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Sunday, March 02, 2014

25 - Salt and Light [B]

Matthew 5:13 by Robert Dean
A jar of salt doesn't sound like much of a paycheck but in the ancient world salt was sometimes more valuable than gold. Listen to this lesson to learn seven different uses of salt and which one Jesus meant when He told His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount that they were the salt of the earth. See the meaning of earth and how salt was a means of fertilizing agricultural crops. Understand that just as salt can become useless, Christians become useless if they bear no fruit. Examine how we become useful when we produce fruit through a consistent daily walk by means of the Holy Spirit.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:1 hr 5 mins 4 secs

Salt and Light
Matthew 5:13
Matthew Lesson #025
March 2, 2014

The focus on verses 13-16 is on the disciple as salt and light. This is a metaphor used to teach something significant about who we are: not what we are to become but who we are. One of the unique things about Christianity as opposed to world philosophies and religions is that Christianity teaches that we are to become what we already are in Christ. In philosophies and world religions we are to become what we should be. See the difference. In Christianity we are not to become what we should be; we are to become what we already are. We are to learn to live in light of a new reality that comes into existence at the point of faith in Christ. As we studied in the Sermon on the Mount at the beginning and the beatitudes, that focused on the character of the believer. It applied cross-dispensationally. It applied to the people in the audience at that time who were under the dispensation of the Mosaic Law in the age of Israel, but it also applies to church age believers. These are universal principles and they are character qualities that should be developed in the disciple in preparation for the future kingdom.

As we went through those beatitudes, again and again we saw that there were emphases for motivation in relation to our future destiny in the kingdom. So the context is crucial for understanding any passage. In fact the more I teach Bible study methods the more I am aware that context is king. Just like the three laws of real estate—location, location, location—the three laws of Bible study are context, context, context. Context and location are basically the same idea. We have to know what the context is. One of the more freshman errors of Bible study comes by thinking that by looking a word in a dictionary or lexicon that that tells you what a word means. It has to be recognized that lexicographers, although they are very well educated, have their biases—lots of them. They try to avoid those as much as possible but they are present in those dictionaries. What determines word meaning is not what the dictionary or the lexicon says, but usage. You really have to take the time to go through the uses of a word to determine its range of meaning, and do that for yourself. That takes a lot of time, and usually pastors don’t have the time necessary. But if you have been a pastor for 10, 20 or 30 years and have done four, five, ten, fifteen in-depth word studies every year, then you have a lot behind you and you have a lot of arrows in your quiver.

I’m saying that because this passage has always bothered me a little bit. I’m familiar with all the major arguments and all the writers and everything, but the context of what is said, especially in verse 13, always seemed to not quite fit the interpretation that is most common. It all comes down to context and word studies.        

Matthew 5:13 NKJV "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men".

Matthew 5:13 NASB "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty {again?} It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men."

The question to be answered is: to what does the 'it' refer? Does it refer to the salt or to that which the salt impregnated, seasoned? The NKJV takes it as if you put salt on something and it loses its saltiness, how are you going to re-salt whatever it was salted to begin with? The NASB looks at the salt as if lost its saltiness, so how do you restore saltiness to the salt?

Darby’s translation: "Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have become insipid, wherewith shall it be salted?" The implication is: how shall it be salted again?  

Notice all three of these translations take the fact that it is flavor. There is a reason for that but it is not from this passage. They get it from Mark chapter nine.

The implication here as you look at it is that the context and how it is translated seems to indicate that the focus of the metaphor for comparison here between salt and the disciple is in the realm of salt and its use as a flavoring agent. We have a metaphor here. "You" refers to the disciples. You are the salt of the earth. A metaphor is an implied comparison. If there was a stated comparison it would be a simile and Jesus would have said: You are like the salt of the earth, or, You are as the salt of the earth. A metaphor transports a meaning from one image to another. So what we are doing is taking a literal concept of salt but there is something about salt that you want to transfer to a disciple. 

The problem with this is that there are a lot of different aspects for salt. Salt was a crucial element in the ancient world. In fact, at times it was priced equivalent to gold and in some rare cases it was more expensive than gold. It was used to pay salaries. The word "salary" is from the root in Latin for salt, because soldiers were paid in salt.

One writer comments in the notes of the new English translation, the NET Bible: "Salt was used three ways. For seasoning in a tasteless world". In other words, we live in the cosmic system and so the believer is supposed to add a little life to the world, a little seasoning to the world. A second meaning that he mentions is preservation in a corrupt world. The believer acts as a preservative. This is the application principle of blessing by association. We see this in Genesis chapter nineteen when God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah. The presence of believers would have prevented judgment. That is a true principle. The question is: is that what this is speaking of? That is the idea of preservation in a corrupt world. The third that NET mentions is fertilizer to encourage production.

