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How to Identify Five Types of Fools

Simple, silly, sensual, scornful, and steadfast fools

5 min

In the Old Testament, the word fool is actually a translation of five different Hebrew words that reflect subtle differences in types of fools. Sadly, the English translation makes it more difficult to identify the characteristics of the five types of fools, but with a careful search of Scripture these differences can be distinguished.

Wise counselors—parents, pastors, friends, spouses—need to understand the different types of fools as the Bible presents them. If you learn to perceive the characteristics of a simple fool, silly fool, sensual fool, scornful fool, and steadfast fool, you will be better equipped to identify and respond to such fools with wisdom and discernment.

The Simple Fool

The Hebrew word for “simple [fool]” is pethîy (peth-EE). The root word from which it is derived, pâthâh, implies extreme vulnerability, literally meaning “to be opened up.” The simple fool opens his mind to any passing thought, and he opens his arms to any passing stranger. In other words, he lacks discernment. He has an oversimplified view of life and fails to recognize the cause-and-effect sequences that affect every area of life. (See Proverbs 22:3.)

Because the simple fool is not discerning, he is easily captivated by all kinds of enticements and deceptions. He is dangerously immature, extremely gullible, and intensely curious. In the absence of instruction and consistent discipline, the simple fool will naturally become more foolish. A simple fool is especially vulnerable to seduction, lacking an understanding of the irreversible consequences of moral failure. (See Proverbs 7:6–10, Proverbs 9:6.)

The Book of Proverbs provides instruction for the simple fool: “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel . . . To give subtilty [subtlety] to the simple [pethîy], to the young man knowledge and discretion” (Proverbs 1:1, Proverbs 1:4). Learning God’s Word will give understanding and wisdom to the simple (see Psalm 19:7, Psalm 119:130).

Simple fools are sought out by more deliberate fools, like the scornful, who want to be their heroes. Therefore, to warn the simple fools and to protect them from the destructive influence of the scornful fool, it is critical to bring swift correction to scornful fools. “Smite a scorner, and the simple [pethîy] will beware” (Proverbs 19:25). (See also Proverbs 21:11.)

The Silly Fool

The Hebrew word that refers to a “silly fool” is ’eviyl (ev-EEL). Its definition is “to be perverse, silly.” He might be considered a jokester to some, but this kind of fool is no laughing matter. He is a serious rebel against anyone who tries to teach him wisdom. The mouth of a silly fool often gets him in trouble. “Wise men lay up knowledge: but the mouth of the foolish [’eviyl] is near destruction” (Proverbs 10:14). (See also Proverbs 20:3.) When things go wrong for a silly fool, he becomes angry, resulting in more damage. A stone is heavy, and the sand weighty; but a fool’s [’eviyl] wrath is heavier than them both” (Proverbs 27:3).

A silly fool believes that his own way of thinking is right (see Proverbs 12:15), so much so that he reacts to instruction when it is offered: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools [’eviyl] despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). (See also Proverbs 10:21.) Argument, persuasion, advice, and instruction from wise, well-meaning family and friends fail to convince silly fools of error (see Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 15:5, Proverbs 29:9). Even proper reproof or correction by his authorities often will be ineffective in helping him change his ways. (See Proverbs 27:22.)

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).

The Sensual Fool

One who rejects the correction of parents or other authorities often becomes a sensual fool. This type of fool is identified in Scripture with the Hebrew word kecîyl (kess-EEL), which means “fat, i.e. stupid or silly [or sluggish].” The word denotes a person who seems determined to make wrong choices. He does not have a mental deficiency but rejects the wisdom of God.

The sensual fool’s focus is on that which brings him immediate pleasure. He glories in that of which he should be ashamed. “It is as sport to a fool [kecîyl] to do mischief” (Proverbs 10:23). (See also Proverbs 13:19.)

A sensual fool is unreasonable. As a silly fool, his mouth got him into trouble. Now, as a sensual fool, his mouth gets him into more trouble. “A fool’s [kecîyl] lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes [blows]. A fool’s [kecîyl] mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul” (Proverbs 18:6–7).

Scripture gives more warnings about the sensual fool than about any other type of fool. His motives and methods are subtle. He should be avoided, because those who follow him will be led astray. “A companion of fools [kecîyl] shall be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20). Severe punishment is prescribed for the sensual fool: “A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s [kecîyl] back” (Proverbs 26:3). (See also Proverbs 19:29.)

The Scornful Fool

The Hebrew word that denotes a “scornful fool” is lûwts (LOOTS). It means “to make mouths at, i.e. to scoff.” The scornful fool’s facial expressions communicate the disdain and contempt he has in his heart toward his authorities, including parents, civil authorities, and God.

This type of fool not only has rejected truth; he also has embraced that which is abominable to God. Psalm 1:1 describes the blessing of not proceeding into the progression of foolishness, which is first walking “in the counsel of the ungodly,” then standing “in the way of sinners,” and finally sitting “in the seat of the scornful [lûwts].” The scornful fool utterly detests people and ideas that contradict his false thinking. He expresses his contempt through derisive attitudes, behavior, and speech.

The scornful fool turns a deaf ear to rebuke: “A wise son heareth his father’s instruction: but a scorner [lûwts] heareth not rebuke” (Proverbs 13:1). Those who attempt to lead the scornful fool away from the path of destruction that he seems determined to follow will suffer his wrath. “A scorner loveth not one that reproveth him: neither will he go unto the wise” (Proverbs 15:12). “He that reproveth a scorner [lûwts] getteth to himself shame . . . Reprove not a scorner [lûwts], lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee” (Proverbs 9:7–8).

A scorner must be punished—for his own sake and for the sake of those whom he can potentially influence. “Smite a scorner [lûwts], and the simple [pethîy] will beware” (Proverbs 19:25). “When the scorner [lûwts] is punished, the simple [pethîy] is made wise” (Proverbs 21:11). (See also Proverbs 22:10.)

The Steadfast Fool

The most dangerous type of fool is a steadfast, or committed, fool. The Hebrew word nâbâl (naw-BAWL), which means “stupid, wicked,” identifies this type of person. This type of fool embodies characteristics of both the silly fool and the sensual fool, with an emphasis on being base and disgraceful. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, nâbâl also is translated as “a vile person.”

A steadfast fool wholly rejects God and His ways. “The fool [nâbâl] hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good” (Psalm 14:1). This type of fool is proud and close-minded to reason. He is his own god, committed to freely gratifying his lower nature. (See Proverbs 30:21–23, Proverbs 30:32.) His goal is to draw as many others as possible into his evil ways. Attempts to reprove him will be futile and bring frustration to the one who tries to influence him. Only God can successfully reprove a steadfast fool. 

Choose Wisdom; Reject Foolishness

Proverbs Chapter 1 notes that wisdom declares: “How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. . . . For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil” (verses 22–23, 32–33). Let us heed this declaration and “walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15). (See also Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 3:35.)

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