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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Salt (2)

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SALT (ἅλας).—Salt has been used from very early times to season and preserve food. In Palestine there was always a plentiful supply. The chief sources were (and are) the great rock-salt cliffs known as the Khasm Usdum to the S.W. of the Dead Sea, and the marshes and pools around its shores. The cliffs are from 30 to 60 feet high, and stretch from 6 to 7 miles along the coast. In the Bible this sea is sometimes called the ‘salt sea’ (Genesis 14:3, Deuteronomy 3:17). Three lbs. of its water are said to yield 1 lb. of solid salts.

In addition to its common use as a condiment or preservative of food, salt from early times had religious and social significance. As a fitting emblem of incorruptness, it was habitually offered along with the sacrifices (cf. Leviticus 2:13). The preservative qualities of salt probably led to its being regarded as an essential element in the making of any enduring covenant (cf. Leviticus 2:13, Numbers 18:19, 2 Chronicles 13:5). As a sacrificial meal was usually celebrated in connexion with the making of a covenant, the salt of the meal naturally became the salt of the covenant. Among Eastern peoples, ‘to eat of his salt’ is a sign of enduring friendship and peace. The Arabs use the phrase ‘there is salt between us’ as expressing the fact that a bond of loyalty is in existence (cf. Ezra 4:14).

In the Gospels, salt is used for the most part metaphorically: (1) As an emblem of preservation from corruption, ‘Ye are the salt of the earth’ (Matthew 5:13). The new spiritual life of the disciples was to purify and preserve the life of the world. Jesus solemnly warns them against the danger of losing the power which would enable them to fulfil this function, ‘for if the salt have lost its savour (‘become saltless,’ Mark 9:50), wherewith shall it be salted?’ (Matthew 5:13 || Luke 14:34). (2) There is also a suggestion of its significance as a symbol of concord in the counsel, ‘Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another’ (Mark 9:50); for it is given in connexion with disputes or discussions as to which of the disciples should be the greatest (Mark 9:33-37). These disputings may also be regarded as one of the influences which render the salt saltless (ἄναλον). (3) As a symbol of incorruption in connexion with sacrifice. In Mark 9:49 the words πᾶσα θυσία ἁλὶ ἁλισθήσεται are omitted by Tischendorf, WH [Note: H Westcott and Hort’s text.] , and Nestle, following Manuscripts אBL [Note: L Bampton Lecture.] Δ. The words in the text thus adjusted (πᾶς γὰρ πυρὶ ἁλισθήσεται) have been translated ‘for every one shall be salted for the fire’ (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, ii. 121), and ‘for every one shall be salted with fire’ (Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ). The latter is almost certainly the right translation, since ‘with fire’ (πυρί) takes the place of ‘with salt’ (ἁλί), as indicating the new spiritual element which was to be present in the sacrificial life of the disciples. In the old economy every sacrifice was to be salted with salt, and would not be accepted without it; so in the new economy, the ‘living sacrifice’ of the Christian disciple will not be rightly prepared without the ‘fire’ which alone makes it acceptable. As the old sacrifices were prepared with salt, so the new sacrifices must be prepared with fire. The fire is most probably to be interpreted as the fire of judgment, as in the verse immediately preceding (‘where their worm dieth not and their fire is not quenched,’ Mark 9:48). There is a twofold judgment by fire. It may be Divine and penal (Mark 9:48), or personal and corrective (cf. ‘If we would judge ourselves we should not be judged,’ 1 Corinthians 11:31). The previous context interprets the personal, salutary judgment by fire, by which the life is to he prepared as an acceptable sacrifice: ‘If thy hand offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched’ (cf. Mark 9:43; Mark 9:47). Swete (St. Mark, ad loc.) interprets the lire of the Christian life as the Holy Spirit, but fire as a symbol of the Spirit is not found in Mark. It may, however, be said that no self-judgment will be complete, or sufficient, unless it is carried through under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Literature.—W. R. Smith, art. ‘Salt,’ Encyc. Brit.9 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ; E. Hull, art. ‘Salt,’ Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible ; Beyschlag, NT Theol. i. 180; Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, ii. 62 ff.; Bruce, Training of the Twelve, p. 215, notes; Kelman, Expos. Times, xii. [1900] p. 111; Shalders, Expositor, 1st ser. xi. [1880] p. 79 ff.

John Reid.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Salt (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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Wednesday, August 12th, 2020
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19
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