Ryrie in his notes in the Ryrie Study Bible gives a different three: salt preserves, creates thirst, and cleanses.

Seven different ways in which Christian scholars have identified the significance of this metaphor  

1.      Bible Knowledge Commentary: This meant that the disciples were to create a thirst for greater information. (That is not the best-supported analogy)

2.      To season food. This is that their place in the world is to add a certain amount of seasoning, for it would be otherwise bland. (Kitchen metaphor)

3.      The most popular use it to preserve. This has been attested in the ancient world and all the way up to the present, that the presence of salt prevents spoilage of food.

4.      To fertilize. This is also a somewhat more popular interpretation than many people realize. You use it sparingly. Too much would mean that the soil would not be productive at all.

5.      According to rabbinical thought salt was a metaphor for wisdom.

6.      For purification. This is why salt was included in the sacrifices in the Old Testament, indicating purification and cleansing.

7.      Salt would be applied to a lamp's wick to increase the brightness of its burning.

It can be seen that in each of these elements you could go back and make a case for why a disciple might manifest that particular characteristics. There are also some who say Jesus is rather ambiguous here, He doesn't define the precision of His comparison, so He is really saying that just as salt is extremely valuable and has many different applications and many different ways in which it is significant, so the believer is very significant in the world around him.

We have to somehow define this. How do we narrow this down so that we can understand what Jesus is describing? He says, "You are the salt of the earth". The important thing to note here is that He doesn't say you are salt. He defines what He means by salt. The word translated "earth" there is the Greek word GE, which means the earth or the land. Sometimes it describes soil and the ground, at times the land of a region—the land of Capernaum, the land of Zeraphath, the land of Sidon, the land of Israel, etc. It usually translates aretz from the Hebrew, indicating land or even earth. It is talking about the physical planet, not the inhabitants. That is an important distinction.

So is "the salt of the earth" really the best translation? Should be we translate it "the salt of the world"? We see in the next verse, "light of the world". Earth is supposed to be a synonymous parallel to world.           

Matthew 5:14 NASB "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; … KOSMOS, [world] does have a lot of evidence that it is used for the inhabitants of the world. "God so loved the world [KOSMOS] …" That is a case of it referring to the inhabitants of the world. This is how a number of scholars take this—where earth equals the inhabitants of the earth. It is s synonym for world in verse 14, and this is a basic meaning to either the seasoning interpretation, the thirst interpretation, or the preservation interpretation. But if there is no attestation of earth meaning inhabitants of the earth, if GE does not relate to the inhabitants of the earth, but only the physical soil, ground, land, district, then we have a problem.

The problem: GE is used 39 times in Matthew; it is used 92 times in the Gospels. There are no synonymous uses with world. In fact, if you look in some dictionaries where they list it as the inhabitants of the world is in Matthew 5:13. Well, you can't prove your point by citing the verse you are studying. You have to have other evidence. There are three or four places that another lexicon cites as evidence, but that is very debatable. My reading of those passages is that it is more obviously earth than it is the inhabitants of the earth.

So, option two, earth as it is primarily translated means land or soil. If you look at the parable of the soils GE is translated as soil or ground. So this is its primary meaning—the land of Israel, the land of a nation, the land incorporating a city or a region, soil, ground, earth in terms of the planet—the heavens and the earth uses the word GE, not KOSMOS. So in this view salt of the earth equals salt for the land, meaning it is used agriculturally.

So the issue is, in these other three views—seasoning, thirst and preservation (thirst doesn't work at all)—is: is this going to be a kitchen metaphor or an agricultural metaphor? Salt of the earth is understood by most of these other positions to be salt for the earth, the salt for the world, and if you are going to be the salt of the earth as a preservative you are salt for the earth. That is called an objective genitive. If you are talking about creating a thirst in the world for righteousness or for fruit, it is till salt for the earth. All of the primary views take this as an objective genitive" salt for the earth. The issue is: for the earth or for the land, or does it refer to the people who inhabit the land? That has to be determined exegetically. You can't just say: Oh, it makes good sense to me to put it this way. Evidence, evidence, evidence; context, context, context. Do we have something in the text of Scripture that is going to cause us to lean in one direction or another? Yes, we do.

So the question: Is Jesus using a kitchen metaphor—seasoning or being a preservative to prevent spoilage—or is it an agricultural metaphor that indicates productivity?  

