Is bartering Biblical?
Is it right to haggle over prices?

Any traveler to the Middle East will tell you that their entire modern culture works on bartering or haggling over prices. In this regard, some things never change. Does the Bible promote, condone, or prohibit such a practice? Certainly one verse in Proverbs provides a great description of how many people see this practice.

Proverbs 20:14 "It's no good, it's no good!" says the buyer; then off he goes and boasts about his purchase. (NIV)

It's significant to note that this verse does not make a direct judgment on the act, pro or con, rather it merely states that it happens.1 So does that make it right? Not coincidently this verse is found in a passage that is bookended by two very similar verses. Consider verse 10 before and verse 23 after it.

Proverbs 20:10 Differing weights and differing measures - the Lord detests them both. (NIV)

Proverbs 20:23 The Lord detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please him. (NIV)

The issue with which to weigh bartering activities is whether or not your words or actions are fraudulent. In effect, are you using dishonest scales? If you can haggle over the price without misrepresenting yourself, or the item, then it's a legitimate form of buying and selling. Can you end up with a good or great deal, one where you gained something of value for less? Certainly! Just don't do it through by fraud or lies. If you choose to do it with such illicit means, consider another verse found within the aforementioned bookends.

Proverbs 20:17 Food gained by fraud tastes sweet to a man, but he ends up with a mouth full of gravel.2

End Notes

1. Since this verse states that it happens, it certainly carries a warning that all believers should weight carefully the words of one perhaps using this practice.

2. "A mouth full of gravel" is an ancient Hebrew idiom meaning "trouble". A modern expression might be "sits like lead (in the stomach)" or "leaves a bad taste in the mouth". A similar expression still exists in Arabic where a stone represents disappointment. For another example, from Scriptures, of the usage of gravel, in like manner, consider the passage which includes Lamentations 3:16.

(c) 2009 Brent MacDonald/LTM. Duplication is permitted as long as the source is cited.