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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Fool; Folly

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fool נבל , nābhāl , אויל , 'ĕwı̄l , כּסיל , keṣı̄l , סכל , ṣākhāl and forms; ἄφρων , áphrōn , ἀφροσύνη , aphrosúnē , μωρός , mōrós ):

I. In the Old Testament

1. General

Taking the words generally, apart from the Wisdom literature, we find nābhāl frequently translated "fool" and nebhālāh , "folly"; nābhāl , however, denotes a wicked person, an evil character, "shamelessly immoral," equivalent to "a son of Belial" (Cheyne), rather than a merely "foolish" person, and nebhālāh , "wickedness," "shameless impropriety," rather than simple folly. We have almost a definition of nābhāl in Isaiah 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, Nābhāl , as "a son of Belial" (the Revised Version (British and American) "worthless fellow"), "for as his name is, so is he" (1 Samuel 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 (Genesis 34:7 ; Deuteronomy 22:21 ; Joshua 7:15 ; Judges 19:23 , Judges 19:14 ; Judges 20:6 , Judges 20:10 ; 2 Samuel 13:12 ). When in Psalm 14:1 ; Psalm 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 Isaiah 32:5 , Isaiah 32:6 the King James Version nābhāl is translated "vile person" and nebhālāh "villany," the Revised Version (British and American) "fool" and "folly," Jeremiah 29:23 ; hālal , implying loud boasting is in the King James Version translated "foolish," but it means, rather, "arrogant," which the Revised Version (British and American) adopts (Psalm 5:5 ; Psalm 73:3 ; Psalm 75:4 , margin "fools"); ṣākhāl , "a fool," also occurs (Genesis 31:28 ; 1 Samuel 13:13 , etc.) for which word see (4) below; also yā'al "to be empty," "to be or become foolish" (Numbers 12:11 ; Isaiah 19:13 ; Jeremiah 5:4 ; Jeremiah 50:36 ).

2. The Wisdom Literature

In the Ḥokhmāh 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" Proverbs 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) nābhāl (Job 2:10 ; Job 30:8 ; Psalm 53:1 ; Proverbs 17:7-21 ); ה , nebhalah (Job 42:8 ; Isaiah 9:17 ) (see above).

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

(3) keṣı̄l 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 (Proverbs 14:16 ; Proverbs 28:26 ); ignorance (Ecclesiastes 2:14 ); hate of instruction (Proverbs 1:22 ; Proverbs 18:2 ); thoughtlessness (Proverbs 10:23 ; Proverbs 17:24 ); self-exposure (Proverbs 14:33 ; Proverbs 15:2 ; Proverbs 18:7 ; Proverbs 29:11 ; Ecclesiastes 5:1 ; Ecclesiastes 10:12 ); anger and contention (Proverbs 18:6 ; Proverbs 19:1 ; Ecclesiastes 7:9 ); rage (Proverbs 14:16 ; Proverbs 17:12 ); indolence and improvidence (Ecclesiastes 4:5 ; Proverbs 21:20 ); silly merriment (Ecclesiastes 7:4 , Ecclesiastes 7:5 , Ecclesiastes 7:6 ); brutishness (Proverbs 26:11 ; compare Psalm 49:10 ; Psalm 92:6 ); it is associated with slander (Proverbs 10:18 ), with evil (Proverbs 13:19 ).

(4) ṣākhāl , ṣekhel , ṣikhlūth , 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 1 Samuel 26:21 ; 2 Samuel 24:10 , etc.). These words do not occur in Prov, but in Ecclesiastes 2:12 ; Ecclesiastes 7:25 ; ṣikhlūth is associated with "madness" ("Wickedness is folly, and ... foolishness is madness").

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

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

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

(8) tohŏlāh (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 aphrōn (12:24; 15:5, etc.), in Ecclesiasticus, mōros (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; aphrōn , "mindless," "witless" (Luke 11:40 ; Luke 12:20 ; 1 Corinthians 15:36 ); aphrosunē , "want of mind or wisdom" (2 Corinthians 11:1 ; Mark 7:22 ); ánoia , "want of understanding" (2 Timothy 3:9 ); mōraı́nō , "to make dull," "foolish" (Romans 1:22 ; 1 Corinthians 1:20 ); mōros , "dull," "stupid" (Matthew 7:26 ; Matthew 23:17 ; Matthew 25:2 ; 1 Corinthians 1:25 , 1 Corinthians 1:27 ); mōrı́a , "foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:18 , etc.); mōrologı́a , "foolish talk" (Ephesians 5:4 ).

In Matthew 5:22 our Lord says: "Whosoever shall say (to his brother), Thou fool ( mōré ), 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 mōros ̌ - a word which was applied by Jesus Himself to the Pharisees ( Matthew 23:17 , Matthew 23:19 ), but represents the Hebrew mōrāh , "rebel" applied in Numbers 20:10 by Moses to the people, "ye rebels" (for which he was believed to be excluded from the promised land; compare Numbers 20:12 ; hence, we have in the Revised Version, margin "or mōreh , 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 nābhāl , "vile, or worthless fellow," atheist, etc. (Psalm 14:1 ; Psalm 53:1 ).


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Fool; Folly'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/isb/f/fool-folly.html. 1915.

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