Proverbs 26:4-5, “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.”
Well, which is it? It all depends on the circumstances, the people and the timing. There is a time-sensitive context for many of the proverbs and so one must be wise and mature in applying them to daily life choices. It takes maturity and knowledge of God’s mind through His word to navigate life with the help of His proverbs. As Roland Murphy points out, “This proverb educates the reader to the ambiguities of life and to be careful in speech.” There is no contradiction in these two, side-by-side verses. Rather, what is being taught is that the wise person must assess whether this is a fool who will simply drain one’s energy with no positive results or whether an answer will prove fruitful to the fool or perhaps to those who overhear. Harm and destruction can come from a misuse of the proverbs. As Tremper Longman writes, many proverbs give us “circumstantially relevant principle” and not absolutes.
On the other hand, just to make things more complicated, there are proverbs which are absolute and universal: all the “abomination to Yahweh” verses, for instance.
So, be wise you Christian journalist as you seek to faithfully apply the wonderful guidance contained in the book of Proverbs.