Prov 26:4-5 seem to contradict. I’m trying to figure out how to deal with the foolish arguments of someone I know, and I can’t figure out whether to argue back or answer!!! Input???
Prov 26:4 Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are.
Prov 26:5 Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation.
I use this example often when I discuss supposed biblical “contradictions.” I believe that both proverbs are “true” in that they give good advice to us when we speak with fools. Which advice we should take depends on what kind of fool we are talking to and the nature of the foolishness they are engaging in.
There are times when a fool is behaving so foolishly that to engage in any sort discussion on his/her level is to demean oneself and to dishonor God. In such cases, we should not “answer the fool according to his folly,” but should refuse to engage on that level. Period.
There are other times when the fool is perhaps not quite so foolish and there is at least some reason for hoping that engaging him/her in a conversation might be helpful. In this case, one method the Proverbist is suggesting is that we “answer him according to his folly.” I interpret this to mean we should reflect back to him/her the thinking, showing it for what it is. In otherwords, we should show the person how truly foolish or irrational their line of thinking is by extrapolating what they are saying to its limit and showing how it is completely unreasonable. Either that or we can give the fool a different but analogous version of what they are saying which proves how foolish their thinking is.
I believe that Nathan did something a bit like this when he created a parable for David which was analogous to his terrible behaviour with Uriah and Bathsheeba. He answered David according to his folly. David definitely got the point when Nathan said “you are the man.”
All of us have been in situations where advice #1 is applicable. Talking to a drunk when he/she is drunk is an example, but there are many others in which the talk is so foolish that any form of engaging the thinking whatsoever is inadvisable.