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Answer not a fool according to his folly...

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Biblical Wisdom

Proverbs 26:4-5 – Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. 

The self-confident fool thinks too highly of himself and his opinions, and he shares them freely. How should a wise person deal with him? First, remember that giving him honor is no more fitting than snow falling in summer (Proverbs 26:1). Praise and respect will only confirm him in his conceit. So how should you deal with a talking fool? The advice in 26:4-5 seems contradictory.

“Do not answer him according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself,” that is, do not engage him on his own terms. During Jesus’ last public teaching in the Temple, Sadducees came to Him making fun of the Resurrection, with a story about seven brothers who each married the same woman as each brother died in turn.  No children were born to any of the brothers. So, they asked, “In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.” If Jesus had answered according to their folly, he would have tried to answer the question, who would have her as wife – the first, the last, her favorite? Answering that question would have drawn Jesus into their foolish thinking. It would be like trying to answer such queries as, “What was God doing before He made the world?” “Can God make a square circle?” “If God is glorified by forgiving sins, should we not sin often?” “When did you stop beating your wife?”

You cannot answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him, but you should answer a fool according to his folly, so that he won’t be wise in his own eyes. Jesus answered the Sadducees. “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong (Mark 12:24-27).” The Sadducees were answered. In front of the crowds, Jesus exposed their foolishness, and a scribe congratulated him. “Teacher, you have spoken well (Luke 20:39).”

The wise person will know how to apply this proverb, refusing to be drawn into silly questions, which Paul told Timothy to avoid (II Timothy 2:16-18, 23), yet answering opponents with gentleness that exposes their folly, so that they might have a chance to escape and come to know the truth (II Timothy 2:24-26). Only a fool reads Proverbs 26:4-5 and pronounces it self-contradictory!

Does the prospect of impacting the world excite you? Do you want a career that allows you to use your God-given talents to make a difference in your life, your community, and the world around you? If so, you should learn more about Geneva’s biblical studies program.

Dr. Bill Edgar, former chair of the Geneva College Board of Trustees, former Geneva College President and longtime pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA)


Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash

Opinions expressed in the Geneva Blog are those of its contributors and do not necessarily represent the opinions or official position of the College. The Geneva Blog is a place for faculty and contributing writers to express points of view, academic insights, and contribute to national conversations to spark thought, conversation, and the pursuit of truth, in line with our philosophy as a Christian, liberal arts institution.

Aug 1, 2019

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