The Bible is a multilayered book that reveals profound truths about how we are to relate to God and how we are to relate to each other. It’s also a book about common sense.
When it comes to telling us what to do when we’re embroiled in an argument with people who simply reject truth and understanding, the Bible gives us a wise tip: stop trying to reason with a fool.
In particular, Proverbs tells us: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him” (Proverbs 26:4).
How Does the Bible Describe a Fool?
The biblical description of a “fool” can be broadly divided into the following categories:
1. Fools reject knowledge and understanding and, thus, repeat their mistakes. Scripture describes the absurdity of a fool with blunt language: truth is as useless to a fool as legs are to the lame (Proverb 26:7), and a fool repeats his folly like a dog returns to its vomit (Proverbs 26:11).
Therefore, someone who refuses to learn from his mistakes or who shuns learning and knowledge is one biblical definition of a fool. Why would fools refuse to learn their lesson? The Word illuminates: because they resent being corrected (Proverbs 15:12).
2. Fools plan evil schemes at their own expense. The Bible also describes fools as malevolent in nature and, in the end, their own worst enemy. A fool carelessly lets his ignorant words get him into trouble (Proverbs 14:3).
Not surprisingly, the fool’s actions ultimately cause the downfall of his relationships with others and with God (Proverbs 9:12).
Why Should We Avoid Arguing with Fools?
Based on the biblical observation that a fool is more interested in speaking his mind than in expanding it, we’d be wise to avoid arguing with a fool for the following three reasons.
1. When you argue with a fool, he’s doing the same thing. If you’ve ever tried to reason with an irrational person, you know that fools have no interest in letting reason in, they just want to get their cynicism and ignorance out.
The Bible cautions that fools delight in belittling anyone who tries to reason with them by stating that, “Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults” (Proverbs 9:7).
In other words, you set out on a fool’s errand when you insist on talking sense to someone whom you know resists being reasoned with.
By engaging with the fool in his argument of ignorance or manipulation, you’ll eventually be drawn into stooping to the mocker’s level and behaving foolishly yourself. Therefore, do yourself a favor and pity the fool but avoid the pointless argument.
2. Onlookers may not be able to tell which is which. In a quote often attributed to Mark Twain, another reason not to argue with a fool on his own terms is that onlookers may not be able to tell which is which and end up believing that you’re both fools. You should avoid looking like a fool because your reputation matters.
In fact, Proverbs encourages us to maintain a good reputation, advising that “a good name is to be more desired than great wealth” (Proverbs 22:1).
When you make it a habit to argue with someone who resists good sense, your peers may overhear you repeating the fool’s statements and believe that you’re the source of the nonsense. No measure of good intentions to correct a fool is worth that knock to your reputation.
3. You may become like the company you keep. It’s for good reason that the Bible warns us that bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
In urging us to be mindful of the company we keep, Scripture gives us fair warning that we’ll suffer harm in the company of fools sooner or later.
One way that associating with mockers can harm you is that, over time, your behavior may start to fall in line with theirs. If you think this can’t happen to you, consider if you’ve already been in a situation where a foolish friend’s behavior caused you to act against your better judgment physically, emotionally, financially, and/or spiritually.
Due to how easy it is to start acting like the people around you, it’s best to steer clear of fools and surround yourself with levelheaded people so that you too may grow in wisdom instead of regrets (Proverbs 13:20).
What Does This Mean?
Scripture warns us that a fool, in his denial of truth, ultimately believes in his heart that there is no God (Psalm 53:1). This is not the type of person you want to spend too much time trying to impart wisdom to when it becomes clear that this person persistently ridicules your guidance.
However, in situations where the fool is publicly denying the existence of God or stirring up conflict with others, the Bible says that the fool deserves to be corrected for his folly through rebuke and instruction (Proverbs 26:5; 2 Timothy 4:2).
In fact, remaining silent when a fool is blaspheming God or leading others to sin may make you guilty of partaking in his sin (Leviticus 19:17).
It’s important to note here that a foolish person can always reverse course and choose to open his heart to Scripture and wise counsel from others (Proverbs 8:5).
But change doesn’t happen overnight, and it certainly doesn’t stick if the person who needs to change isn’t committed to doing so.
In the end, use your judgment to discern whether the person you’re speaking to is making baseless but trivial statements or maliciously provoking people with blasphemy and lies. The first situation merits walking away from (Proverbs 26:4).
However, the second situation requires you to lean on your faith in confronting the fool so that your silence doesn’t tacitly lend him credibility (Proverbs 26:5).
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Dolores Smyth is a nationally published faith and parenting writer. She draws inspiration for her writing from everyday life. Connect with her over Twitter @byDoloresSmyth.