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What the Bible says about Wisdom Literature
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Proverbs 26:4-5

In his article, "Is Proverbs in Contradiction on Answering Fools?" James Patrick Holding feels that the alleged contradiction between Proverbs 26:4-5

wins a major award for silliness. What we have here is not contradiction, but dilemma—an indication that when it comes to answering fools, you cannot win—because they are fools, and there is no practical cure for foolery (as this citation demonstrates). So: It is unwise to argue with a fool at his own level and recognize his own foolish suppositions, but it is good sometimes to refute him soundly, lest his foolishness seem to be confirmed by your silence.

In his Alleged Contradictions in the Bible, B.J. Clarke points out that the close proximity of these verses (back to back) would rule out the idea of discrepancy even for the most sophomoric of scholars. James Jackson, in his article, "Answering the Fool,"suggests that "such close proximity reflects design, not disorder."

Dr. E. W. Bullinger suggests that the connection between these verses can be explained by an ellipsis (something deliberately left out to grab the reader's attention) beginning in verse 3, which compares reasoning with a fool to reasoning with a donkey. Rather than considering these proverbs as absolute commands, the reader finds cause-and-effect cautions: If you answer a fool, you will be like him, but if you do not answer a fool, he will assume you are like him. Either way, we would lose.

Along with ellipsis, the technique of parallelism (repeated similarities used for rhetorical effect) is used throughout Proverbs to amplify meaning. Consider Proverbs 28:1: "The wicked flee when no one pursues; but the righteous are as bold as a lion." In this light, Proverbs 26:4-5 can be read: "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him. [But on the other hand,] answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes."

Paradox provides another explanation for the alleged "contradiction." Lynn Anderson, in his article "The Case for Mystery," asserts that the Bible embraces paradoxes throughout. The apostle Paul, for example, in the same chapter (Galatians 6:2, 5), urges, "Bear one another's burdens," and three verses later suggests, "Each one shall bear his own load." Similarly, Paul warns Christians not to be "burdened again by a yoke of bondage" (Galatians 5:1), while teaching elsewhere that we are to become "slaves to righteousness" (Romans 6:18). Jesus Christ provides the most sterling example of paradox when he warns His disciples that whoever desires to lead must become a servant (Luke 22:26) and whoever would save his life must be willing to lose it (Luke 17:33).

A special instance of paradox is the conundrum or riddle. Stephen Tecklenberg, in his article "No Matter What You Do,"maintains that the "Answer not a fool . . . Answer a fool" juxtaposition is just that, a conundrum focusing more on the "readiness" to answer rather than on the answering. He adds, "If appropriate, give answers. If not, withhold."

Thomas Henry Reardon, in his article "Folly to Be Wise?" points out that while much of Scripture demands making right choices, certain decisions, especially in the Wisdom literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc.), demand discernment, prudence, and choosing wisely between alternatives.

David Jon Hill, in his article "Twelve Rules for Bible Study" (Tomorrow's World, July 1969), substantiates the turn of phrase and accent explanations, asserting that differing circumstances account for the so-called contradictions:

Actually, these two verses are not contradictory—but complementary!

The use of either verse—that is, its principle applied to a particular use—depends on the set of circumstances. Both these verses contain gems of wisdom that each one of us needs to learn to properly apply in answering other people's questions.

The last part of each verse holds the key which unlocks the meaning of these verses—and shows them to be practical, usable and wise principles.

Verse four reads, "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him." The last part of the verse holds the key: don't degrade yourself by descending to his level in an argument! Don't harangue—don't bite back—don't try to "argue back" with someone who is obviously trying to stir contention.

Robert Deffingbaugh, in his Bible study, "The Fool,"says of Proverbs 26:5:

We should not allow the fool to drag us down to his level. The fool is exasperating; he is looking for trouble, and he often tempts us to oblige him. Since the fool will spout off and speak his mind, we are tempted to lose our temper with him as well. Proverbs instructs us not to allow him to get the best of us, lest we be lowered to his level.

When Donald Trump mistakenly got into a name-calling contest with Rosie O'Donnell, it gave her a fallacious, elevated estimation of her debating abilities, deluding her into a false sense of importance and wisdom, and at the same time, it artificially boosted the ratings of The View. Fred Thompson, on the other hand, when asked to debate the merits of "universal" health care with Michael Moore, who lauds Fidel Castro's system in Cuba, made it clear that he would not lower himself to Moore's foolishness.

