Proverbs 26:4 says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.” But then the next verse, Proverbs 26:5, says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” So what should we do? Should we answer a fool or not?
First of all, the book of Proverbs often talks about “the fool.” The fool is the person who rejects the truth of God’s word and refuses to obey God’s law. God calls his people to be wise instead of fools. Wisdom promises us life and blessing.
When wisdom says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him himself,” it teaches us not to share the fool’s ignorant and destructive approach to life. Jesus said something similar in the New Testament: “Do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matt. 7:6). We have to think wisely about how to engage people in the world, particularly those who oppose the truth of God’s word. They don’t want to hear true wisdom.
We’ve all been in conversations with individuals who aren’t actually looking for the truth, even if they claim to be. Instead of being truly wise, they’re wise in their own eyes. They think they already know everything. They want your attention, and they’re happy to argue with you. But they don’t want to listen. Entering into that kind of discussion is indeed foolish. That’s what Proverbs 26:4 wants us to understand.
At other times, though, fools need to be rebuked. Their errors need to be challenged so that they can’t remain comfortable in their foolishness.
So these verses, like many of the teachings in Proverbs, show that wisdom in part means reading people and situations and knowing how to rightly respond. What to say and how to act can be different at different times, even if on the surface two situations seem similar. The verses don’t contradict each other; instead, they show that true wisdom involves knowing when to speak and when not to speak, when to back away—not casting our pearls before swine—and when to respond.
That’s what these seemingly opposed verses want us to see.
This article is part of our Frequently Asked Questions series. Listen to Pastor Adriel answer this question on Core Radio here.
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