April 16 – The Evil of Saying, “You Fool”

Whoever says, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into fiery hell.—Matt. 5:22c

No one wants to be called a fool, and on the other side of the coin, no one should fix that label on someone else. That’s especially true when we realize that the word in this verse translated “fool” is from the Greek word from which we get moron. The word also denotes one who is stupid or dull. Greek literature sometimes used it to refer to a godless or obstinate person. And it was perhaps parallel to a Hebrew word that means “to rebel against.”

Twice the psalmist tells us “the fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (Ps. 14:1; 53:1; cf. 10:4). The book of Proverbs contains many negative references and warnings to fools (1:7; 10:8, 10; 14:9). Jesus used a related but less severe term when He reprimanded the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25).

Because of these and other testimonies in God’s Word, we know people engage in foolish thoughts and actions. Therefore it is not wrong for us to warn or rebuke someone who is acting or speaking foolishly and clearly opposing God’s will. In fact, we are supposed to take this action! The Lord is warning us here, however, that it is sin to slanderously call someone a fool out of personal anger or hatred. Maliciously calling another a fool is again equivalent to murder and worthy of eternal punishment in hell if not repented of.

Most of our slanderous remarks are not made to others’ faces but rather behind their backs. What guiding principles can you set in place to guard yourself from being ugly and unkind to others, even when speaking about them in private conversation?[1]

The Evil and Danger of Condemning Character

and whoever shall say, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (5:22c)

Mōros (fool) means “stupid” or “dull” and is the term from which we get moron. It was sometimes used in secular Greek literature of an obstinate, godless person. It was also possibly related to the Hebrew mārâ which means “to rebel against.” To call someone You fool was to accuse them of being both stupid and godless.

The three illustrations in this verse show increasing degrees of seriousness. To be angry is the basic evil behind murder; to slander a person with a term such as Raca is even more serious, because it gives expression to that anger; and to condemn a person’s character by calling him a fool is more slanderous still.

The Psalms twice tell us that “the fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God”’ (Ps. 14:1; 53:1; cf. 10:4). The book of Proverbs is filled with references and warnings to fools. On the road to Emmaus Jesus used a similar, but less severe, term when He called the two disciples “foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25).

Because of the testimony of God’s Word, we know that fools of the worst sort do exist. And it is our obligation to warn those who are clearly in opposition to God’s will that they are living foolishly. We certainly are not wrong to show someone what Scripture says about a person who rejects God. Jesus’ prohibition is against slanderously calling a person a fool out of anger and hatred. Such an expression of malicious animosity is tantamount to murder and makes us guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

Geenna (hell) is derived from Hinnom, the name of a valley just southwest of Jerusalem used as the city dump. It was a forbidding place where trash was continually burned and where the fire, smoke, and stench never ceased. The location was originally desecrated by King Ahaz when “he burned incense in the valley of Ben-hinnom, and burned his sons in fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had driven out before the sons of Israel” (2 Chron. 28:3). That wicked king had used the valley to erect an altar to the pagan god Molech, an altar on which one’s own children sometimes were offered by being burned alive. It would later be called “the valley of Slaughter” (Jer. 19:6). As part of his godly reforms, King Josiah tore down all the altars there and turned the valley into the garbage incinerator it continued to be until New Testament times. The name of the valley therefore came to be a metonym for the place of eternal torment, and was so used by Jesus eleven times.

To call a person a fool is the same as cursing him and murdering him, and to be guilty of that sin is to be worthy of the eternal punishment of fiery hell.[2]

5:22 The first is the case of a person who is angry with his brother without a cause. One accused of this crime would be in danger of the judgment—that is, he could be taken to court. Most people can find what they think is a valid cause for their anger, but anger is justified only when God’s honor is at stake or when someone else is being wronged. It is never right when expressed in retaliation for personal wrongs.

Even more serious is the sin of insulting a brother. In Jesus’ day, people used the word Raca (an Aramaic term meaning “empty one”) as a word of contempt and abuse. Those who used this epithet were in danger of the council—that is, they were subject to trial before the Sanhedrin, the highest court in the land.

Finally, to call someone a fool is the third form of unrighteous anger that Jesus condemns. Here the word fool means more than just a dunce. It signifies a moral fool who ought to be dead and it expresses the wish that he were. Today it is common to hear a person cursing another with the words, “God damn you!” He is calling on God to consign the victim to hell. Jesus says that the one who utters such a curse is in danger of hell fire. The bodies of executed criminals were often thrown into a burning dump outside Jerusalem known as the Valley of Hinnom or Gehenna. This was a figure of the fires of hell which shall never be quenched.

There is no mistaking the severity of the Savior’s words. He teaches that anger contains the seeds of murder, that abusive language contains the spirit of murder, and that cursing language implies the very desire to murder. The progressive heightening of the crimes demand three degrees of punishment: the judgment, the council, and hell fire. In the kingdom, Jesus will deal with sins according to severity.[3]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 115). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 295–296). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1220). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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