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What does it mean to buy the truth and not sell it (Proverbs 23:23)?

translate buy the truth and not sell it

Job 28:12–19 informs us that wisdom is priceless “beyond rubies.” It cannot be purchased “with the finest gold,” silver, or any precious stones. What, then, did Solomon mean when he said, “Buy the truth and do not sell it—wisdom, instruction and insight as well” (Proverbs 23:23)?

Rather than suggesting that truth, wisdom, instruction, or insight can be bought like a commodity, Solomon urges wisdom seekers to value truth highly and never give it up. Wisdom is the ability to correctly apply truth, knowledge, experience, insight, or common sense. In the original Hebrew, the word translated as “buy” here means “to get something, often through one’s efforts or as compensation.” The “buying” of truth involves effort and sacrifice. The wise person will do whatever it takes to gain truth, wisdom, instruction, and insight, which are far better than gold and silver (see Proverbs 16:16). Once a person takes hold of truth, he should never let it go.

The word rendered “sell” in Proverbs 23:23 comes from a Hebrew verb meaning “to exchange or deliver something for money or its equivalent.” Solomon advises the wise person to get truth and keep it. Don’t exchange truth for anything or sell it later. Truth will hold its value, and the person who has it is truly rich. The apostle Paul warns that godless people have foolishly “exchanged the truth about God for a lie” and pursued idolatry (Romans 1:18–25). Instead of buying the truth, they sell themselves out to the lie of a darkened, shameful, sin-filled life.

Solomon’s encouragement to hold tightly to truth and wisdom echoes in Proverbs 4:7: “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Truth, discernment, understanding, knowledge, insight—these are all priceless possessions that must be sought out and secured through determined exertion (Proverbs 18:15). The things of God are beyond compare, as Jesus taught in the Parable of the Hidden Treasure: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44). Jesus also compared the kingdom of heaven to “a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45–46).

John Bunyan, in his allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, illustrates Proverbs 23:23 in the scene of Vanity Fair. The pilgrims Christian and Faithful are passing through Vanity Town, a place that kept a year-round fair. The vendors there “sold all sorts of vanity” (Signet Classics, 1981, p. 84). The two pilgrims stood out from the crowd by adamantly refusing to do any sort of business; in fact, they “cared not so much as to look upon [the merchandise]” (ibid., p. 86). Things quickly came to a head: “One chanced mockingly, beholding the carriage of the men, to say unto them, What will ye buy? But they, looking gravely upon him, answered, ‘We buy the truth.’ [Prov. 23:23] At that there was an occasion taken to despise the men the more; some mocking, some taunting, some speaking reproachfully, and some calling upon others to smite them. At last things came to a hubbub and great stir in the fair, insomuch that all order was confounded” (ibid., p. 86). In a world full of baubles, we, like Bunyan’s brave men, must commit to buying only the truth.

God is the essence of truth (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 33:4; Isaiah 65:16; Jeremiah 10:10; John 3:33), and He wants His people to reflect His truth in their lives (Psalm 15:1–5; Ephesians 4:25). The Lord delights in His children who buy the truth and do not sell it (Proverbs 12:22). To His faithful followers, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32).

Jesus Christ is the embodiment and complete revelation of God’s truth: “And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life” (1 John 5:20, NLT). Jesus told His disciple Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we “come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3–4)—we “buy the truth and not sell it”—we lay hold of the truth and never let it go.

The gospel of our salvation is “the message of truth” (Ephesians 1:13; Galatians 2:5; Colossians 1:5). When we receive Jesus Christ, we also gain “the Spirit of truth” who guides us “into all truth” (John 16:13; see also 1 John 5:6). Jesus explained, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16–17; see also John 15:26).

Truth is a rarity, but that’s only part of what makes it so valuable. Truth aligns with what is real; it reflects God’s character; it guides us through life. Once we possess the truth, no amount of wheedling, cajoling, rationalizing, mocking, or threatening should ever cause us to part with it.

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What does it mean to buy the truth and not sell it (Proverbs 23:23)?
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This page last updated: February 7, 2023