Fools – Answer or Not Answer?

fool 1

Q. Aren’t Proverbs 26:4-5 contradictory? How do you explain them?

A. The contradiction is only apparent:
Prov 26:4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.
• Prov 26:5 Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Logically, two opposing statements are contradictory only if they are referring to the same thing, in the same aspects, at the same time. For example, witness A of an accident said, “The traffic light was yellow”, while witness B referring to the same light said, “It was red”. They are not contradicting each other if they are not looking at the light simultaneously, with B seconds after A. In the same way, Prov 26:4-5 are both true, but they do not apply at the same time.

In general, Prov 26:4 applies. Do not do tit for that. If he is mocking, lying, using foul language etc., do not respond in kind, or you will descend to his level and become just like him. However, there are situations that require rebuking a foolish argument e.g. in formal debates to defend the truth. For example, in debating the resolution “The Bible is not Trustworthy” the debater arguing for the proposition claimed that there is no absolute truth. In rebuttal the opposition asked “Is that an absolute statement?”. Either way the asserter answers will show up the foolishness of his claim.

In all arguments we need to look at the presuppositions before we respond. Many are based on false premises which when exposed will fall on itself. Prov 26:5 turns the argument back on the fool himself so he realizes the stupidity of what he is saying. Generally, I believe the wise approach is to apply Prov 26:4 in trivial matters and ignore the fool. But apply Prov 26:5 when the issue is significant in defense of the faith. Hope this helps.

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