“Never argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference” –Mark Twain

Thoughts from a Foolish Chapter: Proverbs 26


 “Never argue with a fool.  Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference “ –Mark Twain*

Wisdom from Proverbs on Fools . . .


My mother-in-law, Juanita Terry, claimed this was some of the best wisdom she’d ever seen.


On the surface it appears contradictory.  One Proverb says to ignore fools and their foolish words.  The following advises a retort.

Proverbs 26:4-5 NASB
4   Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
     Or you will also be like him.
5  Answer a fool as his folly deserves,
     That he not be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26:4-5 KJV
4    Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.

5  Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.

I’ll be asking my two preacher sons (and all of you) to help me with the Hebrew on these verses.  Is there a difference on the use of ‘fool?’

Here’s my Dry Creek thinking on this:  There are two kinds of ‘fools’   Foolish Fools and Ignorant Fools.

 Verse 4 refers to Foolish Fools.  No matter of talking will convince them. (Don’t confuse me with the facts.)   If God wrote the answer in the sky, they’d say He spelled it wrong.

Leave them alone.  Don’t waste your breath.

 Verse 5 refers to Ignorant Fools.  (I’ve been this numerous times in my life.)  They just don’t know any better and open their mouths.

I recall an instance as a teenager.  The Iles family was having a wonderful evening meal.  I commented,  “They really shafted him.”

My dad laid his fork down,  “Now Curt, I don’t believe I’d use that.  The way I hear it used at work is not really good.”

Daddy never said another word.  I was embarrassed as all get-out but got his point. He had educated an Ignorant Fool.  I didn’t think of the implications of the full saying.

I’ve said lots of ignorant things since that day about forty years ago but I learned from the man I so admired. I don’t use that statement.  You may and I’m not judging.  I’m just sharing from my experience.

That’s what verse 5 is about.    We fools can learn from the wisdom of others.

 There are times to ignore foolish words.

There are other times a wise rebuttal can help.

Lord, give us wisdom to know the difference.

 Excellent thoughts on these two verses from a blog by Micheal Yates:



*Never argue with a  fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference” is normally attributed to Twain but variations abound.

My favorite: “Never argue with a pig. It’ll frustrate you and annoy the pig.”

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  1. The Hebrew words are the same in both verses, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly…Answer a fool according to his folly.” So, the Hebrew doesn’t resolve the apparent contradiction. The key is to read according to genre. All of the Bible is true, but not all of the Bible is in the same genre. A genre is an understood contract between author and reader that guides the way the particular document is to be read (Once upon a time = fairytale genre). Proverbs is wisdom literature. Therefore, the author expects us to read his words not as concrete promises or commands but as wise sayings. We come looking for wisdom, not commands in the typical sense. For example, Proverbs 3:16 promises long life, wealth, and honor to the one who receives wisdom. Job and Ecclesiastes, on the other hand, wrestle with the fact that life is often the other way around – the righteous suffer! Are Job and Ecclesiastes correcting Proverbs 3:16? Absolutely not! They are preventing us from overreading Proverbs 3:16. The message of Proverbs 3:16 is that, all things being even, wisdom leads to success. Job and Ecclesiastes remind us that in a fallen world all things are not even and that we must trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God when we suffer righteously. I think the same principle applies with Proverbs 26:4-5. No author would contradict himself within two sentences. This is a paradox offering two pieces of wisdom in tension but not contradiction. Since we are reading these as wisdom sayings and not absolute commands, we are free to glean the wisdom from both commands. All in all, I think that’s exactly what we see in your blogpost. You explain the complementary wisdom in both verses, and that seems to be right in line with author’s original intent to me. So, after this rambling comment – the Hebrew doesn’t resolve the apparent contradiction but discerning the genre of wisdom literature does. Hope this helps!

  2. This is great wisdom here. It is actually true, even though you are right, you can argue with a fool.

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