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Proof of what is unseen

Answer Not a Fool / Answer a Fool

Mark Ward

Prov. 26:4-5, ESV
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.

The Majority View

D.A. Carson, in a long review of three recent bibliology books, says he has often used the verses above “to demonstrate the way proverbs work: they are not universal case law. The formal divergence in this instance powerfully embraces more comprehensive reflection than either proverb alone could have done.”

I agree with his conclusion, but my jury is still out on whether or not these verses are a good example of it.

Under Carson’s view, the warning could be understood two different ways (cf. UBS Handbook on Prov.): “This verse is a warning, either against taking a fool at his own estimation and giving him a serious reply, or perhaps against speaking to a fool in the same foolish way as he has spoken to you. By doing so you share in his foolishness.”

The Bible Knowledge Commentary, too, says it takes wisdom to know when to apply v.4 and when to apply v.5. Likewise Matthew Henry, the New Bible Commentary, and the New American Commentary. Garrett (NAC) summarizes this view well: “On the one hand, one should not deal with a fool on his own terms lest the imitation of folly become habitual. On the other hand, one must sometimes answer fools in the words they understand in order to reprimand them effectively.”

Waltke Weighs In

But Waltke (NICOT) argues for a different position. He specifically opposes the view that sees these as applying at different times (the NLT clearly takes this interpretation, leaving no ambiguity). They both apply absolutely at all times, he says; and both proverbs (v.4 and v.5) actually call for the wise son to reply to a fool. The first one (v.4) warns him not to be like the fool in his answer–that is, don’t be malicious or self-conceited or what have you. The second one (v.5) tells the son to go ahead and answer the fool with wisdom that flips his world upside down: no longer is he the wise one; he is the fool.

Waltke argues this based on the flexibility of the K (kaph) preposition. It points to an element of similarity, but leaves the point of similarity open to some interpretation: “Joshua is like Moses” could be pointing to his likeness as being a leader or as being a prophet. Interestingly, the LXX seems to support Waltke: it uses different Greek prepositions to render the K. I’m not sure what difference that makes in Greek–perhaps “Do not answer a fool with that foolishness [he just used]” and “Answer a fool against his folly”? I just checked out BDAG on προς (v.4) and κατα (v.5), and I’m not at all sure I can land on renderings which support Waltke’s reasoning. However, that’s due more to my inexpertise in pinpointing prepositional meaning (though what expertise I do have leads me to say that context would be the determiner anyway and that Koine doesn’t get that specific), and the point stands that the LXX chose different prepositions to render the exact same phrase.

One other argument that inclines me toward this view is the simple fact that “Do not answer” is qualified by something rather than nothing. It’s like the difference between saying “Don’t cross the street” and “Don’t cross the street without looking first.” Likewise, “Don’t answer a fool” and “Don’t answer a fool with the same kind of reply he typically gives.” The first command in each example is absolute. The second not only allows the action but actually commends or even commands it.

Murphy (WBC) does a good job bringing up parallel passages, but I find him ultimately unhelpful. He points out that in 17:12 the son is warned that it is better to run into a she-bear robbed of her cubs than to run into a fool. This would seem to support the “Don’t answer at all” position, but that can’t work with the very next verse (26:5)! Vv. 4 and 5 need to work together. They can’t be analyzed discretely. In 26:12b there is “more hope for a fool” than for someone who is “wise in his own eyes.” So maybe there is hope for a fool before he becomes wise in his own eyes.

Waltke seems to be the only commentator who bothers with the actual grammar of the passage. Murphy makes a passing reference to it and others tell us what the kaph preposition “literally” means, but that’s another argument in favor of Waltke.

In sum… I’m close to willing to see the LXX as decisive. But because it could have been style or sloppiness or some unnecessarily fastidious translator who chose the two different renderings, I’m in a strait betwixt Waltke and Carson but leaning slightly toward the former.

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Fair Is Fair

Mark Ward

Ok, I caught the NAS adding some interpretation into its translation at a place (Prov. 26:5) where the NIV (and TNIV) were more literal:

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

NIV Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Yes, the TNIV was more literal than the NAS in the particular phrase I’m focusing on, but look what it did with the gender-neutral third-person singular masculine pronoun:

TNIV Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes.

I don’t like changing the number like that. I would honestly be afraid to do such a thing.

For good measure, here are the other major translations I use in BibleWorks:

ESV Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

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

NET Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own estimation.

CSB Answer a fool according to his foolishness, or he’ll become wise in his own eyes.

NLT Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation.

NKJ Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes.

LXX: αλλα αποκρινου αφρονι κατα την αφροσυνην αυτου ινα μη φαινηται σοφος παρ εαυτω

Next up: a post on this verse and the preceding one, a famous pair.

