Scripture

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.

Observation

At first read, these two scriptures appear to be in contradiction to each other. Let’s look at some other translations of verse 4:

New Living Translation
Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are.

Amplified Bible
Do not answer [nor pretend to agree with the frivolous comments of] a [closed-minded] fool according to his folly, Otherwise you, even you, will be like him.

Good News Translation
If you answer a silly question, you are just as silly as the person who asked it.

Now let’s look at some other translations of verse 5:

New Living Translation
Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation.

Amplified Bible
Answer [and correct the erroneous concepts of] a fool according to his folly, Otherwise he will be wise in his own eyes [if he thinks you agree with him].

Good News Translation
Give a silly answer to a silly question, and the one who asked it will realize that he’s not as smart as he thinks.

The clarification of the Amplified version is very helpful here. The keywords that I see to take note of are “comments” in verse 4 and “concepts” in verse 5. The adjectives “frivolous” and “erroneous” further clarify the type of response one is to a fool if any.

There are times when it’s better to just ignore some of the things that you hear people say to you or in your proximity. This may be hard for some people who are eager to correct others. What do you do though when you’re in a conversation with someone you can’t ignore? Like a relative? I think we’ve all had times when we’re in uncomfortable situations where we are around people with different viewpoints, sometimes ones that are so different from our own that we don’t know how to respond. I think they are called, “family gatherings”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with different viewpoints. If you are a Christian then you once had a viewpoint that was from a worldly perspective but now, as Believers, we are no longer to have that type of view (2 Corinthians 5:16). In reality, there are only two perspectives. God’s and the worlds. No other affiliation that you have, as a Believer, is more important than the one you have with Jesus Christ, our Lord, and Savior.

Let’s take a look at Jesus’ response to frivolity in Luke 23:8-9 of the New International Version:

When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.

Here we see Jesus before Herod, bloodied and beaten, and Herod hopes “to see him perform a sign of some sort” as if he were a circus performer or a magician. Herod’s questions were likely representative of his attitude that wished to see Jesus perform tricks. They held no eternal value. Therefore, Jesus “gave him no answer.” If Jesus had answered Herod’s silly questions then He’d be giving value to them and the thought process behind them.

There were times, however, when Jesus did answer people who challenged the concept of the person of God. Even when those thought processes were, in their nature, foolish and paradoxical. For example, we see the Pharisees, in Matthew 12:24 saying that Jesus cast out demons by the authority of “Beelzebub, the ruler of demons.” Jesus’ response was to correct their erroneous concept of God, “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. Then how will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:26 NIV)

Jesus’ response to these two types of questions allows us to see Proverbs 26:4-5 in a different light. The difference between the two verses is one of eternal value versus non-eternal value. Anything that isn’t an eternal concept that needs to be corrected falls into verse 4. An example of an eternal concept that could be corrected is when an unbeliever says something like, “God hates me.” It’s really up to you to decide how to handle the issue. When I am in a conversation with someone spouting conspiracy theories I will be likely to listen politely, but when the same person expresses, “God hates me” I will correct them and let them know that God does not hate them. He loves them no matter what.

We are not without tools in our daily walk. We have discernment and the Holy Spirit. Listen to the Holy Spirit and do what He says. Use the wisdom and discernment that you have been given by God. If you lack wisdom then ask God and He will give it to you (James 1:5). Whatever you do, do it in love.