Do I answer the fool?? (Coffee Chat 16)

coffee chat

Good morning!

It’s been far too long since we’ve met for a cup of coffee (or tea) in our virtual coffee corner! If you’re new to the blog, welcome! Every so often I like to host a little “coffee chat” to discuss some question or other. This one is long overdue! As always, it’s important to keep the discussion civil—any ad hominem attacks will be deleted without apology.

So grab a cup of joe (or a mug of hot cocoa) and join in the discussion!

For today’s coffee chat, I want to hear your thoughts on the following verses:

Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.

~ Proverbs 26:4-5, ESV (emphasis mine)

In our post-modern society, most discussions take place via the internet (like this one). Facebook, blog posts, and news comments are breeding grounds for vitriol—“you’re a bigot! You’re ignorant. You’re racist. You’re a sheep! You’re uneducated.”

“Blah blah blah (insult) yak yak yak (attack).”

Listening to some people duel with their keyboards is akin to listening to two children bickering on the playground. What’s worse, those attacks are often made by self-proclaimed “intelligent” people.

When I was in college, I had a Political Science professor who had mastered the art of whipping people into frenzied debate. I rarely entered these classroom discussions because they resembled current Facebook threads before Facebook even existed. As much as I burned to dive in and correct some misapprehensions, I’d stay out of it. I knew there was no persuading the other side. (The two sides weren’t listening to each other anyway). Besides, it was helpful to listen to both sides and find the problems with each. The professor allowed the bloodbath to rage, only occasionally stepping in. Meanwhile, he leaned on his desk at the head of the classroom, smirking like some impish greek deity looking down on the antics of mere mortals. Every so often he’d catch me watching him and give me a wink as if to say, “Isn’t this funny?” I suppose it was. And yet, it disturbed me to see how misguided people were and I felt uneasy about keeping my mouth shut. But again, what was the point of debating such chaotically emotional people?

Christians online say some truly shocking things as well. You can’t beat someone over the head with a bible, and using bible verses to persuade someone who doesn’t believe in the authority of the Bible is counterproductive. Oh, and one more thing—just because something is typed, not spoken, doesn’t mean God is going to overlook the viciousness or intent of those statements.

Oh be careful little hands what you type…

What’s a person to do????

Going back to our passage, what does the Proverb writer mean? Do we answer the fool or not? It almost sounds contradictory.

Are we to engage fools in order to turn them from destruction or are we simply becoming like them when we enter the fray? Which is it????

Is the Proverb writer indirectly encouraging us to use discernment as to when to engage or walk away?

Inquiring minds want to know, so comment below!


21 thoughts on “Do I answer the fool?? (Coffee Chat 16)

  1. The NASB translates it like this:
    Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
    Or you will also be like him.

    Answer a fool as his folly deserves,
    That he not be wise in his own eyes.

    In looking up the original words, the second verse might be better translated, “Answer foolishness with a wise/skillful eye.”
    The “lest he be” and “in his own” are translation add-ins.

    With that in mind I think the writer was saying: Don’t stoop to the level of a fool or you’ll be a fool, too. Instead answer foolishness with wisdom.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Excellent explanation, Julie!

      I like how you brought out the other translation and word analysis. This is so helpful. I read this in the ESV, but I’ve read it in the past in the NKJV which reads in much the same way as this text.

      I always wondered if it was a sort of “do not cast your pearls before swine” admonition, but I think your explanation is more on target.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. True. That’s why sometimes it’s hard to debate with people who consider themselves more intelligent than everyone else. Humility is the key to attaining true wisdom. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Psa 14:1 For the choir director. A Psalm of David. The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good.
    David says those that deny God are fools.
    Would we not want to demonstrate God is real?
    Sometimes simple observations are good tools; archaeology, water cycle, stars.
    No matter what evidence you use, the presenters attitude is above all else.
    How well do we listen? Elihu observed in the classroom both sides of the discussion. Either side could not/would not listen and therefore were all doomed. Only when we listen can we learn. We need to learn (understand) before we can help.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, listening is key, particularly if we want to be wise and persuasive. One must understand the problem in order to properly address it. Thanks for your comment!


