(Prov. 26:4-5) Is this a contradiction?

CLAIM: Proverbs 26:4 states, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly,” but the very next verse states, “Answer a fool as his folly deserves.” Isn’t this a blatant contradiction?

RESPONSE: Remember, the Proverbs are not universal moral imperatives, but rather, they are general wisdom principles (see “Are the Proverbs Trustworthy?”). Therefore, the intent of the author isn’t to claim that these principles are “foolproof,” so to speak. Instead, there are instances when we should not answer a fool, and other times when we should. In the first instance, we have all been in arguments with a pugnacious person with whom there is no possibility of reasoning. It would be foolish to continue to argue with them. However, there are other times when we need to answer people like this, because an audience may be present and they need to be publicly. If they leave the conversation without a refutation, they (and everyone else!) might believe that their foolishness is actually truth. Thus in these cases, we should answer the person.