“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.”
At first glance, today’s verse passage appears contradictory. On the one hand, we are told not to answer the fool or we will end up reducing ourselves to his level. On the other hand, we are admonished to answer the fool in order to show him his error. What are we to make of this? Is this is an actual contradiction? Not at all. In reality, the writer was a brilliant man who was thinking on a higher level than most people today are interested in or even capable of engaging with. This is the result of a kind of intellectual entropy, that is, the tendency of man to lose knowledge, wisdom, and insight as one generation succeeds another. Only monumental effort, disciplined training and systematic instruction can reverse the trend. Christians, who know the One in Whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3), should be the most concerned with passing these twin blessings on to others (2 Timothy 2:2). We definitely have our work cut out for us. Not only do we have the natural intellectual entropy to deal with, we have to deal with the spirit of the age, which has been moving in virtually every cultural megaphone, government, and so-called institutions of learning. Knowing that Christians have the high ground in intellectual, rational and moral combat, this wicked spirit has been working systematically to “dumb down” the culture. Its plan is to make people unable to think deeply, reason properly, or discern correctly in matters concerning truth, faith, and morality. Today’s proverb gives practical instruction to Paul’s imperative for us to instruct “those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25). Only the Christian worldview is coherent and consistent. What we believe about reality, knowledge, and ethics fit together perfectly without contradiction. Those that hold to other views of the world end up, as Paul tells us, opposing themselves. That is, what they believe about reality directly contradicts what they believe about knowledge and ethics. The atheist for instance, believes the world is reducible to molecules in motion with no one in charge ultimately. He can claim to be a moral man and a man of science, but neither one of these claims comports with his stated view of reality. If everything is random, accidental and meaningless, there is no way anyone could know anything! Furthermore, there would be no way in which anyone could evaluate anything on principled moral grounds. The writer of today’s proverb is instructing us to avoid adopting any of the foolish presuppositions of the non-believer (don’t answer according to his folly). On the other hand, we ought to show him the irrationality of his worldview (answer him according to his folly), “that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (2 Timothy 2:26).