A buddy emailed me the following question last evening. . . .
Tim,Needless to say, I was just encouraged that he was reading along with me in the Proverbs. . . . but its true. . . . those two verses do seem to contradict one another. Take a look. . .
Reading Proverbs 26 tonight, I came across a couple of verses that
Four and Five seem to contradict one another, and even after checking the context and consulting a few different translations, I was lost.
When you have a minute, could you clarify.
(26:4) Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him.So what do we do with that? Here's my answer followed by a few additional thoughts by commentator Tremper Longman. . .
(26:5) Answer a fool as his folly deserves, That he not be wise in his own eyes.
Great question! Some of the Proverbs do seem to contradict each other reminding us that wisdom is often situational. What is wise in a given situation varies. There are times when answering a fool according to his folly can suck us into his folly, depending on the question that's being asked by the fool or the situation in which he is asking. There are other times, when a fool should be answered according to his folly, to show him his folly and put him in his place and to help him along.So what do you think? Did you catch the apparent contradiction? Did you just rush over it and not even try to reconcile it? Or did you reconcile it in another way?
After taking my own shot at your question, I checked to see what commentator Tremper Longman thought. Here's his perspective. . . .
This proverb pair is prime evidence leading toward the proper understanding of the proverb genre. Proverbs are not universally true laws but circumstancially relevant principles. In short, the answer depends on the nature of the fool with whom one is engaged in conversation. In other words, the wise person must assess whether this is a fool who will simply drain one's energy with no positive results or whether an answer will prove fruitful to the fool or perhaps to those who everhear. The wise not only know the proverb, but also can read the circumstances and the people with whom they dialogue.
Hope that helps. Let me know what you think.
Are you reading along in Proverbs with me, a proverb a day corresponding to the day of the month? Maybe you've missed a day or two and are on the verge of throwing in the towel. Don't do it!
If you miss a day, don't give up and don't beat yourself up, just start again today reading the chapter that corresponds to that day. (I've even missed a couple of days. . . its not a big deal!)