In the parallel in Luke 14:34 NASB "Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned?" Then in verse 35, "It is useless either for the [GE] soil [NKJV = land] or for the manure pile; it is thrown out." It is not fit for the land because it is talking about agriculture. This fits an agricultural metaphor and that is really clear in the next statement he makes: "or for the manure pile [dunghill]". What does He mean by the dunghill? It is not fit for the dunghill. He doesn't say because it is not fit you throw it on the dunghill. He says it is not proper for the dunghill. What purpose would salt have in a manure pile? In those days, as they collected manure from the farm animals, if they didn't want it to ferment or spoil they would put a light coat of salt over it to prevent spoilage before they put it in the field. So salt had a value to put in the field as a fertilizer, and there is a lot of attestation from both ancient writers as well as some modern writers related to salts use in fertilization. In the ancient world writers described salt as "improving the herbage of pastures". A book was written in 1923 by Lion and Buckmann called The Nature and Properties of Soil that stated that adding salt improves the productivity of some soils.

So here we have an attestation from Luke 14:35 that Jesus applies this metaphor in an agricultural context, not in a kitchen context. In agriculture salt would produce growth—productivity.

The second phrase, "the salt loses its flavor", translates the Greek verb MORAINO, from which we get our word 'moron'. It means foolish and it is used figuratively for something that has been made useless. This sort of relates to that rabbinic idea that salt stood for wisdom. MORAINO means to make something become foolish. It could be understood, and it is by some, that this verse would mean that the disciples who lose their savor are making fools of themselves. The significance really is that it makes them useless. The disciple has a mission, a purpose of God's calling, and if they fail in that then they become useless in terms of God's purpose. That makes a lot of sense. It is not that salt loses its flavor; it becomes useless. Remember we said that in those versions we quoted, most of which translated this as a kitchen metaphor (to do with flavoring), but the verb that is there isn't a verb that has anything to do with flavor; it really has the sense of being useless.   

Then the next phrase, how shall it be seasoned? HALAS is the word for salt. This is the verb form, HALIZO. Literally it is "how shall it be salted?" If the salt becomes useless how can it be salted? That is the question. There is a redundancy there and the Holy Spirit does that for emphasis and to give us a point.

The problem that is brought up is that salt is an extremely stable chemical compound. It is sodium chloride and it doesn't break down. So the question is: is Jesus making a misstatement here? Salt can't become saltless; that is impossible. This is why salt was included in perpetual covenants in the Old Testament. It indicated that this was a permanent, eternal or everlasting covenant. But the kind of salt that was common in Israel was salt that came from the Dead Sea area and was a product of the evaporation of the water. There were other chemical compounds that were associated with that and they would use that for various purposes, including and primarily for agricultural purposes, but when water was introduced to it the sodium chloride would leach out away from the other compounds so that it would become useless and no longer useable in the fields.

In conclusion, then, what we see is that several arguments substantiate and conform a fertilizer meaning to the context, an agricultural meaning based on the lexical meaning of the word for earth, GE, rather than using KOSMOS, a word that doesn't have substantiation anywhere else, where it means the inhabitants. Salt for the earth there would just be your fertilizer. You are to make production, and it would be understood as spiritual production.         

By using the agricultural metaphor there Jesus is emphasizing that a disciple should be productive. That fits the context. He is supposed to be productive in terms of his character in the beatitudes that we have already studied. He is being productive in light of a future goal, which is reward at the judgment seat of Christ and to be able to rule and reign with the Lord Jesus Christ in the context. So rewards are in the context of verse 12 and good works are in the context of verse 16. In the next metaphor, You are the light of the world, a range of ways in which light is used in Scripture in terms of illumination and revelation in the midst of darkness. We have it clarified for us in verse 16. See, it is so important to read the context and the Bible tells us how it is using things. Matthew 5:16 NASB "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works …" So light is related to production in the next metaphor: the production of the believer in terms of divine good, good that has eternal value, that has spiritual value. The metaphor, You are the salt of the earth, is bracketed by verse 12 and verse 16 that both talk about spiritual production. It fits the context better.

The idea of preserving the corrupt world, of keeping it from being as corrupt as it is, just isn't present in this context. But the idea of productivity is in this context. It is almost proverbial that salt of the earth and the light of the world means that you need to be politically active and involved in the culture. We are not saying those ideas are wrong, but that is not what this passage is talking about. This passage is talking about the fact that the disciple needs to be productive. Good works need to be produced in the life of the believer under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit. This has eternal value and significance, it will be rewarded at the judgment seat of Christ in preparation for the individual believers role and responsibility in the kingdom.

When we finalize our understanding here what Jesus is saying is we are to be fertilizers. As a disciple we are to be productive. He can produce things in his life, and a disciple of to make disciples (the Great Commission). In some way we are involved in evangelism, in witnessing. Our life is a witness and evidence to others, and in those ways we are contributing to productivity. If the believer is not productive then he is useless. That also fits the context and the metaphor. The believer needs to be productive and useful in terms of God's plan for the church age.