David F. Maas
To Answer a Fool—or Not

Song of Solomon 1:1

Though the scenes of the book take place in an atmosphere of romantic and even sexual encounters, this is only the first and most obvious level of understanding. On other levels, Jewish rabbis allegorize God and Israel from its poetry, and Christians see Christ and His Bride, the church. As an instruction manual regarding the intimacy of the relationship between God and the Christian, the Song of Songs is without peer.

Any understanding of the Song of Songs, however, must begin with the book's characters. A young woman, a shepherdess, called the Shulamite in some Bible versions, has fallen in love with a man, whom she calls "my beloved." Some think this man is Solomon, a king; others say he is a shepherd. Some go so far as to say there are two men vying for the Shulamite's affections. In addition, the daughters of Jerusalem act as a chorus, commenting on and reacting to the words of the Shulamite. Her brothers may also have a few lines (Song 2:15; 8:8-9).

In Christian circles, the Shulamite and the Beloved are easily identified as types of the church and Christ. The daughters of Jerusalem and the Shulamite's brothers are harder to pinpoint as specific groups of people, but we can deduce a general identification from Song of Songs 2:2-3:

[The Beloved]
Like a lily among thorns,
So is my love among the
daughters.

[The Shulamite]
Like an apple tree among the
trees of the woods,
So is my beloved among the
sons.

In contrast to the Shulamite, the "daughters" are compared to "thorns." The Beloved is similarly contrasted with the "sons" (see Song 1:6), who are like "the trees of the woods." Thorns are obviously negative symbols (see Matthew 13:7, 22), but "the trees of the woods" does not seem to be. A better translation would be "the wild wood," and thus, it becomes another negative type.

Thus, the daughters and the sons are opposites to the main characters. If the Shulamite is a type of the true church, the daughters are false "Christian" churches that Christ will not even consider as suitable brides (see Song 6:8-9; Ezekiel 16:44-46; Revelation 17:5). Some think they are simply the unconverted.

If the Beloved is a type of Christ, the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-16), the sons are false shepherds or hirelings, who abuse the church (see Song 1:6; Ezekiel 34; Acts 20:28-31). Some believe they stand for the leaders or governments of men. Remember, though, these are general interpretations, so we should check the context of each section to refine the meaning.

It is not necessary to assign a particular identity to every character, image, or symbol in the book. Because of our unfamiliarity with the language and setting of the Song of Songs, this would be highly speculative and tedious. Generally, if we grasp the sense of a section, the symbolism falls into place on its own, or other scriptures explain it more plainly.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy in Song

Song of Solomon 1:1

We do not know for sure if the book is arranged chronologically or just in short, timeless vignettes. Some say that certain sections are dreams or flashbacks to previous scenes. However, a basic story can be seen in the flow of the text.

Song of Songs opens with the Shulamite in the blush of first love; it is so new to her that she must ask where her Beloved works (Song 1:7). The couple is separated, and each yearns to be reunited. The Beloved asks her to come away with him (Song 2:10), and the Shulamite seeks and finds him in the city (Song 3:2-4). Later, again separated, she looks for him again, only to be beaten by the city watchmen (Song 5:6-7). In the end, after praising each other's beauty and constancy, they are together again, and the Shulamite proclaims that "love is as strong as death" (Song 8:6).

However we arrange the various parts, the main story concerns the courtship of the Shulamite and the Beloved. In most of the book's verses, they vividly praise the other's excellence and express their deepest feelings. This human sexual imagery, rather than being erotic, simply pictures the depth of love and pleasure in a Christian's relationship with God. In a sense, the sexual union of man and wife is the closest human parallel to God's relationship with us.

Jesus Himself endorses this concept in John 17:3, "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." This knowledge of God is intimate, similar to the relationship between a man and his wife (see Genesis 4:1; Luke 1:34). The apostle Paul calls the church's relationship with Christ, likened to a marriage partnership, "a great mystery" (Ephesians 5:32). Later, John is shown that the church is indeed the Bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7-9).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy in Song


 




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