Q&A: Don't Answer a Fool, Do Answer a Fool? Proverbs 26:4-5

Don't Answer a Fool, Do Answer a Fool? Proverbs 26:4-5

Question

Don't answer a fool or do answer a fool? Proverbs 26:4-5

Answer

Proverbs 26:4-5 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.
Fools (1) despise wisdom (Prov 1:7, 22; 10:21; 23:9), (2) are scornful (Prov 10:23; 14:9), (3) are right in their own eyes (Prov 12:15), and (3) are deceitful (Prov 14:8). In this proverb, we observe a common form of Hebrew parallelism. One idea is building upon another. Proverbs 26:4, 5 is dealing with a fool from different situations that require different prayerful approaches. Sometimes we should not give an answer to a fool; however, at other times, to avoid their foolishness looking wise, we need to expose their folly.

Some quick notes may help on this proverb. We should be careful not to lower ourselves to the fool's level. It is sinful to meet the fool's insult with another insult (1 Pet 3:9; cf. Prov 20:22). We should overcome evil with good (Prov 25:21; cf. Luke 6:28; Rom 12:14). An individual is not to silently endure the fool's folly, for to do so affirms the fool. One must answer a fool in order to correct him without becoming like him.

No proverb is intended to cover every situation, and none are absolute. They are rather general guidelines and still require the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom as to when to speak and act (Jas 1:5).

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).