to" the same bar of justice (human or divine) that the killer had to defend himself at. He then takes it two steps more, making the use of insults/belittlings answerable to the council (i.e. the Supreme Court); and making the thoughtless use of even a Biblical term ("I can use that, right? It's in the Bible") subject to the Ultimate Condemnation.

Jesus strips away all the putative loopholes, and raises the holy bar of righteousness to a pitch that no one (no one capable of sober self-assessment) believes he can meet. Only this kind of righteousness can find a home in the Kingdom of God. That is to say: only those who acknowledge they cannot possibly have an entrance into the blessedness of the Messiah's kingdom if measured on their own merits, but who humbly beg for that entrance because life cannot go on outside it, who ask for the King to receive them for his own sake--only they have any hope of finding that perfect peace and rest.

To name someone "a fool" is a judgment. "With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged," Mt.7:2. If you are content to be judged by the Word, then use the Word to pronounce your judgments. And beware the consequences.
 

brendanchatt

Puritan Board Freshman
Remember that Job also told his wife that she was like one of the foolish women when she told him to curse God, and he did not sin in what he said.
 
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brendanchatt

Puritan Board Freshman
Maybe it is simply like other types of discernment: if it is wrong or ill-intended, then it is evil.

For the sake of argument, one might say Jesus and Paul spoke as prophets of God who can judge. But I would argue that we should judge righteous judgment and make purposeful use of it with respect to our place and calling, typically as superiors or equals.

When Paul denounced the man he after found out the be the high priest, he repented only forasmuch that the man was the high priest, who should be not cursed according to the law.
 
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