There are times when those who search the Holy Word with evil intent find an apparent example of their wish to discredit it. One such instance is that found in Proverbs 26:4-5: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” Thinking to have found that elusive contradiction, they delight in becoming as the subject of those verses: a fool. Let’s think about it!
When literal words appear contradictory, the idea being conveyed depends heavily upon the all important context. The nuance of any language allows the same terms to be used contextually to convey quite different ideas. A parent finalizing warnings to a child before exercising imminent punishment might say, “Do that just one more time!” Of course the idea quickly understood is “You had better not do that one more time.” Here, the import of the message is quickly understood by inflection of voice and/or body language, both of which are absent in the written word, underscoring even more the importance of context (that which is to be read or understood as being with the text). If this is making the reader a little tired, hang on because now we are ready to deal with the specific verses of scripture at hand. Proverbs 26:4 is understood to convey this meaning: Do not answer, or even pretend to be in agreement with the frivolous comments of a close-minded fool placating him in his folly, lest you will be like him. The next verse, 26:5 conveys the proper interaction with one who is a fool. Answer, setting forth corrections to the erroneous statements of a fool according to his folly, otherwise he will be wise in his own eyes, believing you agree with him.
These verses of scripture, far from being contradictory are complementary in detailing proper interactions that are sure to become a part of everyone’s experience. Truth cannot contradict itself, and remain. Two plus two equals four. and is an unerring truth. If at any time the formula allows a different (contradictory) product, it has fallen from truth to become a lie.
The concept under consideration here is often hard for some to employ, being sensitive to the feelings of others. But one must be true to the truth and wisdom given him from above or become the enablement to a lie. Men would do well to often recall the words of Solomon as he said. “Open rebuke is better than secret love,”(Prov. 27:5), and “Faithful are the wounds of a friend . . .” Proverbs. 27:6. Thus, in wise discernment one does well to answer or to not answer.