Can We Call Someone a Fool? Matthew 5, Psalm 14, Matthew 23

Is the Bible is contradictory whether we are allowed to call someone a fool (Matthew 5:22 vs Psalm 14:1, Matthew 23:17)? Learn how to answer this objection.
Bible "contradictions"
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Quick Answer

We should not call anyone a fool in unrighteous anger. However, if a person truly is a fool, then that person can legitimately be called a fool.

The argument

Some argue that the Bible is contradictory concerning whether we can call someone a fool. Matthew 5:22 says that we should not, yet Scripture approves of the Psalmist and Jesus calling people fools. Here are the relevant verses.

Don't call anyone a fool

Matthew 5:22 - But 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.

Some people are fools

Psalm 14:1 - The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.
Matthew 23:17 - You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?

The solution

The solution to this alleged contradiction is simple. The context of Matthew 5:22 is that Jesus is talking about unrighteous anger. Jesus is saying that we should not call anyone a fool because we are angry at that person in an unrighteous manner.

Psalm 14:1 and Matthew 23:17 are simply statements of fact. The Psalmist and Jesus are not calling people fools in unrighteous anger, but rather objectively and accurately. Someone who says, "There is no God," is a fool, and it is legitimate to call that person a fool.

Likewise, when Jesus calls the Pharisees "blind fools," he is simply stating objective fact. The Pharisees were indeed blind fools because of their hypocrisy, and it was perfectly legitimate for Jesus to call them fools.

"I don't buy that explanation"

Some people have trouble accepting possible explanations to alleged contradictions in the Bible, especially ones that they consider a stretch. For example, Dan Barker, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, says this:

I have received numerous replies from Christians who think that these contradictions are either trivial or easily explained. Yet not a single "explanation" has been convincing.

Fact vs Opinion

The fact is that there are plausible explanations for every alleged contradiction in the Bible. That there is a plausible explanation for an alleged contradiction does not mean that it is definitely the correct explanation for the alleged contradiction.

However, as long as a possible explanation has been suggested, then it has been objectively demonstrated that there is no necessary contradiction regarding the Bible verses and passages brought up.

When people like Dan Barker say that they don't find a particular explanation for a contradiction "convincing," then that is merely their opinion. A plausible explanation has been suggested that eliminates the necessary alleged contradiction. They simply don't like it, which is not at all a relevant argument against the explanation.

Additional Resources

To read more about solutions to Bible contradictions and difficulties, check out Norman Geisler's The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. While we do not agree with some of Geisler's theology, particularly concerning his view of predestination, this book is still an excellent resource. It is thorough and filled with research.

Another book to check out is Tim Chaffey's Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions: Exploring Forty Alleged Contraditions, which also answers many alleged contradictions in the Bible.

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