Why are people called fools in Scripture even though Jesus told us not to call people fools?
Jesus proclaimed that “
whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:22). However, there are instances throughout Scripture where people are called fools. For example, David wrote, “
The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). Paul told the Galatians they were foolish (Galatians 3:1). Jesus even said the Pharisees and scribes were fools in Matthew 23:17.
So does the Lord’s claim in Matthew 5:22 contradict these other passages where people are actually called fools?
When studying Scripture, one of the first principles to keep in mind is the context. Therefore, let us consider the entire context of what Jesus said while considering this alleged contradiction.
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 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. (Matthew 5:21–22, ESV)
Jesus referred to the generally understood fact that murderers will be judged; however, He revealed the deeper issue by saying that not just murderers but anyone “
who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Furthermore, Christ continued by mentioning that those who insult their brother or call their brother a fool would be held liable for those words.
Jesus did not focus just on an individual’s actions such as murder but also on the heart and attitude behind those actions. A heart full of anger toward someone can lead to insults, name calling, and even murder. In other words, murder is not the only symptom of a corrupted heart, which is the main point Jesus made.
Does this mean that calling people foolish is always wrong? Jesus emphasized the fact that not just murderers will be judged by saying that those who call people fools will also be judged. He demonstrated that sin is an issue of the heart rather than just the actions.
If you were to study each biblical example where God calls someone a fool, you will find a righteous reason behind it. When Jesus called the Pharisees and scribes fools in Matthew 23:17, He explained that they were satisfying themselves instead of giving glory to God. They glorified the gold in the temple rather than the temple of God that housed the gold, which is foolish.
Also, keep in mind that Jesus is the Judge and the Lawgiver with perfect knowledge, so He is able to do what humanity cannot do (James 4:11–12). And in everything, we must make sure we are basing our actions and words on the principles of Scripture, and, if we are to judge others, we judge righteously from God’s Word (John 7:24).
Matthew 5:21–22 serves as a reminder for us to “
abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22), which includes issues of the heart and not just evil deeds. When we understand the words of Jesus in their full context, there is clearly no contradiction. When we take one statement out of context in an attempt to prove an unfounded idea, we fail to interpret God’s Word correctly.