Why Did Jesus Call Some People “Stupid”?
Dec 27, 2014 16211
Matthew 15:16 is an interesting verse. In the Greek it goes like this:
Ἀκμὴν καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀσύνετοί ἐστε
Jesus is addressing the disciples, in an apparent moment of frustration.
In the King James Version, which tends to sanitise the Greek to make it sound holier in English, the words of Jesus are translated as,
Are you also still without understanding?
The New International Version comes closer to the mark with,
Are you still so dull?
I think that, although it is a paraphrase, The Message actually comes closest to the words of Jesus on this occasion, translating the Christ’s words as,
Are you being willfully stupid?
The word that Jesus used here (ἀσύνετος) literally means to have no understanding, to be ignorant and stupid.
It is striking that Jesus used this word on his disciples and not on the Pharisees. What was it that prompted Jesus to say such a thing to his disciples?
As was often the case, it all started with the Pharisees:
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
In response Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites and he rebuked them for nullifying the word of God for the sake of their traditions, and for honouring God with their lips when their hearts were far from God. Then he went on to explain that it is not what goes into people’s mouths that makes people unclean, but what comes out of their mouths (Matt 15:3–10.)
In other words he was taking issue with their definition of sin. He was telling them that sin was what came out of them because it was within then, rather than something that contaminated them from the outside because of what they did or what they said or what they ate.
The disciples didn’t think that Jesus had answered the issue properly and so they came to him and pressed him on the matter. They said to him, “Don’t you know that you offended the Pharisees when you said that. You really shouldn’t have said that.” That’s my loose paraphrase of v.12.
And that’s when Jesus asked them how they could be so stupid. And then he taught them again that sin is a matter of the heart, and not of the externals. He had to be very blunt with them. He told them that what you eat goes in through the mouth and is defecated into the toilet. So those things don’t defile you.
out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person.
The lesson for us is clear. Too many Christians focus on sin as what you do –and that is true as far as that goes. But it doesn’t go anywhere near far enough! Sin is a heart condition. It is the natural condition of your heart and my heart. And it will be so until glorification. Until then, our greatest struggle will be with our own “evil thoughts” (v.19), from which all sinful actions proceed.
Our theology, religion, and spirituality must start with a right understanding of sin – and a personal acknowledgment of our own sinfulness. This must be the basis for our humble need of Christ and his gospel, our repentance, and of our acceptance of others.
Unless we accept and own this simple fact, we will focus on the externals as the Pharisees did. We will worship God in vain and our teachings will be merely human rules (v.9.) Our focus will be on avoiding sin by washed our hands, or eaten the right foods, or performed the right rituals in the right way. And we will judge others accordingly. All externals.
And at the end of the day, we will find that Jesus was right. We were stupid all along.
– Eliezer Gonzalez