Dealing with Fools

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Prov. 1:7)

       The fear of the Lord for the unbeliever is fear of His judgment (Matt. 10:28), and is a fear that can lead to Christ for salvation (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  For the believer, the fear of the Lord is a profound reverence for God because He is holy, righteous and just (Ps. 89:14; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).  It is a healthy fear that leads to knowledge and obedience.  Moses wrote, “You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name” (Deut. 10:20).  The fear of the Lord discourages sinfulness because we know He will discipline us in love if we turn away (Heb. 12:5-11).  The fear of the Lord is to hate what God hates; for Scripture reveals, “the fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth” (Prov. 8:13).  The fool has no fear of God, and he is said to “despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7b). 

       The Bible, especially Proverbs, contrasts the wise man (Heb. ḥoḵmâ; Gk. sophía) with the fool (Heb. ˓ewîl, kesîl, nāḇāl; sāḵāl; Gk. áphrōn, mōrós, anóētos).[1]  Wisdom (Heb. hokmah, Grk. sophos) is the beneficial instruction for making good choices that agree with God’s word.  The Bible contrasts divine wisdom which comes from God, and worldly wisdom which ultimately comes from Satan (James 3:15-17).  Divine wisdom is the knowledge necessary to perform a task in conformity to God’s standards and values.  Biblical wisdom is based on God’s revelation in the Bible and leads to moral uprightness.  The wise man “will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel” (Prov. 1:5; cf. 2:5); however, “fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Prov. 1:7b).  The fool rejects the wisdom of God in Scripture which leads to salvation and righteous living.  The fool can be educated or uneducated, rich or poor, white or black, old or young, male or female.  He is friendly toward the world and its philosophies and values that promote human wisdom and accomplishments.  “A fool is not necessarily one who is marked by a low iq but one who leaves God out of his consciousness…The fool is the man who does not take God into consideration in every area of his life.”[2]

The word [fool] is used in Scripture with respect to moral more than to intellectual deficiencies. The “fool” is not so much one lacking in mental powers, as one who misuses them; not one who does not reason, but reasons wrongly. In Scripture the “fool” primarily is the person who casts off the fear of God and thinks and acts as if he could safely disregard the eternal principles of God’s righteousness (Ps. 14:1; Prov. 14:9; Jer. 17:11; etc.). Yet in many passages, especially in Proverbs, the term has its ordinary use and denotes one who is rash, senseless, or unreasonable. The expression “you fool” (Matt. 5:22) is used in the moral sense, means “wicked,” and seems to be equivalent to judging one as worthy of everlasting punishment.[3]

       The fool, according to Solomon, is a fool by choice and never by chance.  He can stop being a fool anytime he’s ready to learn and apply God’s word.  He makes himself a fool by the way he thinks, and is identified as a fool by the way he speaks and by his behavior.  Over time, folly can be so ingrained into a person that neither kindness nor suffering can remove it from them.  Here are some biblical facts about the fool:

