Proverbs 26:4–5—How can contradictory commands both be true?

Problem: Verse 4 says “Do not answer a fool according to his folly;” and verse 5 tells us to “Answer a fool according to his folly.” But this looks like a flat contradiction.

Solution: This would be contradictory if it were not qualified by the accompanying phrases. We should answer a fool according to his folly if not doing so will leave him “wise in his own eyes” (v. 5). But, we should not answer him according to his folly if in so doing we will “also be like him.” In other words, it depends on the circumstances. Sometimes we should and sometimes we should not answer a fool. The wise man will know the difference. And if one lacks wisdom, let him ask of God (James 1:5).

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.