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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Fool

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The diversity in the conceptions of folly is strikingly illustrated by the use in the writings of the Apostolic Church of the terms ‘fool’ and ‘foolish,’ translating the Greek words ἅφρων, μωρός, ἅσοφοι, ἀνόητος, ἀσύνετος, and related forms.

1. There appears to be a reference to folly as intentional clownishness in Ephesians 5:4. The Christian must avoid ‘foolish talking or jesting’ (μωρολογία καὶ εὐτραπελία).

2. Unseemly and undignified conduct is folly. Thus St. Paul, vindicating his apostleship, is reluctantly led to a self-commendation, such as, in other circumstances, only a fool in the folly of boasting would offer (2 Corinthians 11:16; 2 Corinthians 11:18; 2 Corinthians 11:21; 2 Corinthians 12:11; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:13). There is, however, a deeper folly-unwarranted boasting (2 Corinthians 12:6). Twice in these 2 Cor. passages a certain play on the idea of folly is presented. St. Paul in self-defence is compelled to speak as a fool, yet are not the real fools the Corinthians, ironically φρόνιμοι, for tolerating fools, namely the false teachers? (2 Corinthians 11:17; 2 Corinthians 11:19-20). Again the Apostle, having acknowledged ‘I speak as a fool’ (in my boasting), presently comes to the mere supposition that these false teachers are servants of Christ-the sense of the parenthesis changes-‘Now indeed, I do speak out of my mind’ (2 Corinthians 11:21; 2 Corinthians 11:23).

3. The term ‘fool’ (ἅφρων), signifying mental stupidity, is applied to the imaginary controversialist of 1 Corinthians 15:36, who finds unnecessary difficulties in the Resurrection (cf. the ‘foolish controversies’ of 1 Timothy 6:4, 2 Timothy 2:23, Titus 3:9).

4. The ‘foolish Galatians’ (ἀνόητοι) appear to be rebuked for bad judgment, rather than for moral perverseness. They must be ‘bewitched’ to have so readily accepted another teaching (Galatians 3:1-3).

5. Instances of moral folly are provided by those who live without regard to the chief end of life. These are ἅσοφοι and ἅφρονες (Ephesians 5:15-17). Foolish are the lusts of the rich (1 Timothy 6:9), and the unregenerate life is one of foolishness (Titus 3:3).

6. Heathenism supplied a conspicuous and illuminating case of moral and intellectual folly (Romans 1:18 f.; cf. Romans 2:20). To St. Paul, the worship of wood and stone indicated an underlying moral defect of liking for the unreal rather than for the real-for make-belief rather than for belief (Romans 2:25), which found expression in morality as well as in worship (Romans 2:24 f.). This moral folly led to intellectual foolishness, which ‘learned disputations’ disguised and fostered. There must be a moral element in sane intellectual judgment (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12, and Carlyle’s comment upon Napoleon: ‘He did not know true from false now when he looked at them,-the fearfulest penalty a man pays for yielding to untruth of heart’ [Heroes and Hero-worship, 1872, ‘The Hero as King,’ p. 221]).

7. In the judgment of the critical Greek intellectualists, the preaching of ‘Christ crucified’ was folly (1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 1:25). A gospel centred in the person of an ignominiously executed criminal, and finding indeed a mystic value in that death, was likely to provoke the contempt of a highly philosophical community. In contrast, St. Paul presents, as the true norm whereby wisdom and folly are to be judged, a mystic γνῶσις: to the unspiritual, foolishness (1 Corinthians 2:14), but to the initiated, the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Corinthians 1:30)-a presentation which invites comparison with the γνῶσις of the Mysteries. Probably the distinction here suggested is that between the intuitional, mystic experience of God and His power, and the intellectual theorizing about God and His dealings with the world. Religious ‘wisdom’ must be judged primarily in terms of spiritual experience rather than of theology. At the same time, St. Paul had no love for obscurantism (1 Corinthians 14).

8. The evil of the intellectual ism within the Church, indicated in 1 Cor., was not that it challenged the distinctive forms of Christian faith, but that it gave rise to the bitterness of religious controversy-sacrificed the love which never failed in value for the sake of the mere forms of knowledge, which at the best necessarily passed away in the coming of greater light (1 Corinthians 13:11). Let these childishly (1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 3:3) ‘wise’ become ‘fools’ that they may gain the wisdom of the childlike (1 Corinthians 3:18-23).

9. ‘Fools for Christ’s sake’-so St. Paul describes himself and his fellow-evangelists in 1 Corinthians 4:10. The epithet may have been applied on account of the ‘foolishness’ of the preaching (7); the contrast, however, with the φρόνιμοι ἐν Χριστῷ, prudentes in Christo, suggests that the reference is to the worldly-wiseman’s view of the sanctified ‘abandon’ of St. Paul and his kindred spirits, their flinging aside of policy and cunning, their counting as nought the things which the world deems precious. The Apostle is actually regarded by Festus as out of his mind (Acts 26:24).

H. Bulcock.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Fool'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/f/fool.html. 1906-1918.

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Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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