  1. The fool is a fool by choice and never by chance (Prov. 1:22-33).  “How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing and fools hate knowledge?”(Prov. 1:22).  “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind”(Prov. 18:2; cf. 14:9).  He can stop being a fool anytime he’s ready to learn and apply God’s word.
  2. The fool can be recognized by his outward behavior.  “Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool” (Eccl. 10:3). 
  3. The fool loves to slander others.  “He who conceals hatred has lying lips, and he who spreads slander is a fool” (Prov. 10:18).  Slander is the intentional circulation of a falsehood about another for the purpose of destroying their character. 
  4. Wickedness is like a game to fool, and it thrills him to do evil.  “Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool, and so is wisdom to a man of understanding”(Prov. 10:23).
  5. A fool can spout proverbial wisdom, but it has no meaning to him personally.  “Like a thorn which falls into the hand of a drunkard, so is a proverb in the mouth of fools”(Prov. 26:9; cf. 15:2, 7).  There are people who have some biblical knowledge, but because they are a fool it becomes distorted and twisted to their own harm and the harm of others.  “A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are the snare of his soul”(Prov. 18:7; cf. 10:8, 10). 
  6. Children are naturally bent toward foolishness and the loving parent seeks to discipline it out of them.  “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him”(Prov. 22:15).  “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother”(Prov. 29:15). 
  7. The foolish child rejects his parent’s discipline.  “A fool rejects his father’s discipline, but he who regards reproof is sensible”(Prov. 15:5).
  8. Over time, as the fool becomes an adult, his folly becomes entrenched in his heart and he is very resistant to any external pressures to change.  “A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool” (Prov. 17:10).  “Though you pound a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his foolishness will not depart from him” (Prov. 27:22). 
  9. The fool is a grief to his father and mother.  “A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother”(Prov. 10:1; cf. 15:20).  “He who sires a fool does so to his sorrow, and the father of a fool has no joy”(Prov. 17:21; cf. 19:13).
  10. The fool ruins his own life and fights against God.  “The foolishness of man ruins his way, and his heart rages against the LORD”(Prov. 19:3).
  11. Fools like to argue with others without a just cause.  “Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel” (Prov. 20:3).  It’s better to avoid the fool rather than pursue conflict with him.  “When a wise man has a controversy with a foolish man, the foolish man either rages or laughs, and there is no rest” (Prov. 29:9; cf. 20:23). 
  12. Fools are arrogant and often storm through life without consideration of others.  “A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is arrogant and careless”(Prov. 14:16).
  13. Those who employ a fool feel the painful effects of his stupidity.  “Like an archer who wounds everyone, so is he who hires a fool or who hires those who pass by”(Prov. 26:10).
  14. Fools repeat the same ugly acts over and over.  “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly”(Prov. 26:11).
  15. Fools have no control of their emotions.  “A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back”(Prov. 29:11; cf. 25:28). 
  16. Fools pursue worldly pleasure and ruin themselves.  “The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure” (Eccl. 7:4). 
  17. The words of the wise are gracious, whereas the words of the fool express wickedness.  “Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him; the beginning of his talking is folly and the end of it is wicked madness” (Eccl. 10:12-13).
  18. The person who befriends a fool causes himself harm.  “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov. 13:20). 

Dealing with the Fool:

       Wise men often do not answer the fool because he’s not teachable; though there are times the fool needs to be corrected so that his false estimation of himself does not go unchecked.  Wise men leave the presence of the fool, as there is no benefit to his company.  When one encounters a fool, there are several things one should do depending on the encounter. 

  1. Once a fool is identified, don’t provoke him, or you will bring grief on yourself.  “A stone is heavy and the sand weighty, but the provocation of a fool is heavier than both of them” (Prov. 27:3). 
  2. Avoid speaking in the presence of a fool, or at least keep your words few.  “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words” (Prov. 23:9).  Fools despise wisdom, so they despise those who speak and live by wisdom. 
  3. Don’t answer the fool in the midst of his foolishness.  “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him” (Prov. 26:4).  It is foolish to try to correct the fool, and is itself a display of folly that reveals a lack of biblical understanding.
  4. There are times to address the fool so that he does not think himself wise.  “Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes” (Prov. 26:5).  This type of correction does not seek to correct the fool, but only his false estimation of himself.  Wisdom discerns when to answer the fool. 
  5. Lastly, make the conscious decision to leave the presence of the fool in order to spare yourself any pain.  “Leave the presence of a fool, or you will not discern words of knowledge” (Prov. 14:7).  This is because “the foolishness of fools is deceit” and there is no truth in their speech (Prov. 14:8b). 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related article: Biblical Wisdom  

[1] Allen C. Myers, “Fool”, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 390.

[2] J. Dwight Pentecost, Designed to Be Like Him: Understanding God’s Plan for Fellowship, Conduct, Conflict, and Maturity (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 55.

