Devotional Readings

Proverbs 26:4-5 – The Foolishness of Apparent Contradictions

God’s word does not contain contradictory statements.

If you read my previous post you saw examples of the almost 200 references to the fool, or foolish in the Bible.
These two verses when read quickly seem to say opposite things….seeming to break the logical rule, of contradiction. But close reading shows one the depth of understanding about fools that Solomon writes about.
Pro 26:4  Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.

Pro 26:5  Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.

Old John Gill explains it this way…

Proverbs 26:4

Answer not a fool according to his folly,…. Sometimes a fool, or wicked man, is not to be answered at all; as the ministers of Hezekiah answered not a word to Rabshakeh; nor Jeremiah the prophet to Hananiah; nor Christ to the Scribes and Pharisees; and when an answer is returned, it should not be in his foolish way and manner, rendering evil for evil, and railing for railing, in the same virulent, lying, calumniating, and reproachful language;

lest thou also be like unto him; lest thou also, who art a man of understanding and sense, and hast passed for one among men, come under the same imputation, and be reckoned a fool like him.

Proverbs 26:5

Answer a fool according to his folly,…. The Targum is,

“but speak with a fool in thy wisdom;”

and the Syriac version,

“yea, speak with a fool according to thy wisdom;”

which would at once remove the seeming contradiction in these words to the former, but then they are not a true version; indeed it is right, and must be the sense, that when a fool is answered, as it is sometimes necessary he should, that it be done in wisdom, and so as to expose his folly; 

he is to be answered and not answered according to different times, places, and circumstances, and manner of answering

he is to be answered when there is any hope of doing him good, or of doing good to others; or of preventing ill impressions being made upon others by what he has said; when the glory of God, the good of the church, and the cause of truth, require it; and when he would otherwise glory and triumph, as if his words or works were unanswerable, as follow;

lest he be wise in his own conceit; which fools are apt to be, and the rather when no answer is given them; imagining it arises from the strength of their arguments, and their nervous way of reasoning, when it is rather from a neglect and contempt of them.

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