Fool; Folly

fool nabhal, 'ewil, kecil, cakhal and forms; aphron, aphrosune, moros):

I. In the Old Testament.

1. General:

Taking the words generally, apart from the Wisdom literature, we find nabhal frequently translated "fool" and nebhalah, "folly"; nabhal, however, denotes a wicked person, an evil character, "shamelessly immoral," equivalent to "a son of Belial" (Cheyne), rather than a merely "foolish" person, and nebhalah, "wickedness," "shameless impropriety," rather than simple folly. We have almost a definition of nabhal in Isa 32:6: "For the fool will speak folly, and his heart will work iniquity, to practice profaneness, and to utter error against Yahweh, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and to cause the drink of the thirsty to fail." Abigail described her husband, Nabhal, as "a son of Belial" (the Revised Version (British and American) "worthless fellow"), "for as his name is, so is he" (1Sa 25:25), and what we read of him bears out this character. Other occurrences of the words support the above meaning; they are generally associated with some form of wickedness, frequently with base and unnatural lewdness (Ge 34:7; De 22:21; Jos 7:15; Jg 19:23,14; 20:6,10; 2Sa 13:12). When in Ps 14:1; 53:1 it is said, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God," it is followed by the statement, "They are corrupt, they have done abominable works," showing that more than "folly" is implied. In Isa 32:5-6 the King James Version nabhal is translated "vile person" and nebhalah "villany," the Revised Version (British and American) "fool" and "folly," Jer 29:23; halal, implying loud boasting is in the King James Version translated "foolish," but it means, rather, "arrogant," which the Revised Version (British and American) adopts (Ps 5:5; 73:3; 75:4, margin "fools"); cakhal, "a fool," also occurs (Ge 31:28; 1Sa 13:13, etc.) for which word see (4) below; also ya'al "to be empty," "to be or become foolish" (Nu 12:11; Isa 19:13; Jer 5:4; 50:36).

2. The Wisdom Literature:

In the Chokhmah or Wisdom literature, which, within the Bible, is contained in Job, Proverbs (especially), Ecclesiastes, Canticles, some Psalms and certain portions of the prophetic writings, "fool" and "folly" are frequent and distinctive words. Their significance is best seen in contrast with "Wisdom." This was the outcome of careful observation and long pondering on actual life in the light of religion and the Divine revelation. Wisdom had its seat in God and was imparted to those who "feared" Him ("The fear of Yahweh is the beginning (chief part) of knowledge" Pr 1:7). Such wisdom was the essence of life, and to be without it was to walk in the way of death and destruction. The fool was he who was thoughtless, careless, conceited, self-sufficient, indifferent to God and His Will, or who might even oppose and scoff at religion and wise instruction. See WISDOM. Various words are used to designate "the fool" and his "folly."

(1) nabhal (Job 2:10; 30:8; Ps 53:1; Pr 17:7-21); nebhalah (Job 42:8; Isa 9:17) (see above).

(2) 'ewil, one of the commonest, the idea conveyed by which is that of one who is hasty, impatient, self-sufficient (Pr 12:15; 15:5; 16:22); despising advice and instruction (Pr 1:7; 14:9; 24:7); ready to speak and act without thinking (Pr 10:14; 12:16; 20:3); quick to get angry, quarrel and cause strife (Pr 11:29; 14:17 'iwweleth; Pr 29:9); unrestrained in his anger (Job 5:2; Pr 17:12); silly, stupid even with brute stupidity (Pr 7:22; 26:11; 27:22; compare Isa 19:11; Jer 4:22); he is associated with "transgression" (Ps 107:17; Pr 13:15; 17:18-19), with "sin" (Pr 24:9), with the "scoffer" (same place) ; 'iwweleth, "foolishness" occurs (Ps 38:5; 69:5; Pr 13:16; "folly," Pr 14:8,24,29, etc.).

(3) kecil is the word most frequent in Proverbs. It is probably from a root meaning "thickness," "sluggishness," suggesting a slow, self-confident person, but it is used with a wide reference. Self-confidence appears (Pr 14:16; 28:26); ignorance (Ec 2:14); hate of instruction (Pr 1:22; 18:2); thoughtlessness (Pr 10:23; 17:24); self-exposure (Pr 14:33; 15:2; 18:7; 29:11; Ec 5:1; 10:12); anger and contention (Pr 18:6; 19:1; Ec 7:9); rage (Pr 14:16; 17:12); indolence and improvidence (Ec 4:5; Pr 21:20); silly merriment (Ec 7:4-5,6); brutishness (Pr 26:11; compare Ps 49:10; 92:6); it is associated with slander (Pr 10:18), with evil (Pr 13:19).

(4) cakhal, cekhel, cikhluth, also occur. These are probably from a root meaning "to be stopped up" (Cheyne), and are generally taken as denoting thickheadedness; but they are used in a stronger sense than mere foolishness (compare 1Sa 26:21; 2Sa 24:10, etc.). These words do not occur in Prov, but in Ec 2:12; 7:25; cikhluth is associated with "madness" ("Wickedness is folly, and .... foolishness is madness").

(5) pethi, "simple," is only once translated "foolish" (Pr 9:6 the King James Version).

(6) ba`ar, 'brutish," is translated "foolish" (Ps 73:22 the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American) "brutish").

(7) taphel, "insipid," "untempered," is translated "foolish" (La 2:14); tiphlah, "insipidity" (Job 1:22, "foolishly," the English Revised Version, "with foolishness"; Job 24:12, "folly"; Jer 23:13, "folly," the King James Version margin"unsavoury, or, an absurd thing").

(8) toholah (Job 4:18: "Behold, he putteth no trust in his servants; and his angels he chargeth with folly" (Delitzsch, "imperfection," others, "error"), the King James Version margin"nor in his angels in whom he put light").

II. In the Apocrypha.

In the continuation of the Wisdom literature in The Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclus, "fool" frequently occurs with a signification similar to that in Proverbs; in The Wisdom of Solomon we have aphron (12:24; 15:5, etc.), in Ecclesiasticus, moros (18:18; 19:11, etc.; 20:13; 21:16, etc.).

III. In the New Testament.

In the New Testament we have various words translated "fool," "foolish," "folly," etc., in the ordinary acceptation of these terms; aphron, "mindless," "witless" (Lu 11:40; 12:20; 1Co 15:36); aphrosune, "want of mind or wisdom" (2Co 11:1; Mr 7:22); anoia, "want of understanding" (2Ti 3:9); moraino, "to make dull," "foolish" (Ro 1:22; 1Co 1:20); moros, "dull," "stupid" (Mt 7:26; 23:17; 25:2; 1Co 1:25,27); moria, "foolishness" (1Co 1:18, etc.); morologia, "foolish talk" (Eph 5:4).

In Mt 5:22 our Lord says: "Whosoever shall say (to his brother), Thou fool (more), shall be in danger of the hell of fire (the Gehenna of fire)." Two explanations of this word are possible: (1) that it is not the vocative of the Greek moros--a word which was applied by Jesus Himself to the Pharisees (Mt 23:17,19), but represents the Hebrew morah, "rebel" applied in Nu 20:10 by Moses to the people, "ye rebels" (for which he was believed to be excluded from the promised land; compare Nu 20:12; hence, we have in the Revised Version, margin "or moreh, a Hebrew expression of condemnation"); or (2) that, as our Lord spake in the Aramaic it is the Greek translation of a word representing the Hebrew nabhal, "vile, or worthless fellow," atheist, etc. (Ps 14:1; 53:1).

W. L. Walker

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