Stephen R. Bradd
Proverbs 26:4, 5 reads – “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” Admittedly, these consecutive verses contradict each other on the surface. First we are told to abstain from answering a fool according to his folly and then we are explicitly told to do so. So, which is it? Did Solomon have a slip of the pen or of the mind here? No, he did not, and I don’t believe the solution is that complicated. There are situations where answering a fool in like manner just lowers you down to his level. You can stoop to the level of a pig if you desire, but such is not wise or beneficial to you or the pig since it will require wallowing in the mud. On the other hand, there are situations where answering a fool in like manner is necessary to try to teach him and perhaps others a lesson.
Let me share a story with you that I believe perfectly illustrates how to answer a fool according to his folly. Maxie Boren related an account in the life of an old-time preacher, J.D. Tant. Tant was unpredictable and unorthodox as a preacher of the gospel, as this true story demonstrates quite well.
Exactly 100 years ago, in 1912, Tant was preaching a revival in a small, Texas town and was having a tremendous impact for good. Many were responding to the gospel message that was being powerfully proclaimed. However, this did not please everyone. Some of the unbelievers in town decided they would disrupt the evangelistic effort and get a good laugh on the preacher and the church. They offered a certain disgraceful man a smoked ham and a bushel of corn if he would ask to be baptized and then come up out of the water cursing and shouting obscenities. The brethren heard about this plot ahead of time and warned J.D. Tant. He told them not to worry about it; if anything happened, he would handle it.
That night at the revival, the man responded to the gospel invitation along with several others. The service was closed at the meeting place and all made their way to the creek for the baptisms. Tant, under the light of several lanterns, baptized all the sincere folks in a very meaningful and solemn way. He used words to this effect for those who had turned from sin and confessed faith in Jesus Christ – “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, for the remission of your sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (cf. Matt. 28:19,20; Acts 2:38).
After all the proper baptisms, Tant said to the crowd, “One more man has come forward tonight, and if he will join me here in the creek, we will take care of the matter.” The man waded out and joined Tant in chest-deep water. The trouble-making unbelievers were mingled in the crowd and were ready to laugh the preacher to scorn when the man came up from the water yelling profanities. Tant held the man firmly in his strong arms and said with a loud voice, “For one smoked ham and a bushel of corn, I now dunk as worthless a man as ever was born.” Then he pushed the man under the water and held him there for a long time.
When he finally lifted the struggling man’s head above water, the fellow was spewing and gasping for breath. Instead of swearing, he quickly and quietly left the scene, realizing he was no match for J.D. Tant. Those who had put him up to the foolish prank left with him. If this is not a good example of answering a fool according to his folly to prevent him from becoming wise in his own eyes, I do not know what is.