[3] Merrill Frederick Unger, R. K. Harrison, Howard Frederic Vos et al., “Fool”, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

About Dr. Steven R. Cook

Dr. Steven R. Cook is a Christian educator. He is protestant, conservative, and dispensational. Studies in the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology have been the foundation for Steven’s teaching and writing ministry. He has written several Christian books, dozens of articles on Christian theology, and recorded more than seven hundred hours of audio and video sermons. Steven currently serves as professor of Bible and Theology at Tyndale Theological Seminary, and hosts weekly Bible studies at his home in Texas. Steven’s ministry activity is entirely voluntary (articles, blogs, podcasts, and video lessons), as he works a full time job as a Case Manager for a local nonprofit agency that helps the elderly and disabled in the community.
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7 Responses to Dealing with Fools

  1. Ted Martens says:

    Not all fools are equal: There are rich fools, poor fools, scoffing fools, perverse fools, naive fools, full fools, hungry fools, prating fools, quiet fools, slandering fools, mischievous fools — the combinations and permutations are numerous!

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  3. Ana Thomason says:

    So revealing, thank you! What about if my husband is behaving like a fool. Should I stand for our marriage, or should I just walk away, I know God hates divorce, and I don’t want one, but my husband doesn’t care… and he has no intention of working on it. I really need some peace and I am strugling. Thank you!

    • Thank you for comments Ana. I’m sorry to hear you’re going through a tough time in your marriage. A challenging relationship can be a real opportunity to grow spiritually by learning and applying God’s word. Christian love, grace, patience, forgiveness and humility are often forged in a furnace of affliction. To flee the furnace is to forfeit an opportunity for God to advance us spiritually. Concerning divorce, Scripture teaches that marriage is a binding contract before God, and divorce is permissible only when a spouse offends through sexual infidelity (Matt. 5: 31-32), or when an unbelieving spouse abandons their Christian partner (1 Cor. 7:12-16). Even in such cases, divorce is not mandated, and is discouraged if any hope of saving the marriage can be found. I do not know the specifics of your marital relationship and can only provide information concerning what the Bible teaches. You must work out the details by faith before God and your husband. I pray God gives you wisdom to know His will.

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  5. L Y says:

    Thanks for this article, Professor Cook. I have behaved like a fool in the past, and I thank you for this biblical exposition. It is a good reminder for all of us to humble ourselves before the Lord every moment and seek His wisdom and discernment.

    Question: What if you are a grown adult, and your dad is somewhat prideful and gets angry easily, and worse, criticizes your personality, curses you implicitly in his anger when you try to tell him his folly? I could try to keep relations easy, but that would mean not pointing out their lack of repentance toward God, and I know it would grieve my spirit for me to tolerate this kind of chatter, this kind of relationship. So, are you obliged to avoid your parents? Or to show them their folly, become a fool yourself, and suffer their anger? They are helping me out with finances so I feel I am incredibly grateful to them and want to honor them by keeping in closer contact, but the situation has gotten to this point. Either way I feel I am causing them grief, or myself grief. Surely I don’t want to become a fool myself. I want to be pure and unblameable before the Lord.

    I have prayed about this and I asked for peace to just avoid them for a prolonged period of time, while honoring them in my heart and praying that the Lord would turn their heart toward Him completely. I think I have this peace from the LORD. But I want to make sure I am not being conveniently prideful. I am busy with work and I don’t see the need to be ‘patient’ with this kind of situation when I have many other productive things to do.

    So, if you wish, I would be glad to receive scripture-based instruction from you. Otherwise, no worries, I am incredibly grateful for this article already, and will return to it for deeper study, Professor. God bless you and keep you, and reward you according to your faithfulness and works, and I will continue to read and study the rest of your site.

    • Greetings. Thank you for your comment. Your situation sounds similar to my own. As a Christian, I want to honor my parents, but also don’t want to agree with any nonbiblical views that may be expressed. My father and I sometimes disagreed sharply, but I always tried to make sure he understood my love for him. Sometimes that was expressed as much in my delivery as the words I used. As Christians, we are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), and to let our speech “always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt” (Col 4:6). I have tried to live by the Scripture that says, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim 2:24-26). Of course, this easier said than done, as emotions can flare. The challenge for me is to respond and not react; to let God’s words direct my speech and behavior, and not my feelings or circumstances. I wish I could say I’ve always done the right thing, but I haven’t. Family relationships can be challenging and provide an opportunity to grow. Hope my comment provided some helpful information. Please reply back if needed. Wishing you a good week. 🙂

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