25:11 Witty Retorts

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs 25:11

Denarius with the image of Tiberius Caesar.

Denarius with the image of Tiberius Caesar.

If you are like me, you think of the perfect reply long after you need it. Then you kick yourself and groan, “That is what I should have said.”

Some people seem to always have an apt reply on their tongue. Francis Bacon used to study clever retorts in advance so that he might drop them when predictable topics arose.

My own appreciation is reserved for those who deliver their retorts more spontaneously. One slam-dunk that sticks in my mind is that of the sparkling Quaker girl Mary Pryor, who, when pressured to marry a rich old man, was told, “Why, you could eat gold!” She replied, “But I would find it hard to digest,” and married a poor but honest fellow-believer.

One of the wittiest replies of church history was that of Erasmus when Frederick the Wise asked him if Luther was in error. He thought a few moments and answered, “He has erred in two things: He has attacked the pope in his crown and the monks in their bellies.”

Neither of these examples shine like the replies of Jesus. For example, when a broad hint was dropped that he was illigitimate, Jesus did not protest his mother’s innocence, but in his reply pointed his detractors to the more relevant question, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (John 8).

When the Pharisees and Herodians buttered him up (Mark 12) in an attempt to trap him with a question about taxes, he responded, “Why are you trying to trap me? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him, as we also should be. His replies were indeed apples of gold in settings of silver.

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