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What is the meaning of “you fool” in Matthew 5:22?

you fool

In Matthew 5:22, Jesus addresses both the seriousness of anger and the weight of our words. He states, “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (ESV). The phrase you fool is an example of contemptuous speech, which carries heavy consequences.

When Jesus warns against saying, “You fool,” He is addressing the contemptuous attitude that devalues other people. The Greek word translated as “fool” is mōre, conveying not only a lack of wisdom but also a moral deficiency. Therefore, to call someone a “fool” is to attack his character and integrity, essentially deeming him worthless. This dehumanizing act sharply contrasts with Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39; cf. Leviticus 19:18). Jesus’ warning against calling someone a “fool” stresses the importance of recognizing and honoring the inherent worth of everyone, as we are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

The severity of calling someone a “fool” is highlighted by its association with the “fire of hell” or Gehenna (Matthew 5:22). Gehenna was a valley near Jerusalem, historically associated with idolatrous practices and later used as a symbol of divine judgment and eternal damnation (see Jeremiah 7:31–32). When Jesus links the phrase you fool with Gehenna in Matthew 5:22, he is saying that contemptuous words have severe spiritual consequences. This teaching aligns with the broader biblical principle that words reflect the condition of our hearts. As Proverbs 18:21 reminds us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (ESV). Words are powerful, and those who speak contemptuously of others will be held accountable.

Jesus’ warning against saying, “You fool,” also highlights the seriousness of harboring anger. He even equates unjust anger with murder (Matthew 5:21), challenging His disciples to understand the deeper implications of their thoughts, emotions, and actions. The progression from anger to insult to calling someone a “fool” demonstrates how unchecked anger can escalate into verbal abuse and destructive behavior. Ephesians 4:26–27 advises believers to “be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (ESV). By controlling our anger, we can stop ourselves from insulting others and maintain the peace and unity of the Spirit.

The phrase you fool in Matthew 5:22 also draws our attention to the concept of righteous judgment and unrighteous condemnation. When Jesus uses strong language to address evil and hypocrisy (e.g., in Matthew 23:17, 19), He speaks from a heart of truth, desiring to lead His listeners to repentance. In contrast, when we call someone a “fool,” we speak out of anger and contempt, failing to see the person as God does. James 4:11–12 cautions, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. . . . There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy” (ESV). We are not to condemn others but to love and encourage one another toward righteousness and good works (Hebrews 10:24).

The meaning of you fool in Matthew 5:22 extends beyond a mere insult to a reflection on the nature of anger, the power of words, and the need to uphold the dignity of others. We must therefore examine our hearts, control our tongues, and pursue peace with everyone. In doing so, we show ourselves to be children of God.

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What is the meaning of “you fool” in Matthew 5:22?
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This page last updated: June 5, 2024