Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.
Fools do not deserve truth or the honor of a kind answer (Pr 17:16; 26:1). They will mock your good words, and/or they will pervert them to slander you (Matt 7:6). The general rule is to avoid fools and not answer them (Pr 14:7; 23:9). But before you leave them, God says to silence their babbling lest they get puffed up by you ignoring them.
Fools think and speak contrary to God, truth, and wisdom. A wise man must shut their mouths, lest they presume their thoughts are acceptable or right. If a fool is not rebuked, he will become conceited in his error and turn into a scorner (Pr 26:12). Before his case is utterly hopeless, and truth lies mangled in the mud, it is good to ridicule his foolish ideas.
Solomon also taught not to answer fools, or engage in foolish debates with them, or you will become like them (Pr 26:4). Fools do not deserve attention, discussion of their ideas, or answers to their questions. Paul often warned ministers to ignore and reject foolish questions and vain babblings (I Tim 1:3-7; 4:7; 6:20; II Tim 2:14-16,23; Titus 1:14; 3:9).
In the larger context, Solomon forbid giving honor to a fool (Pr 26:1); he warned that God has cursed fools (Pr 26:2); he concluded that the only treatment that truly works is physical restraint and corporal punishment (Pr 26:3). He further explained with details a fool’s character and the treatment he deserves in the verses following (Pr 26:6-12).
Fools vary in education and intelligence. Great fools write books, teach at the university level, work in the media, or preach on Sunday. They espouse evolution and global warming, defend sodomy, protect abortion, promote marijuana, justify labor unions, condemn corporal and capital punishment, reject God, and/or outlaw prayer, among other forms of demented and anarchistic thinking. Stupid fools worship the great fools.
All these fools must be shut up. Do not expect them to receive truth or wisdom. God has turned them over to reprobate minds (Rom 1:18-28). They cannot recognize truth, even if it shines daily from the sun and nightly from the stars and moon (Ps 19:1-6). If you encounter one, let him know he is wrong in no uncertain terms, and then avoid him.
You meet fools every day. Foolishness abounds in America, partly because no one will speak out against it. When fools say or do something foolish, it is your prudent duty and blessed privilege to correct them with truth. But after you shut their mouths, you must ignore them, lest you cast pearls before swine and give holy things to dogs (Matt 7:6).
Jesus was a master at shutting fools’ mouths. He was the best, and He was unmerciful to their fallacies and heresies. He supernaturally discerned their foolish thoughts, and He would turn their carefully planned questions upside down. When He was through, they could not answer, nor did they want to ask any more questions (Matt 22:15-46). Glory!
Paul testified before Greek philosophers in Athens, the very fools modern America worships for their hallucinations about life (Acts 17:16-34). He opened by charging them with superstition, and he closed by telling them about the coming of Jesus to judge them. Do you know this Jesus? Do you love Him? If not, you are a fool (Ps 14:1; I Cor 16:22)!