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How can salt lose its flavor?

Answer: It can’t. And that’s the point.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” — Matthew 5:13

Whenever this verse is discussed in church or at a joint scripture study, someone invariably asks the question, “How does salt lose its flavor?” Then the inevitable answer comes, “This happens when it is mixed with or contaminated by other elements.” And then a discussion follows where the participants discuss the need to “keep ourselves pure” from outside influences so that we can be the “salt of the earth”, uncontaminated by the world.

By thinking in it this way we are unconsciously tying it to the purity doctrine. In this sense the purpose of being the salt of the earth is to keep the salt uncontaminated by anything and everything. We don’t want to dilute it, so we can’t mix it with anything.

But if you stop and think about the verse and its context, that is the exact opposite of its meaning. This is an example of looking beyond the mark.

By asking the question, “How does salt lose its flavor?” we are unconsciously projecting our modern worldview onto the Bible. We are making an assumption about how to approach and interpret that verse that subtlety leads us in the wrong direction. To understand this we must know that the question “How does salt lose its flavor?” is a modern question, and was not on the minds of Christians throughout the ages.

In an ancient setting salt was salt. Those listening to Jesus understood salt as a thing they put on and in their food. They did not think of it as a chemical element that can be mixed with other similar chemicals to change its overall composition. This understanding is a result of our modern worldview.

To people in ancient days, if a white crystalline powder tasted salty, then it was salt. If it didn’t, it wasn’t. That didn’t mean it was mixed with impurities. The question of how the chemical salt (NaCl) could no longer taste salty was a mystery that popped up in Biblical commentaries in the 1800s. There are tales of travelers who went to Palestine and literally went around licking rocks to try and figure out how salt could lose its flavor.

Unfortunately, they were being misled by imposing a modern understanding onto the Bible.

A better way of understanding this verse is like this:

Jesus: “My followers, I want you to be like salt, but for everyone on earth. As you know salt is very important. We use it in our food all the time. What does bread taste like if you don’t put salt in it? It tastes terrible and is not good to eat! What does soup or stew or meat taste like without salt? It’s very bland! Do you want to eat it? No? I didn’t think so!”

“So I want you to be like that! Necessary for everything, and the thing that gives flavor to the people of the earth. I want you to give everyone a reason to enjoy life and not be so bland! Just remember, that is what salt is good for!”

“If salt didn’t taste salty what would we use it for? Would we use it for food? No! Would we use it for building? No! Would we use it for jewelry? No! Would we use it for anything? No! We would just throw it out like dirt!”

“I want you to be the salt of the earth. And if salt wasn’t salty, there is nothing else that can be used to give the earth back the flavor of salt! Without you, life would be bland! Give life flavor!”

Unfortunately, all that understanding just doesn’t fit into a pithy little saying. But with this, we get a better sense of what Jesus meant. He didn’t want his followers to be untouched by the world. He didn’t want them to separate themselves from everything, completely unmixed with the world. He wanted his followers to bring their goodness into the world and make life flavorful!

Hiding the pure salt in a jar so that it never is contaminated makes the salt useless! It is like lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket! Connecting this verse to the purity doctrine is the exact opposite of its intended purpose.


Identify the Aircraft (3 photos to help you decide)


35 thoughts on “Sermonette

  1. And a hearty Amen!

    We must be careful to not impose our will on straight-forward Scripture verses out of context or complicate them beyond what God intends, otherwise the lesson gets lost in the weeds of rumination.

    Another one: When confronting the leaders who were about ready to stone a woman caught in adultery (while trying to test Jesus) he kneels down and starts writing on the ground…twice. People miss the entire point of this episode, wanting to know what he was writing thinking it will add some grand revelation beyond its simplicity: He was forcing a pause…it doesn’t matter what he was writing, if anything.

    Excellent Sermonette LL.

    1. We are not told what he is writing, but if it was the Law. it wouldn’t be the first time he wrote it with His fingertip, and it would certainly bring conviction, it’s purpose.
      We’ll know someday. 😀

      1. Jesus was a master at seeing beyond the immediate, an example I try to emulate (which is in sharp contrast to my “heads should roll” bloviation commentary). He is our model to aspire.

        1. I agree that what he wrote is likely unimportant because the lesson was the point of the exercise. The priests left and only the girl remained. She likely did not read Hebrew.

  2. Outstanding sermonette! You say more in a couple of paragraphs than some pastors I remember in an hour long sermon

    1. That was the company’s internal designation. The two that were delivered to the Army were designated by them as the XP-51. I assume this is one of them, based on the markings. 4 .50 caliber machineguns (two in the nose) and 4 .30 caliber machineguns (one lower in the wing than the other).

  3. Good sermonette. You do seem to have a knack for it.
    I’m baffled by the plane. The roundels tell me it’s pre WWII American but that’s it. I guess I’ll be looking it up.

  4. Excellent commentary on salt.
    So often in preparing for a bible study, I discover verses that have been lifted out of context into bumper stickers that then are used to represent the exact opposite of the meaning found in the original context.
    Judge not, is an obvious example.

        1. What!? X2. Another successful trip around the sun. Happy birthday to you….

          (Not that I need to have a reason for cake an ice cream, but will have a double helping later to honor Ed.)

          1. Gratitude, and the flip-side of the same coin, humility…our culture must embrace more of those Godly principles.

  5. I think it can be said that salt will lose its saltiness when it becomes something OTHER than salt.
    In the same way, Christians will lose their influence when they become something other than Christians.
    Just like the joke around the time of Lincoln – if you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have.
    Answer: Four; calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.
    Lots of people who call themselves Christians don’t bear Christian fruits.

  6. Good heavens! What an excellent sermon!
    To your point, “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out…”
    Therein lies a warning, not least to Lambeth.

          1. You’re in good company, the Apostles were initially amateurs as well, then the Holy Spirit came upon them. We’re all used for His purposes if we allow it. I echo the others sentiments.

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