Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will become just like him. Proverbs 26:4 NIV

Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes..Proverbs 26:5 NIV

Should you? Or, Shouldn't you?

  • Proverbs are not commands. They are distilled bits of wisdom and advice. Maybe you could think of it as pointing out the downsides of either acting or not acting. Mar 29, 2014 at 19:34
  • @DJClayworth By the way, give me a few "Commands" in the bible..I want to know which scriptures are more valuable than others.
    – user10314
    Mar 29, 2014 at 19:46
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    – Double U
    Mar 29, 2014 at 19:51
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    If you are looking for how to understand different kinds of scripture, I strongly recommend learning from a wise and mature Christian who you trust. Mar 29, 2014 at 19:54

3 Answers 3


They are not contradictory. You apply each one according to the situation. I don't know what situations King Solomon experienced that taught these truths to him, but I can think of a couple of examples where one would apply.

If the person said something foolish that makes him feel smart, and you know he is teachable, then go ahead and tell him what was wrong with his saying so he won't be puffed up with pride. "Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes" (Proverbs 26:5 NIV).

On the other hand, maybe you aren't very good with words yourself, nor or a quick thinker, or he is very clever at twisting your words around to play a game. You'll only look foolish in those conditions, so it's best to leave his foolish words alone. "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will become just like him" (Proverbs 26:4).

  • I really do appreciate your explanation...You an Flimzy make me realize how closed minded I was when reading those to sayings... Thats crazy,,,lol...but I understand how they are not contradictory now..again, thanks.
    – user10314
    Mar 29, 2014 at 23:17
  • @user10314 I'm glad to be of help! If you think mine is the best answer, do vote on it.
    – Steve
    Mar 29, 2014 at 23:29
  • Your answer and Flimzy answer both were a spirit lifter..So I decided to up vote the two.
    – user10314
    Mar 30, 2014 at 0:06

They may be "contradictory" if taken in a literal sense, but proverbs are not really meant to be taken literally--whether those from the Bible, or from any other source.

Consider the definition of a proverb:

a short popular saying, usually of unknown and ancient origin, that expresses effectively some commonplace truth or useful thought; adage; saw.

As such, each proverb (whether Biblical or otherwise) must be examined on its own, to see what it means. Proverbs are very poetic, and full of imagery that should not be taken literally. Take any analogy too far, and you have chaos. Try to mix two analogies, and really weird things happen.

Consider a modern rendition of a popular chinese proverb:

I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.

Is this saying that literally I forget everything I hear, but I remember everything I see? Of course not. It's speaking in hyperbole to make a point about what is often considered the most effective way of learning something.

Now lets look at your two Biblical proverbs:

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will become just like him.

What point is being made here? If someone does something foolish, doing something foolish in return only makes you like him. That seems like good advice, and this point stands on its own.

Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

What point is being made here? When someone does something foolish, to make him aware of his folly, you must address his folly head-on, otherwise he will think his folly is wisdom. This also seems like good advice, and stands on its own.

And in fact, both pieces of advice can be applied to the same situation, as long as they are each applied appropriately, and in context.

If someone does something foolish to you, you can address his folly head on, without doing something foolish in return.

So no, they do not contradict each other, unless they are taken out of context, and overly literally.

  • That was pretty good! I understand.
    – user10314
    Mar 29, 2014 at 23:13

There are some folks in this world that you cannot win with. You've heard the expression, "darned if you do, darned if you don't"? Fools are people that you should avoid if at all possible-- see Proverbs 14:7. Avoid fools; I believe that is the correct interpretation of these verses. It only contradicts if you try to take each in isolation.

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