Salt Losing its Flavor: Luke 14: 34-35, Matthew 5:13

This instance recorded in Matthew and Luke occurs as part of the Sermon on the Mount (or Plain). Another reference to salt losing its flavor is found in Mark 9:50 and most likely is given at another time. The rationale for seeing Mark’s account as given at a different time relates to the nature of Jesus’ teaching ministry. Often the message given was the same but the places changed such as the “Kingdom is at Hand” proclamation. Of course many of the accounts recorded in the Synoptic Gospels are parallel and given from another perspective when they are not in exact agreement, but not all of the sayings of Jesus were given only once since not all of the disciples were with Him at all occasions and others (who would become part of the 500 who witnessed His resurrected person) needed to hear the same message in different towns. Newspapers and other media did not exist so it should not be surprising that the same teachings were repeated at different times and places.

The Sermon on the Mount starts as a description of the character of Jesus’ disciples (see Lk. 6.20a). Here I reproduce Mt. 5.1-12 since this section defines the “salt of the earth”

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.

Therefore, with seeing these traits, it is easy to see exactly what “the salt of the earth” is. Conversely, also, what losing its “flavor” means.

V. 13: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people.

A note about the word “morantha” (from moraino) translated as “loses its flavor” in both Matthew and Luke’s account given in the “Sermon on the Mount.” In this instance, as I regard the passage, it is a wrong translation. It should read: “become foolish” for these reasons: 1. To translate the word “loses it flavor (lose its saltiness)” is from Mark’s  account which I have previously explained was most likely given at a different time than the Matthew and Luke sections. The related content in Mark clearly shows this is the case.

2. In Matthew and Luke Jesus is already using a figure of speech in terming His disciples as “salt”, why would He use a term such as “moraino” which clearly means “to make foolish” as another figure of speech within a figure of speech? No, in this instance, Jesus is clarifying what He means: that the disciples not turn to folly and be characterized opposite of the traits Jesus just described in verses 2-12 of Matthew chapter 5.

3. Jesus was speaking to His disciples to whom He explained figures of speech in instances where they asked. In Lk. 14.35 Jesus warns: ” The one who has ears to hear had better listen!” He wanted the disciples to clearly understand the message to them so He uses: “become foolish”. This is how both Matthew 5.13 and Luke 14.34 should both be translated: “become foolish”.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes foolish how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. (v.13)

I.Howard Marshall in his commentary on Luke notes “no attestation” of moraino than “to make folly, become foolish” but still thinks Luke 14.34 should read: “lose its saltiness”. I respectfully disagree for the previously cited reasons. No matter how one translates the word, one thing should be clear: the meaning of “losing its flavor” is “to become foolish.”

In other posts I hope to discuss more about the figure of salt used in the bible and also “The Covenant of Salt”. All bible references: NET Bible.

The New Covenant in 1 John

In 2 Corinthians 3.6 Paul defines aspects of the New Covenant which are different from the Mosaic Covenant of the “letter”: who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (NET) Here Paul describes one of the Law’s functions: “to kill”. The sense of what Paul is saying is that the commandments of the Old Covenant exposed our deficiency to keep those commandments perfectly and thus the Law of the Sacrifice was necessary to atone for that sin by bringing a substitute for the offender, a sin offering. The person would place their hands on the animal and confess their sin then the priest would offer it on the altar after it had its throat cut.

The good news of the New Covenant is that Christ has atoned for sin once for all time and the Spirit is given on that basis to those who turn to Christ in faith. This New Covenant was promised in a detailed manner especially in Jer. 31.31-34 toward the end of Israel’s Theocratic Kingdom:

“Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.  It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt. For they violated that covenant, even though I was like a faithful husband to them,” says the Lord. “But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the Lord. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people. “People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me. For all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,” says the Lord. “For I will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done.” (NET)

Before we look at 1John, a few notes on the time frame of when this New Covenant was to happen: “after I plant them in the land” (“after these things”-Heb.). Jeremiah had long prophesied that Judah would be exiled but then allowed to return after 70 years (605-535 BCE). Also, Dt. 30.1-6 promises “heart circumcision” after the exile due to breaking the Old Covenant. Additionally, Ezekiel 11.14-20 promises a removal of the stony heart to be replaced with the fleshly heart after the restoration from the Babylonian Captivity. Again, Ezekiel 36.24-27 promises after Israel returns from captivity that 1. Cleansing 2. New heart and spirit 3. Fleshly heart 4. The Spirit enabling to keep God’s regulations.

The last OT prophet Malachi promised the “Messenger of The Covenant” who will be the Lord Himself: “I am about to send my messenger, who will clear the way before me. Indeed, the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his temple, and the messenger of the covenant, whom you long for, is certainly coming,” says the Lord who rules over all. (Malachi 3.1 NET) John the Baptist was the first messenger who cleared the way for the Messenger of the Covenant who was Jesus who was longed for to pay redemption’s price for all of humanity.

Without specifically mentioning The New Covenant, the Apostle John in his first epistle described the new relationship (covenant) that believers in Jesus enjoy. 1 John 2.20 contrasts those who have not left the faith of verse 19 as having the anointing (Holy Spirit) and that they all “know”: Nevertheless you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. While true that some manuscripts have the accusative form (in the Koine Greek) and additional “things”, this certainly doesn’t make sense. Even the apostles in the first century were not cognizant of many aspects. Also, it would be normal for the scribes hearing the epistle read would naturally add “things” to give the verb its object when in reality the clause ends with “know”. It is abundantly clear to many scholars that this is a reference to Jer. 31.34 where they (believers) would all “know” the Lord. Therefore, the Greek nominative case (subjective-“you all know”) is preferred over the accusative case (direct object-“you know all things”).

1 John 2.27 again mentions this anointing as a person (the Holy Spirit) who teaches the New Covenant believer to abide in Christ: Now as for you, the anointing that you received from him resides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, it is true and is not a lie. Just as it has taught you, you reside in him. (NET)

“Chrisma” is the word in Greek which referred to the anointing oil such as what the High Priests would be anointed with in the OT. This OT oil was a symbol for the NT Holy Spirit promised in the New Covenant.

An aspect of “the times of the Lord” (Lev.23) was the festivals which every male Israelite was to attend. The Passover was fulfilled in Christ’s sacrifice: Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough?  Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough—you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. (1Cor. 5.6-8 NET) All three synoptic Gospels (Mt., Mk., Lk.) mention Christ at the Last Supper referring to the cup of wine as His symbolic blood of the Covenant which was expected (New). Christ would shed His own blood (and so enacting The New Covenant) in our stead accomplishing redemption. The Last Supper was during the time of the first lamb of Passover (Christ’s crucifixion occurred at the ‘second lamb’ is my view).

The second festival of the “times of the Lord” all male Israelites were to attend was Shavuot or in Greek, Pentecost (50 days). Jesus instructed His disciples to wait for “the promise from the Father” (“another advocate”) which happened when the Spirit descended on the 120 believers assembled together for the festival Shavuot. This is the anointing which John speaks about in his epistle: the Holy Spirit’s indwelling all faithful to Christ. It is how Christians “know” the Lord.