Proverbs 26:4-5, “4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”
Did you catch the supposed contradiction in the two proverbs for today’s lesson? If you didn’t, please slowly read them again. Now do you see it? Did King Solomon make a mistake or did the translators make a mistake?
Some critics of the Bible read these two proverbs and say, “Aha, the Bible contradicts itself! In one proverb it says, ‘do not answer a fool according to his folly’ and in the other it says, ‘answer a fool according to his folly;’ so what do we do, answer or don’t answer a fool in his folly?” The answer is, “both.”
God gave us the wisdom to know how to both ignore and answer a fool.
First, both verses are God’s Word and should be obeyed. King Solomon nor the translators made a mistake and the Holy Spirit wasn’t away when these two proverbs were written. God said in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Therefore, these two proverbs are both inspired and are useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training us in righteousness (“right living”).
Second, and more to the point, there is no contradiction between these two verses, just two different applications. The best question to ask isn’t, “How should I answer a fool?” But rather, “What kind of fool am I talking to?” In other words, King Solomon is giving two different approaches to answering a fool because there are two different kinds of fools in life.
In verse four, Solomon is referring to the kind of fool that is not willing to listen and will only mock and ridicule whatever you say. Jesus referred to these kinds of people as “dogs and pigs” in Matthew 7:6; He said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Likewise, when dealing with a “mocking-kind-of-fool” don’t waste your time answering them because they will never listen. George Bernard Shaw said, “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”
However, in verse five Solomon is referring to the kind of fool that needs a rebuke, so others will be warned of their folly. When you are dealing with a “make an example out of them-kind-of-fool” then give them a response in wisdom to reveal their folly in hopes they, along with others acting like them, will listen and repent. Jesus made an example of the Jewish leaders by calling out their folly for all to hear.
Jesus’ most intense rebuke is found in Matthew 23:13-39 where he gives them seven “Woes,” and calls them hypocrites, children of the devil, blind guides, blind fools, whitewashed tombs, snakes and vipers. Jesus rebuked them like this because He didn’t want them or their followers to think their way of living was righteous. Jesus ended the correction with saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). As a result, even when Jesus rebuked people, He did it because He loved them.
The main lesson from these two complimentary proverbs is to ask the Lord when dealing with people in their foolishness, “What kind of fool are they?” Then based on what the Holy Spirit reveals, answer them or do not answer them in their folly.
- Ask God to always keep you from folly.
- Identify the kind of foolish people you encounter in life.
- Be led by the Holy Spirit to respond in wisdom to people in their folly.