Matthew 5:13 MEANING

Matthew 5:13
(13) Ye are the salt of the earth.--The words are spoken to the disciples in their ideal character, as the germ of a new Israel, called to a prophetic work, preserving the earth from moral putrescence and decay. The general reference to this antiseptic action of salt is (as in Colossians 4:6, and possibly in the symbolic act of Elisha, 2 Kings 2:21) enough to give an adequate meaning to the words, but the special reference to the sacrificial use of salt in Mark 9:49 (see Note there) makes it probable enough that there was some allusion to that thought also here.

If the salt have lost his savour.--The salt commonly used by the Jews of old, as now, came from Jebel-Usdum, on the shores of the Dead Sea, and was known as the Salt of Sodom. Maundrell, the Eastern traveller (circ. A.D. 1690), reports that he found lumps of rock-salt there which had become partially flavourless, but I am not aware that this has been confirmed by recent travellers. Common salt, as is well known, will melt if exposed to moisture, but does not lose its saltness. The question is more curious than important, and does not affect the ideal case represented in our Lord's words.

Wherewith shall it be salted?--The words imply a relative if not an absolute impossibility. If gifts, graces, blessings, a high calling, and a high work fail, what remains? The parable finds its interpretation in Hebrews 6:1-6.

To be trodden under foot of men.--The Talmud shows (Schottgen in loc.) that the salt which had become unfit for sacrificial use in the store-house was sprinkled in wet weather upon the slopes and steps of the temple to prevent the feet of the priests from slipping, and we may accordingly see in our Lord's words a possible reference to this practice.

Verse 13. - Ye are the salt, etc. (cf. a similar saying in Mark 9:50; Luke 14:34, 35). Weiss thinks that St. Luke gives it in its original context; that St. Matthew is right in interpreting it as of special reference to the disciples; and that St. Mark applies it the most freely. It may, indeed, be that its position here is only the result of the inspired guidance of the evangelist; but, on the whole, it seems more probable that so natural a figure was used more than once by our Lord, and that he really spoke these words in his sermon on the mount, as well as on the later occasion indicated by St. Luke. Ye; i.e. the μαθηταί of ver. 1. Are, in fact (ἐστέ); therefore recognize the responsibility. The salt of the earth. It has been disputed whether allusion is here made to the preservative properties of salt or to the flavour it imparts; i.e. whether Christ is thinking of his disciples as preserving the world from decay, or as giving it a good flavour to the Divine taste. Surely a useless question; forgetful of the fact that spiritual realities are being dealt with, and that it is therefore impossible for the one effect to be really separated from the other. Our Lord is thinking of the moral tone which his disciples are to give to humanity. The connexion with vers. 11, 12 is - Persecution must be borne unless you are to lose your moral tone, which is to be to the earth what salt is to its surroundings, preserving from corruption and fitting for (in your case Divine) appreciation. What χάρις is to be to the Christian λόγος (Colossians 4:6), that the Christian himself is to be to the world. If... have lost its savour (μωρανθῇ); so elsewhere in Luke 14:34 only. Salt that has lost its distinctive qualities is here said to lack its proper mind or sense. Salt without sharpness is like an ἄνθρωπος ἄλογος; for man is a ζῶον λογικόν. On the fact of salt losing its virtue, cf. Thomson ('Land and the Book,' p. 382: 1887), "It is a well-known fact that the salt of this country [i.e. Palestine] when in contact with the ground, or exposed to rain and sun, does become insipid and useless. From the manner in which it is gathered [vide infra], much earth and other impurities are necessarily collected with it. Not a little of it is so impure that it cannot be used at all; and such salt soon effloresces and turns to dust - not to fruitful soil, however. It is not only good for nothing itself, but it actually destroys all fertility wherever it is thrown.... No man will allow it to be thrown on to his field, and the only place for it is the street; and there it is cast, to be trodden under foot of men." It should be observed that the salt used in Palestine is not manufactured by boiling clean salt water, nor quarried from mines, but is obtained from marshes along the seashore, as in Cyprus, or from salt lakes in the interior, which dry up in summer, as the one in the desert north of Palmyra, and the great Lake of Jebbul, south-east of Aleppo. Further, rock-salt is found in abundance at the south end of the Dead Sea (cf. Thomson, loc. cit). Wherewith shall it be salted? i.e. not if you will not act as salt, wherewith shall the earth be salted? (apparently Luther and Erasmus); but what quality can take the place of moral tone to produce in you the same result? You are as salt. If you lose your distinctive qualities, where, can you find that which answers to them? It is thenceforth good for nothing. Our Lord here lays stress, not on want of fitness (εὔθετον, Luke), but on want of inherent power. "It is only useful for that purpose to which one applies what is absolutely useless" (Weiss-Meyer).

5:13-16 Ye are the salt of the earth. Mankind, lying in ignorance and wickedness, were as a vast heap, ready to putrify; but Christ sent forth his disciples, by their lives and doctrines to season it with knowledge and grace. If they are not such as they should be, they are as salt that has lost its savour. If a man can take up the profession of Christ, and yet remain graceless, no other doctrine, no other means, can make him profitable. Our light must shine, by doing such good works as men may see. What is between God and our souls, must be kept to ourselves; but that which is of itself open to the sight of men, we must study to make suitable to our profession, and praiseworthy. We must aim at the glory of God.Ye are the salt of the earth,.... This is to be understood of the disciples and apostles of Christ; who might be compared to "salt", because of the savoury doctrines they preached; as all such are, which are agreeable to the Scriptures, and are of the evangelic kind, which are full of Christ, serve to exalt him, and to magnify the grace of God; and are suitable to the experiences of the saints, and are according to godliness, and tend to promote it: also because of their savoury lives and conversations; whereby they recommended, and gave sanction to the doctrines they preached, were examples to the saints, and checks upon wicked men. These were the salt "of the earth"; that is, of the inhabitants of the earth, not of the land of Judea only, where they first lived and preached, but of the whole world, into which they were afterwards sent to preach the Gospel.

But if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? The "savour" here supposed that it may be lost, cannot mean the savour of grace, or true grace itself, which cannot be lost, being an incorruptible seed; but either gifts qualifying men for the ministry, which may cease; or the savoury doctrines of the Gospel, which may be departed from; or a seeming savoury conversation, which may be neglected; or that seeming savour, zeal, and affection, with which the Gospel is preached, which may be dropped: and particular respect seems to be had to Judas, whom Christ had chosen to the apostleship, and was a devil; and who he knew would lose his usefulness and place, and become an unprofitable wretch, and at last be rejected of God and men; and this case is proposed to them all, in order to engage them to take heed to themselves, their doctrine and ministry. Moreover, this is but a supposition;

if the salt, &c. and proves no matter of fact; and the Jews have a saying (k), that all that season lose their savour "hmej hgypm hnya but salt does not lose its savour". Should it do so,

it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot. Salt is good for nothing, but to make things savoury, and preserve from putrefacation; and when it has lost its savour, it is of no use, neither to men nor beasts, as some things are when corrupted; nor is it of any use to the land, or dunghill, for it makes barren, and not fruitful: so ministers of the word, when they have dropped the savoury doctrines of the Gospel, or have quitted their former seeming savoury and exemplary conversations; as their usefulness is gone, so, generally speaking, it is never retrieved; they are cast out of the churches of Christ, and are treated with contempt by everyone.

(k) T. Bab. Betzah, fol. 14. 1.

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