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New York Times’ Kristof on Evangelicals

Mark Ward

Nick Kristof is a very entertaining and informative columnist/opinion-writer/humanitarian/world-traveler. I was quite excited when the New York Times made its “Times Select” online content available free to students because I knew it meant I’d finally be reading Kristof right when his material came out!

Kristof has literally given his blood for the poor of the third world. He doesn’t care so much about the label worn by those who join him in this work. Though he speaks openly of his liberal views, he gives much more than grudging respect to his opponents when they deserve it.

This is just what he has done in his latest opinion piece in today’s NYT. Kristof praises evangelicals for some of the changes which have taken place in their public and private faces.

You’ll need to decide for yourself whether the moves Kristof praises are all truly praiseworthy. Evangelicalism’s move into social issues can either be a social-gospel liberalization which bodes (more) ill for the movement, or it can be a robustly theological call to the gospel-moored, full-orbed “good works” that Paul enjoins over and over again in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 2:10; 5:10, 25; 6:18; 2 Tim. 3:17; Tit. 2:7, 14; 3:8, 14). I tend to think it’s a lot of the former and a little of the latter.

All the same, a prominent non-Christian for whom I have real respect has just shown major cross-cultural, cross-aisle grace. This should not go unnoticed.

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A Little More on Humor and Pulpit Dignity

Mark Ward

A friend of mine passed these points along from a more-developed version of a lecture I’d heard BJ Seminary’s Dr. Layton Talbert give on humor:

  • The biblical record does not reveal a frivolous or slapstick sense of humor.
  • “The humor of the Bible is not of the rollicking type but the subtle and intellectual type for which the term wit is often an accurate designation” (DBI).
  • The biblical record does not suggest that He employed humor simply for the purpose of making people laugh.
  • Humor at its best is inherently observant, profound, and, consequently, instructive in nature.
  • Christ’s humor was always didactic in its aim.
  • Jesus used humor, wit, and irony for the purpose of pointing out spiritual incongruities and under¬scoring the spiritual truths that he taught.
  • “It is very important to understand that the evident purpose of Christ’s humor is to clarify and increase understanding” (source?). He made humor a conscious and effective part of His instructive ministry.
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Mark Dever on Acts 29 and Paul and on Dignity

Mark Ward

Here’s Mark Dever speaking to the Mark Driscoll-related Acts 29 church-planting network yesterday (emphasis mine):

Our differences are enough to separate some of my friends—your brothers and sisters in Christ—from you. And perhaps to separate them from me, now that I’m publicly speaking to you. And I don’t want to minimize either the sincerity or the seriousness of some of their concerns (things like: humor, worldliness, pragmatism, authority).

Dever goes on to say that what he shares with the Acts 29 pastors is greater than what separates them: the gospel and God’s sovereignty in salvation.

Paul on Dignity

I highlight his mention of humor because I want to mention a verse that has stayed in my mind as I have observed the kinds of ministries Dever was gently challenging:

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity…” (Titus 2:7, ESV)

I believe Mark Dever has this sort of Pauline spirit in mind when he criticizes humor in the pulpit. Humor certainly has a place, but it’s got to remain dignified. on Dignity

Even a lost journalist back in 2006 noted a lack of dignity in an Acts 29 leader:

“After [the pastor] prays for the continued fertility of his congregation, and the worship band cranks out a few fierce guitar licks, the sermon begins. Pacing the stage like a stand-up pro, blending observational humor about parenting with ribald biblical storytelling, [the pastor] peppers his message with references to his own children as midget demons and recalls his own past in stories about duct-taping and hog-tying his own siblings. He riffs about waiting in a supermarket checkout line behind a woman who said to him, “You sure got a lot of kids! I hope you’ve figured out what causes that.”

“Yeah,” he flipped back. “A blessed wife. I bet you don’t have any kids.” The congregation hoots and hollers. “That shut her up,” he mutters.

It’s always powerful to me when a lost person notices a sin I or my kind (teachers of the Word) are committing.


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All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes 6

Mark Ward

“Modern popular culture is not just the latest in a series of diversions. It is rather a culture of diversion,” says Ken Myers. 56 “Since it is the purpose of most forms of popular culture to provide exciting distraction,” says Myers, “we should not be surprised that over time, television programs, popular music, and other forms become more extreme (and more offensive) in their pursuit of titillation. Folk culture has the capacity to limit extremes, since it is the expression of the values and aspirations of a community. Popular culture, on the other hand, presupposes the absence of community of belief or conviction.” 61

Myers quotes Ernest Van den Haag: “Who is slain when time is killed?” And Myers answers the question: “When we kill time, we are really killing ourselves.” 62

Again we hit the major theme of Myers’ book: not all that is permissible is constructive.

Here are three of Jonathan Edwards’ famous resolutions, all on this same theme:

4. Resolved, Never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God, nor be, nor suffer it, if I can possibly avoid it.

5. Resolved, Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.

7. Resolved, Never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

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