By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: What does “foolishness” mean in Mark 7:22? What would be some important applications of this?
Reply: The word “foolishness” is from the New Testament Greek noun aphrosunee and it is defined as “foolishness, lack of sense, folly, thoughtlessness; recklessness,” etc. (Arndt and Gingrich, p. 127, and Thayer, P. 90). Paul applies the word three times to himself (2 Cor. 11:1, 17, 21). While foolishness is the opposite of soundness of mind and involves all forms of moral senselessness, it is not so applied in Paul’s case. He applied the word to himself because he was forced into an argument with the Judaizers. This was distasteful to him and unnecessary. Thus he described it as foolishness, and asked the Corinthian brethren to bear with him. Paul’s self-praise was not to his liking, but he resorted to it only as a vindication of the truth. He was showing that his claims were stronger than those of his enemies — the Judaizers. Actually, Paul gloried in the Lord (Gal. 6:14).
Foolishness is folly in the absence of the fear of God. The psalmist declared: “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God” (Psa. 14: 1). All sin is actually folly; it is the lack of moral sense. The term “foolishness” probably sums up the sins which Jesus said proceed from the heart (Mk. 7:20-23). They are all foolishness. In the context of this passage, foolishness is more moral than intellectual. The pernicious sins of the Gentile world, as described by Paul, present a case in point (Rom. 1:21, 28, 31).
That all wickedness is folly is clearly seen in the words by the Ecclesiastes author. “I turned about and my heart was set to know to search out, and to seek wisdom and the reason of things, and to know that wickedness is folly, and that foolishness is madness” (Eccl. 7:25). The fool is described in Isaiah 32:6: “For the fool will speak folly, and his heart will work iniquity, to practice profaneness, and to utter error against Jehovah, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and to cause the drink of the thirsty to fail.”
One of the Hebrew words translated “fool” in the Old Testament is nabal. The man with that name played the part, as is seen by his churlishness (1 Sam. 25, esp. v. 25). He was insensitive to human needs and was spiritually blind. The fool’s selfish philosophy is demonstrated by the rich man in Luke 12:16-21.
The fool is often contrasted with the wise man in the Bible. For example, “The wise shall inherit glory; but shame shall be the promotion of fools” (Prov. 3:35). Again, “The wise in heart will receive commandments; but a prating fool shall fall” (Prov. 10:8). Jesus contrasted the two builders in Matthew 7:24-27. The wise man is compared to the man who built his house upon the rock because he heard and obeyed the words of Jesus. But the man who only heard the words of Jesus, but did not obey them, is compared to the man who built his house upon the sand.
What is wisdom to man is often foolishness to God; and vice versa, what is God’s wisdom is often foolishness to man. The command to Naaman to dip seven times in the river Jordan to be cured of leprosy was foolishness to him (2 Kgs. 5:11,12). He thought the Damascus rivers (Abanah and Pharper) were better than all the waters of Israel. He questioned God’s authority, so he was foolish. He became wise when he humbled himself and obeyed God. To some, gospel preaching is foolishness. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18; see also vv. 21, 23, 25).
God’s own people sometimes act foolishly. To the Galatians, who had been led astray by Judaizers, Paul asked, “0 foolish Galatians, who did bewitch you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth and crucified?” (Gal. 3:1) Then he asked in verse 3, “Are you so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now perfected in the flesh?”
Wisdom is the opposite of foolishness, and is “pressed by a fear of the Lord and a turning away from all that is evil. It is summed up well by Job. “And unto man, he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom: and to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28).
There are many practical applications to be made. Foolishness is characterized by the man who denies God’s reality and lives in ignorance of Him. The one who carelessly and recklessly pursues a path of sin is foolish-it is the carefree philosophy of “do your own thing.” It is foolishness to live for the gratification of the flesh-to live by the epicurean philosophy: “eat today and be merry, for tomorrow you may die.” Those who live only to themselves and are totally indifferent to the needs of others are selfish, thus foolish. To disregard and disrespect divine authority is foolishness and is the basis of all false doctrines. To be carried away by every wind of doctrine that blows, without investigating the Scriptures, is foolishness (1 Jn. 4:1). To live only for this life, without any preparation for the future life, is foolishness (Matt. 6:19-21). To never look at, much less read and study the Bible, is foolishness. These are but a few of some important applications of foolishness. The list is ad infinitum.
Christians should scrupulously avoid foolishness. “Wherefore be ye not foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17).
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 21, p. 645
November 7, 1985