Argument Advice From Matthew Henry and James E. Smith

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath. Don’t stir others up!

We would do well to heed the following advice: “Hard arguments do best with soft words.” “His language is carefully crafted.” “His words are well chosen.”

Sometimes the best way to understand the practical implications of a Proverb is to read what others have written. In Proverbs 15:1 Solomon provides wisdom for language when there is a hard discussion. I like what both Matthew Henry and James E. Smith have to say about Proverbs 15:1.

Matthew Henry Commentary Set

Henry says, “Solomon, as conservator of the public peace, here tells us,

1. How the peace may be kept, that we may know how in our places to keep it; it is by soft words. If wrath be risen like a threatening cloud, pregnant with storms and thunder, a soft answer will disperse it and turn it away. When men are provoked, speak gently to them, and give them good words, and they will be pacified, as the Ephraimites were by Gideon’s mildness (Jdg. 8:1–3); whereas, upon a like occasion, by Jephthah’s roughness, they were exasperated, and the consequences were bad, Jdg. 12:1–3. Reason will be better spoken, and a righteous cause better pleaded, with meekness then with passion; hard arguments do best with soft words.

2. How the peace will be broken, that we, for our parts, may do nothing towards the breaking of it. Nothing stirs up anger, and sows discord, like grievous words, calling foul names, as Raca, and Thou fool, upbraiding men with their infirmities and infelicities, their extraction or education, or anything that lessens them and makes them mean; scornful spiteful reflections, by which men affect to show their wit and malice, stir up the anger of others, which does but increase and inflame their own anger. Rather than lose a jest some will lose a friend and make an enemy.” 1

Smith is also helpful: “Appropriate speech (15:1–2). “A soft answer turns away wrath.” One who suffers injury should give an answer to his antagonist. He should not withdraw in sullen silence. If, however, one wishes to maintain peace, he must forego the hot, loud or sarcastic retort and give a pacifying reply (cf. 1 Sam 25:24). On the other hand, “a harsh word stirs up anger.” The “harsh word” (debhar ˓etsebh) is any statement which produces pain or irritation (15:1).

James E. Smith Wisdom Literature and Psalms

“The tongue of wise people adorns knowledge” either by expressing that knowledge (1) at the right time and place; or (2) in the right manner. The wise man not only possesses knowledge, he can give it proper expression. His language is carefully crafted. He neither overstates nor understates a situation. His words are well chosen. He does not antagonize. His speech is polite, dignified, and precise. On the other hand, “the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness.” A fool cannot open his mouth without proving his folly. He speaks without due consideration or discretion. He is uncouth and ill-mannered. He contributes nothing of substance to a conversation. His speech is badly phrased. His misinformation and antagonistic manner drives people from the truth (15:2).” 2

  1. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 987.
  2. James E. Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms, Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1996), 571.

How to Identify a Follower of Jesus

They love others. They are gentle with their words. They don’t get easily angered. They trust in the Lord regardless of the responses of others. They don’t respond with wrath. Here are some examples from the Old Testament Proverbs:

10:12 “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”

15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

15:18 “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.”

28:25 “A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.”

29:22 “A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.”

All scripture passages are from the English Standard Version except as otherwise noted.

Five Minute Friday

This post is part of the weekly Five-Minute Friday link-up.