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Proverbs 26:4–5 ‘Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.’ (vv4–5)

There are some people who think that there are contradictions in the Bible. There do appear to be some, but often one or both passages that seem to contradict are being interpreted wrongly.

One of the most obvious apparent contradictions is verses 4 and 5 of Proverbs 26. You will notice that the verses seem to say the exact opposite: the start of verse 4 contradicts the one following!

The answer to this conundrum is simple. The Book of Proverbs was never intended to be a list of commands or a list of things that will necessarily always happen.

They are a collection of wise sayings which outline what will generally be true. The compiler of the Proverbs, probably Solomon, is not so foolish as to miss the apparent contradiction.

Which is it

But he has placed verses 4 and 5 together to underline that there will be occasions where verse 4 is the best course of action and other occasions where verse 5 is the approach to take.

People who try to read the whole Bible as a list of rules will fall foul. Of course some parts are direct commands which we follow to the letter; other parts need to be read in the light of the New Testament and the coming of Jesus, which makes some commands obsolete or in need of adjustment.

And for many parts of Scripture, we need to look to God to give us wisdom to discern how to respond. Scripture reading, as life itself, requires the work of the Spirit to help us navigate. And this goes for answering fools!


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A Prayer To Make:
‘Thank You, Lord, for Your daily presence as I seek to live wisely. Help me to seek Your direction today. Amen.’

An Action To Take:
Next time you are unsure how to respond to a foolish comment, ask for God’s help in a quick prayer.

Scripture To Consider:
1 Sam. 25:1–44; Ps. 14; John 13:18–30

Micha Jazz is Director of Resources at Waverley Abbey, UK.