  3. It depends on the fool.

    Some fools have no interest in being taught and have no interest in learning, and when engaging with the fool you will be then be engaging at their level.

    Other fools do want to learn, and in those cases it is valuable to step in and both learn.

    However, I’m going to turn this around. I think this can be more a message of us as the fool (not seeing others as the fool).

    Be the fool that is interested in learning and engaging, and find it valuable to listen, rather than the fool that has no interest in learning. We’re all fools, and if we are a fool and our folly is not listening we will be engaging in a fruitless discussion that will result in a debate with no one listening, whereas if we are a fool and our folly is the need to learn, whoever engages with us has the opportunity to learn.

    It is just as important to recognize the first fool and not engage with them, but also to recognize when we are being that fool, unable to listen and forcing others to not listen. It is reminding us to be humble, and recognize that we all have something to learn and listen, even if we think we know what is right. If we can listen we can all be wiser.

    I’m the fool, and I need to be the second fool so that when someone comes to me in my folly I’m able to learn, and not force some fruitless hurtful discussion that gets nowhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. wow. Excellent thoughts.

      I especially love two things you mention—humility and listening.

      We cannot hope to gain wisdom if we think we know it all. Arrogance, it seems to me, is at the heart of many arguments. I think that’s why my hackles go up when I hear people accuse those who disagree with them of being intellectually inferior.

      Listening. Being willing to pause. This is indeed critical. In order to reach the heart of the opposition, we have to hear what they are saying and be willing to ask relevant questions. Only when we understand can we more effectively discuss.

      Thank you for such an insightful comment!


  4. I have struggled with this myself. I think a “fool” is often stubborn. It’s not that they can’t understand. It’s that they won’t understand. Sometimes, we don’t know which it is until we have made an attempt or two to reason with them. Other times, it is painfully obvious, and frankly, I become very concerned for that person. Especially if they are a family member. I think the author of those verses is saying to use your discernment as to how you answer, and make sure you don’t “fight fire with fire” so to speak. Easier said than done at times.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, Debbie. Beautifully said, as always. I love your comments.

      Discernment truly is key. I’m afraid it only comes with time and experience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sucked in to an argument only to regret it. Before I enter the fray these days, I try to remind myself that what I say will reflect on Christ, therefore I must exercise extreme care in what I say and how I say it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, Elihu. If only I could live up to my own ideals, let alone the Lords! There always seems to be another “surprise” around the corner. I am sure you are a great reflection on the Lord. Thanks for another great post. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s why God inspired Paul to write Romans chapter 7. We all want to do good, but slip up more often than not. Thank you for your kind encouragement. 😊


  5. For my entire blogging career…this issue has been a struggle. For reasons I have no clue about, early on I attracted a crowd of haters. Lately they have left me in peace, again for reasons I don;t really understand.

    Things are rough out there in the blogworld. There are those who actively prowl the internet looking for Christians to harass, and “deconvert” if they can.

    While I think generally speaking most haters are worth zero of our time…I do think sometimes a strong stand has to be taken. Sometimes taking a strong stand seems ugly.

    Thought provoking as always, Elihu

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, Wally. Things get ugly out there. There are some commenters who do not seek to discuss, just to insult and “de-convert” as you say. There is no reaching them, but I think it’s worth a try, maybe two because we do not know how many seeds have been tossed their way. Ours may be the words that tip the scales for them. And yet, sometimes its best to shake your head, shake it off, and move on. Keep up the good fight, brother.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes indeed! I’ve been praying for the Lord to help me to exercise greater control of my heart and mind, helping me to use all those fruits of the spirit. Thank you so much for your comment. God be with you!

      Liked by 1 person

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