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Old Testament.

Folly is the opposite of wisdom. It is not imbecility, insanity, or error. It is wrongheadedness. It has to do with practical insights into the nature of things that lead to success or failure in life. Wisdom and folly in the Bible rest on the principle of adjustment to a higher law for a practical purpose. Folly involves rejection or disregard of the revealed moral and spiritual values on which life is based. The fool sins against his own best interests and rejects God (Ps 14:1). This idea of folly is expressed in various ways.


is a common word, esp. in Proverbs, conveying the general idea of moral badness. The fool is hasty (Prov 14:29), self-sufficient (12:15), impervious to instruction (15:5), given to unrestrained anger (17:12), and stupid in his persistence in evil (26:11).


and its cognates are the most frequent words for folly. They are most common in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The root indicates thickness, sluggishness, or plumpness. This slow, self-confident person is ignorant (Eccl 2:14), thoughtless (Prov 10:23; 17:24), contentious (18:6), indolent (Eccl 4:5), and brutish (Ps 49:10). Disregarding moral ideals, he is a victim of stupidity.


most common outside the Wisdom Literature, denotes a wicked person as an evil character, shamelessly immoral. The word is often associated with base and unnatural lewdness (Gen 34:7; Deut 22:21; Josh 7:15). Isaiah 32:6 describes in detail the destructive attitudes and conduct of this wicked man. Abigail described her husband, Nabal, as “this man of Belial” or “ill-natured fellow,” “for as his name is, so is he” (1 Sam 25:25).


comes from a root meaning “to be stopped up.” It is generally taken to denote thickheadedness. However, it denotes more than mere foolishness. It is associated with madness (Eccl. 2:12).


(Job 4:18) is thought to be related to the Ethiopic tahala, “to err.”


is from a root that means tasteless, unseasoned, insipid, unseemly. It is used of fish that are not salted. Folly, then, is conceived in terms of that which is absurd and unworthy of human beings (Job 24:12; Jer 23:13).


is used of the simple, the impressionable ones, who are easily led into folly because of their lack of wisdom (Prov 1:22).

New Testament.

Though fewer words are used, the NT has analogies for most of the OT meanings.


basically means “without understanding.” It is sometimes a madness expressing itself in rage (Luke 6:11).


also means “ignorant” and “without understanding,” but with a moral as well as an intellectual reference (Mark 7:22).


reflects the moral reprobation of the OT nebālāh (Matt 5:22). It is more than intellectual deficiency.


describes one as lacking in wisdom (Eph 5:15).

As folly in the OT accounts was so deeply rooted in the mind and heart of man that only the revealed law could extirpate it, so in the NT man is a victim of folly until the Gospel dawns on him (Rom 2:20; Titus 3:3-5). The highest wisdom is revealed in the Gospel. Sinful man is so radically wrong in his relation to the moral world that he decries the Gospel as foolishness (1 Cor 1:21-25). Yet it is his only hope of becoming wise.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

nabhal, ’ewil, kecil, cakhal and forms; aphron, aphrosune, moros):

I. In the Old Testament.

1. General:

2. The Wisdom Literature:

In the Chokhmah or Wisdom literature, which, within the Bible, is contained in Job, Proverbs (especially), Ecclesiastes, Canticles, some Psalms and certain portions of the prophetic writings, "fool" and "folly" are frequent and distinctive words. Their significance is best seen in contrast with "Wisdom." This was the outcome of careful observation and long pondering on actual life in the light of religion and the Divine revelation. Wisdom had its seat in God and was imparted to those who "feared" Him ("The fear of Yahweh is the beginning (chief part) of knowledge" Pr 1:7). Such wisdom was the essence of life, and to be without it was to walk in the way of death and destruction. The fool was he who was thoughtless, careless, conceited, self-sufficient, indifferent to God and His Will, or who might even oppose and scoff at religion and wise instruction. See Wisdom. Various words are used to designate "the fool" and his "folly."

(1) nabhal (Job 2:10; 30:8; Ps 53:1; Pr 17:7-21); nebhalah (Job 42:8; Isa 9:17) (see above).

(3) kecil is the word most frequent in Proverbs. It is probably from a root meaning "thickness," "sluggishness," suggesting a slow, self-confident person, but it is used with a wide reference.

(4) cakhal, cekhel, cikhluth, also occur. These are probably from a root meaning "to be stopped up" (Cheyne), and are generally taken as denoting thickheadedness; but they are used in a stronger sense than mere foolishness (compare 1Sa 26:21; 2Sa 24:10, etc.). These words do not occur in Prov, but in Ec 2:12; 7:25; cikhluth is associated with "madness" ("Wickedness is folly, and .... foolishness is madness").

(5) pethi, "simple," is only once translated "foolish" (Pr 9:6 the King James Version).

(6) ba`ar, ’brutish," is translated "foolish" (Ps 73:22 the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American) "brutish").

(7) taphel, "insipid," "untempered," is translated "foolish" (La 2:14); tiphlah, "insipidity" (Job 1:22, "foolishly," the English Revised Version, "with foolishness"; Job 24:12, "folly"; Jer 23:13, "folly," the King James Version margin "unsavoury, or, an absurd thing").

(8) toholah (Job 4:18: "Behold, he putteth no trust in his servants; and his angels he chargeth with folly" (Delitzsch, "imperfection," others, "error"), the King James Version margin "nor in his angels in whom he put light").

II. In the Apocrypha.

In the continuation of the Wisdom literature in The Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclus, "fool" frequently occurs with a signification similar to that in Proverbs; in The Wisdom of Solomon we have aphron (12:24; 15:5, etc.), in Ecclesiasticus, moros (18:18; 19:11, etc.; 20:13; 21:16, etc.).

III. In the New Testament.

In Mt 5:22 our Lord says: "Whosoever shall say (to his brother), Thou fool (more), shall be in danger of the hell of fire (the Gehenna of fire)." Two explanations of this word are possible:

(1) that it is not the vocative of the Greek moros--a word which was applied by Jesus Himself to the Pharisees (Mt 23:17,19), but represents the Hebrew morah, "rebel" applied in Nu 20:10 by Moses to the people, "ye rebels" (for which he was believed to be excluded from the promised land; compare Nu 20:12; hence, we have in the Revised Version, margin "or moreh, a Hebrew expression of condemnation"); or

(2) that, as our Lord spake in the Aramaic it is the Greek translation of a word representing the Hebrew nabhal, "vile, or worthless fellow," atheist, etc. (Ps 14:1; 53:1).

W. L. Walker

See also

  • Fool