1 sn One should not answer a fool’s foolish questions in line with the fool’s mode of reasoning (J. H. Greenstone, Proverbs, 274).
2 sn The person who descends to the level of a fool to argue with him only looks like a fool as well.
3 sn The apparent contradiction with the last verse has troubled commentators for some time. The Rabbis solved it by saying that v. 4 referred to secular things, but v. 5 referred to sacred or religious controversies. While this does not resolve the issue, it does give a sound application for the two verses together – in negligible issues one should just ignore the stupid person, but in issues that matter the fool must be dealt with, lest credence be given to what he says (W. G. Plaut, Proverbs, 266). The text presents two proverbs each of which presents an aspect of the whole truth. One should not lower himself to the level of the fool, but there are times when the lesser of two evils is to do so, other than let the fool gain confidence that he is a wise person or be considered wise by others. Paul, for example, talked like a “fool” to correct the foolish ideas of the Corinthians (2 Cor 11:16-17; 12:11).
4 tn Heb “in his own eyes” (so NAB, NASB, NIV).