MDB 69: Proverbs 26

Randall Grossman
"Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes."
                                                                       Proverbs 26:4-5

What is this? It certainly looks like a contradiction in Scripture! There are, in fact, certain verbal  contradictions found in the Bible, but they are only apparent. That is, the words disagree but the ideas do not. (The classic example of this is Romans 3:28 and James 2:24).   In this case, as an older and wiser colleague once said to me, the Bible is teaching us that it very difficult to know how to answer a fool!

The book of  Proverbs includes hundreds of wise sayings that give us principles for living a godly life in a fallen world in a manner that is faithful to God and his covenant with us. They are not to be viewed as iron-clad promises, but proverbial sayings that are generally true. 
In this case we are especially called upon to carefully judge the situation we are in. If a foolish person is completely defiant and unwilling to listen to reason, the best thing to do is to politely end the exchange.  Otherwise by continuing the conversation and appearing to give credibility to his arguments, you be contributing to his foolishness.. At other times a fool is arguing in such a way that it is necessary to correct his errors. If you do not do this, he will think he is right because you have not refuted him.

Our Savior Jesus perfectly models this wisdom. To those who are teachable (such as the disciples), he is patient.  To those who need correction (such as the Pharisees), he is confrontational. To those who are stubborn (such as his accusers), he is silent.

In all these cases we need the wisdom of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. May God grant this to you as you talk to others. Remember, you were once foolish too!