Salty or Saltless Salt?


You are the salt of the earth. But it the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Matt. 5:13)

This may not be a very powerful or meaningful comparison for us today because salt is plentiful and cheap, but to Jesus’ disciples, His words must have sent a jolt through them like a jolt of lightning. What, us? Salt? What on earth did He mean?

In Jesus’ day, salt was so valuable that Roman soldiers sometimes received their wages in salt. The English word salary is derived from the word, salt.

Salt had many uses, hence the many different interpretations of this Scripture. In what sense did Jesus mean that His followers were the salt of the earth?

Among other uses in the Old Testament context, salt had two major purposes.

Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings (Lev. 2:13).

Pure salt was symbolic of the sanctity and permanence of the covenant God established with His people. God instructed His people to add salt to their sacrifices as a confirmation that His covenant with them was holy and forever.

The second use of salt was to preserve, especially meat which spoiled quickly in a hot climate if it was not rubbed with salt. Salt has antiseptic properties. Even new-born babies were rubbed with salt. God, speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, explained how He “found” His people abandoned after their “birth”, how He took them as His own, washed them with water and rubbed them with salt, wrapped them up and raised them as His own children (Ez. 16).

Pure salt is potent but when it is mixed with other chemicals it loses its preserving properties and becomes bland and useless. If this saltless salt is thrown on a field, the ground becomes sterile and will never produce again. The only use for saltless salt was to be thrown on the path where it would be trodden into ground used for nothing else.

Among Jesus’ disciples were fishermen who knew the value of salt. Without salt, they could not preserve their fish, their livelihood for days at a time. They would have understood Jesus’ use of the imagery of salt in their society which was polluted by sin. Jesus needed them to be the preservative in the corruption to prevent the disintegration of their communities under the burden of sin.

“In the Hebrew Bible, salt is both a disinfectant and preservative, but if the salt loses its integrity (or its “flavour” to preserve) the result is disintegration. When Jesus talked about salt “trampled under feet,” he was referring to this latter connotation of disintegration found in the Hebrew Bible. So when salt maintains its integrity (or its “flavour” to preserve), the effects are long-lasting (permanent), but when salt loses its integrity, the result is disintegration…”

“When we come to the New Testament, we see Jesus using salt within the context of its use in the Hebrew Bible. That is, disciples are “salt,” and so they are sanctified and, therefore, function as preserving agents. For example, we read the following in the Christian New Testament…”

“So when Jesus is talking about salt losing its flavour and then is “trampled underfoot,” he is alluding to the secondary meaning of the verb מָלַח, where integrity of the disciple of Jesus is lost and the result is disintegration (or moral decay), which is “not even fit for the manure pile” (Luke 14:34-35).” – retrieved February 2016.

Unfortunately, the symbolism of salt under the weight of preaching that does not take its official use in the Old Testament into account. How important it is to understand the Bible as God meant it and to interpret Jesus’ teachings as He meant them.

As a rabbi, Paul got the point when he wrote to the Ephesian church:

Have nothing to do with the fruitless works of darkness, but rather expose them (Eph. 5: 11)

Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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