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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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(ἅλς; also ἅλας, a form which is rare except in Septuagint and NT; adj. ἁλυκός)

This condiment of food was in general use among the civilized nations of antiquity. From the religious significance which it had for the primitive mind, and especially its association with sacrificial meals, it became-and still is throughout the East-a symbol of guest-friendship and fidelity; from its purifying and antiseptic properties, an image of the power of good men to preserve the moral soundness of society (Matthew 5:13); and front its piquancy, a suggestion of the relish which wit and wisdom give to talk which would otherwise be insipid. St. Paul exhorts the Colossians to let their speech be ‘seasoned with salt’ (ἅλατι ἠρτυμένος, Colossians 4:6), and the salt which he had in mind possessed finer properties than the ἅλες and sal of Greek and Latin writers.

Attic ‘salt’ was Attic wit. Pliny (Historia Naturalis (Pliny) xxxi. 7) says: ‘The higher enjoyments of life could not exist without the use of salt: indeed, so highly necessary is this condiment to mankind, that the pleasures of the mind can be expressed by no better term than the word salt (sales), such being the name given to all effusions of wit.’ The meaning of the word is usually indicated by the context in which it occurs: ‘Sale vero et facetiis Caesar … vicit omnes’ (Cic. de Offic. I. xxxvii. 133); ‘facetiarum quidam lepos quo, tanquam sale, perspergatur omnis oratio’ (Cic. de Orat. i. 34); ‘sal niger,’ i.e. biting wit, sarcasm (Hor. Ep. II. ii. 60).

St. Paul was of course familiar with this classical ‘salt,’ which at its best was intellectual acuteness and sparkling wit, but which easily degenerated into εὐτραπελία (Ephesians 5:4). There was no lack of it in his university town of Tarsus. But as a Christian he takes the word-like χάρις, ἀγάπη and many another term-and gives it a new and better connotation. He eliminates from it the bitterness of sarcasm and adds to it the essential grace of Christianity. Without making it less intellectual, he makes it more spiritual. As a lover of good talk, he is far from deprecating what is stimulating and pungent. He desiderates all the old readiness ‘to answer each one’ (Colossians 4:6 b), but the answer will no longer be the repartee which seeks a brilliant personal victory; it will be the response of the heart that loves still more than of the mind that glitters. If the new meaning of the metaphor is to be determined by the context in which it is employed-‘walk in wisdom,’ ‘let your speech be always with grace’-salt becomes the symbol of a rare combination of virtues. A spiritual wisdom and Christian grace, at once quickening the gifts of Nature and hallowing the charms of culture, are to replace pagan wit as the savour of that human intercourse which is the feast of reason and the flow of souls.

Literature.-Thayer Grimm’s Gr.-Eng. Lexicon of the NT, Greek-English Lexicon of the NT2, 1890, s.v. ἅλας; articles ‘Salt’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) and Encyclopaedia Biblica ; J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon3, 1879.

James Strahan.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Salt'. 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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