Are Proverbs 26:4 and Proverbs 26:5 Contradictory?
In the book of Proverbs, Solomon says “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.” (Proverbs 26:4). However, it also says “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” Some skeptics look at these Bible verses and say that it’s a contradiction. Obviously you cannot obey both commands. To answer a fool according to his folly is the exact opposite of not answering him. If you answer him, you will be disobeying the command in scripture not to answer him. If you do not answer him, you will be disobeying the command in scripture to answer the fool. How in the world are these two verse not a contradiction? Is the skeptic right? Is there finally a provable contradiction in scripture rendering it no longer inerrant and therefore not divinely inspired?
I don’t think so. For several reasons. First off, the verse that says “do not answer a fool” and the verse that says “answer a fool” are right next to each other! Proverbs 26:4 says “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.” And Proverbs 26:5 says “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” They’re right next to each other! That alone should suggest to us that Solomon probably isn’t contradicting himself. It’s very improbable that Solomon would right one thing, forget what he said, and contradict himself in the very next sentence. If any author of any book is going to contradict himself, the contradictory statements are going to be much father apart.
So what exactly did he mean? I think that Solomon is merely describing a lose/lose situation. No matter how you handle a fool, a negative consequent is going to follow. If you do NOT answer a fool, then he will be wise in his own eyes. If you DO answer a fool, you’ll be just like him. If you choose not to answer a fool, he’ll likely think that the reason you’re not responding to him is because you don’t know how to answer what he said (i.e he’ll be wise in his own eyes). “See! See! You can’t answer my argument! You can’t do it! You know I’m right.” On the other hand, if you answer a fool, you may end up
So given this catch 22, what should we do?
I like how GotQuestions.org answered this question in an article addressing this same issue. They write “Whether we use the principle of verse 4 and deal with a fool by ignoring him, or obey verse 5 and reprove a fool depends on the situation. In matters of insignificance, it’s probably better to disregard him. In more important areas, such as when a fool denies the existence of God (Psalm 14:1), verse 5 tells us to respond to his foolishness with words of rebuke and instruction. To let a fool speak his nonsense without reproof encourages him to remain wise in his own eyes and possibly gives credibility to his folly in the eyes of others. In short, in negligible issues we should just ignore fools, but in issues that matter, they must be dealt with so that credence will not be given to what they say.”