The Bible has much to say about fools. The word fool today usually means “a senseless fellow, a dullard.” The biblical definition has the added dimension of “someone who disregards God’s Word.” The Bible lists many characteristics of such a person, often contrasting him with one who is wise. Ecclesiastes 10:2 says, “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.” A fool is one whose wayward heart turns continually toward foolishness. “Fools speak foolishness and make evil plans” (Isaiah 32:6). Proverbs 26:11 says, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.” Fools do not learn their lessons from the mistakes they make. They continue doing the same foolish things over and over again, to their own destruction (Proverbs 18:7).
The following is a partial list of some characteristics of a fool from the book of Proverbs: a fool hates knowledge (Proverbs 1:22), takes no pleasure in understanding (Proverbs 18:2), enjoys wicked schemes (Proverbs 10:23), proclaims folly (Proverbs 12:23), spurns a parent’s discipline (Proverbs 15:5), speaks perversity (Proverbs 19:1), is quick-tempered (Proverbs 12:16), gets himself in trouble with his proud speech (Proverbs 14:3), mocks at sin (Proverbs 14:9), is deceitful (Proverbs 14:8), and despises his mother (Proverbs 15:20). A foolish child brings grief to his or her parents (Proverbs 17:25; 19:13). A foolish man commits sexual immorality (Proverbs 6:32; 7:7–12). A foolish woman tears down her own house (Proverbs 14:1).
The ultimate description of a fool is one who “says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). Although fools can choose to become wise by heeding wise counsel and applying it (Proverbs 8:5; 21:11), the Bible warns against associating with fools (Proverbs 14:7). Proverbs 13:20 says, “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.”
There is an important distinction between the biblical definition of a fool and the word Jesus used (raca) in Matthew 5:22 when He forbade calling a Christian brother a “fool.” The term raca, spoken from a heart of contempt, implied utter worthlessness. Jesus was not saying that we cannot call the choices of another foolish. But to call someone “raca” was saying that this person was beyond the reach of God and therefore condemned forever. To say, “You fool!” to a brother or sister in that day was the equivalent of saying, “Damn you!” to someone today. We do not have the power or the right to condemn anyone to hell. That position of judgment belongs only to God. A born-again Christian cannot be “damned” because he or she has been purchased by the blood of Christ (Colossians 1:14). We can and should, however, do all we can to turn the hearts of those exhibiting foolishness toward wisdom and possibly save their lives and their eternal souls (James 5:20).