4 ¶ Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.
Here’s a pair of verses that usually get a chuckle or a questioning look out of a person when they first see them. The commentator John Gill, from the 1700’s, points out that one should not answer a fool at all, as the ministers of Hezekiah didn’t answer Rabshakeh, nor Christ to the Scribes and Pharisees, and when an answer is offered it should not be in the same manner as the fool who asked the question with evil for evil, railing for railing, or in the same lying manner in which the question was given. When you must answer the fool you should use the wisdom you have received from God’s word.
So, here we have a Proverb telling you not to answer a fool in the same manner in which he asks a question lest you look as idiotic as him. When you must answer a fool, do it in wisdom, to keep him from thinking he has carried the field with his argument and that you are surrendering due to his superior reasoning ability, which is a joke.
Matthew Henry underscores the need to know when to answer a fool and how not to appear to be as stupid as he is when arguing your point. You don’t let him get away with his foolishness but you don’t respond in the same manner as he proposed the question. Seems simple enough. Henry’s point is that it is often best to remain silent unless you believe that silence would make your case look weak.
The internet has become, among other things, a great platform for endless arguments. Having the last word seems to be a lot of fun for many people, even if that last word is as moronic as it can possibly be. But, these Proverbs and, God’s word, in general, are not concerned with the trivialities of politics or sports as points of argument. We need to be careful when presenting the Gospel to others, particularly when a person is argumentative and obnoxious about their unbelief. Should questions like this be answered?
“If God is just and good, why is there suffering in the world?”
“Can God make an object too heavy for Him to move?”
“God doesn’t make junk. I was born this way, so obviously ‘this way’ must be good.”
At least two of these questions might come up in a rational discussion of the Gospel and the Bible. But, if the person posing them is acting as a fool; being hateful and combative, dishonest and verbally abusive you are not to respond in kind. As it is said, it is better to be silent and be thought a fool than to open up one’s mouth and remove all doubt. Christians being combative and hostile when presenting the Gospel of Christ, even in reply to a fool, do nothing to further the cause of Christ and usually get angry because their false Self has been attacked. It’s not about you. It’s about Christ. If you are standing on the street having a shouting match with someone you have been trying to witness to, how can a bystander know who is the fool and who isn’t? Know the Scriptures forward and backward. Pray. State your case. Don’t get tangled up in endless disputations with a heart that’s unwilling to receive Christ.
1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: 16 ¶ Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
So, always be ready to give an answer to everyone that questions your faith but don’t act like a fool doing it.