Proverbs 26:4-5 Dissected & Defined
Answer not a fool (one who knows right but chooses wrong) according to his folly (depraved mind), lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise (skillful) in his own conceit (that which is conceived).
At first glance, it appears we have two verses that contradict one another. This would make no sense. Why would an author contradict himself in the same paragraph? Especially one of wisest men on earth!
Rather, he is trying to explain to us that there are times when we should correct foolish people and there are times when we should refrain from correcting foolish people.
The reasons for one versus the other are very simple to understand. If you respond to a fool’s depraved way of thinking, you will lower yourself to his standard and find yourself involved in foolish discussion. However, if you don’t answer his foolishness with truth, he will think himself something he is not. This will lead to more foolishness.
In order to be wise counsel, we need to be directed on how to deal with fools. Solomon is saying we need to know when to keep silent and when to speak. There may even be times when we need to do both!
The first admonition to counselors of the foolish is to not answer “according to.” That is to say, if he is boasting, do not boast. If he is angry, do not get angry, etc. Do not use the methods that are chosen by his depraved mind in your counter counsel. Do not answer “accordingly.” Solomon reminds us if we do, we will become just like him!
However, when hearing of his foolishness, there may be times when you can use your wisdom to bring conviction. By acknowledging what he is saying, there may be hopes of doing him some good. Could you prevent further depravity of the mind by setting the fool straight? Would he even allow it? These represent your considerations before responding to a fool and his folly.
So, you can sum up Solomon’s apparent contradiction up with this statement: