Would you please explain Proverbs 26:4, 5. Verse Four reads, "ANSWER NOT a fool according to his folly." Yet, the very next verse tells us, "ANSWER a fool according to his folly."
Actually, these two verses are not contradictory — BUT COMPLEMENTARY! The use of either verse — that is, its principle applied to a particular use — depends on the set of circumstances. Both these verses contain gems of wisdom that each one of us needs to learn to properly apply in answering other people's questions (I Peter 3:15). The LAST PART OF EACH VERSE holds the KEY which unlocks the meaning of these verses — and shows them to be practical, usable and wise principles. Verse Four reads, "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him." The last part of the verse holds the KEY: don't degrade yourself by descending to HIS LEVEL in an ARGUMENT! Don't harangue — don't bite back — don't try to "argue back" with someone who is obviously trying to stir contention. The perfect example of this is found in Luke 20:1-8. Here Christ was teaching in the temple. The Pharisees came to Him with these words: "Tell us, BY WHAT AUTHORITY doest thou these things? or WHO is he that gave thee this authority!" Quite obviously, they weren't interested in learning anything — they weren't coming as humble individuals hungering after new knowledge. THEY WERE THERE TO ARGUE WITH CHRIST!! Notice, how Christ handled the situation. "And he answered and said unto them, I will also ASK YOU ONE thing; and answer me: The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? "And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then believed ye him not? "But and if we say, Of men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet. "And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was. "And Jesus said unto them, NEITHER TELL I YOU by what authority I do these things" (Luke 20:3-8). Christ answered their question with a question! To answer their question directly would have only resulted in a verbal battle. An argument would have ensued. Christ avoided strife by NOT answering them according to their folly. Now, understand Verse Five in Proverbs 26. Again, the last part of the verse holds the KEY: "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit." In this case — if you don't answer his question — if you don't accept his challenge — he is going to THINK HIMSELF to be wise! Your beliefs — your position will be ridiculed and in jeopardy. Now is the time to ANSWER "for the hope that lies within you" (I Peter 3:15). The Apostle Paul had this problem False apostles in Corinth were claiming THEY WERE the true Apostles of Christ. Paul's position was in jeopardy! His office as Apostle to the Gentiles was at stake. But not that it would hurt him. The congregation would BE LED ASTRAY! Now was not the time for silence — or clever questions! Now was the time to SMASH the contentions — to ANSWER these false apostles! Notice II Corinthians 11:23 — and how he answered these foolish men. "Are they ministers of Christ? (I SPEAK AS A FOOL) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one... In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness." Paul showed the people HE was their true minister! He answered and debunked the claims of these other men. There is no contradiction! But rather much wisdom in these two verses. Wisdom we need to APPLY in our daily lives!