Saltiness 2

An interesting thing about salt is that it does no good unless it is in constant contact with the food. Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth. On another occasion He mentions the fact that we should be in the world, but not of the world. He says that same thing in Matthew 5, when He says that we are the salt of the earth.

Salt as sodium chloride can never lose its saltiness. However, in the first century, salt was usually found with other elements or compounds. Since the sodium chloride was the most water soluble of any of the things found with it, it could often leech out if it was left out in the rain, or if it got wet for some other reason. What was left was good for nothing except to repair the roads. This explains what could otherwise be a rather inexplicable passage. Salt is a relatively stable compound, and so to say that salt could become non-salt was a contradiction in Jesus’ day (we could change it today, I suppose, if anyone really wanted to). That is, one could not change the chemical make-up of salt, though one could leech it out of the mix in which it was found.

But salt was primarily used to preserve meat from decay. If used in this way, it had to be in constant contact with the meat. Salt even an inch away from the meat did no good. And yet, Jesus tells us that the salt cannot become unsalty. Here we have it: in the world and not of the world.

A second use of salt is to flavor. Some scholars do not think that that is part of the analogy here, since so much of food had to have a lot of salt in it just in order to preserve it. However, other foods that did not salt for preservation nevertheless might taste better with salt. So the analogy still holds. we are to add zest to life, just as we are to preserve the world from utter corruption.

In a book entitled _Chameleon Christianity_, Dick Keyes tells us that there are two dangers to avoid in the Christian life. One is the “herd mentality,” where everyone is protective such that no exposure to the world is possible. These people are not preserving the world from decay, since they have no contact with the world. Some of the hermetic tradition falls into this trap. The other (and equal) danger is assimilation into the culture. The church has too much contact with the world, and so looks just lie the world. In Jesus’ terms, either the salt isn’t even contacting the meat (herd mentality), or it has lost its saltiness (chameleon Christianity). If we are to be true salt, then we must avoid both dangers.


Here is an interesting quotation from Martyn Lloyd-Jones having to do with the passage in Matthew 5 about being the salt of the earth: “Take Christianity out of life and the world, and what an insipid thing life becomes, especially when one gets old or is on one’s deathbed. It is utterly tasteless and men have to drug themselves in various ways because they feel their need of a savour.”

To put one’s trust in anything other than Christ is to be on drugs. They may work for a while. But the need to keep on doing it will grow. One of these days I will write down in full the poem “The Hound of Heaven,” a truly beautiful poem full of meaning in these days of opiate-induced stupefaction.

Salt has several functions in the ancient world: preservation of meat from putrefaction (there were no refrigerators in those days!); adding flavor to life; cleaning (babies were rubbed with salt right out of the womb to clean them off); and making someone thirsty (see Matthew 5:6!).

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