Salt in the Bible

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There are over thirty references to salt [1][2] in English translations of the Bible. Probably the most familiar being the story of Lot's wife who turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back at the city of Sodom in Genesis 19:26 and the story of Jesus Christ refering to his followers as the "salt of the earth" in Matthew 5:13. In Scripture, salt is metaphorically used in different contexts to signify different meanings. [3]

Contents

Old Testament References

From the Pentateuch

  • Genesis 14:3 "All these [Gr. agreed.] met with one consent at the salt valley; this is now the sea of salt." (Gr. θαλασσα των αλων [4]).
  • Genesis 19:26 "And his wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt."
  • Leviticus 2:13 Every offering of your meal offering you shall season with salt; neither shall yo allow the salt of the covenant of God to be lacking from your meal offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt.
  • Numbers 18:19 Search for reference in progress
  • Numbers 34:3 Search for reference in progress
  • Numbers 34:12 Search for reference in progress
  • Deuteronomy 3:17 Reference to a salt-sea - in progress
  • Deuteronomy 29:23 "And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the Lord overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath ..."

From the Historical Books

  • Joshua (Jesus Navi) 3:16, 12:3, 15:2, 15:5, 15:62, 18:19 {OW Note: References to be checked against Septuagint}
  • Judges 9:45 "And Abimelech fought against the city all that day; and he took the city, and slew the people that was therein, and beat down the city, and sowed it with salt."
  • II Kingdoms (II Samuel) 8:13
  • IV Kingdoms (II Kings) 2:20, 2:21
  • I Paraleipomenon (I Chronicles) 18:12
  • II Paraleipomenon (II Chronicles) 13:5, 25:11
  • I Esdras (Ezra) There is a reference to salt in the context of the pay of the Persian king's servants. Search in Progress to find passage 4:14, 6:9, 7:22

The following books do not contain references to salt:

  • Ruth and I Kingdoms (I Samuel), III Kingdoms (I Kings), Nehemiah, II Esdras, Tobit (Tobias), Judith, Esther, I Maccabees, II Maccabees, III Maccabees

From Books of Wisdom

  • Psalm 59:17, 60:1, 107:34 ...
  • Prayer of Manasseh
  • Job 6:6 "Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt?"
  • Job 30:4
  • Job 39:6
  • Proverbs
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Song of Solomon
  • Wisdom of Solomon
  • Wisdom of Sirach

From the Prophet Books

  • Isaiah There is no reference to salt in the book of Isaiah.
  • Jeremiah 17:6
  • Ezekiel 16:4 "As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. (NKJV)
  • Ezekiel 43:24
  • Ezekiel 47:9
  • Ezekiel 47:11 "But the miry places thereof and the marishes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt."
  • Daniel and Hosea There are no references to salt in the Book of Daniel and Hosea.
  • Joel 2:20 "But I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the east sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he hath done great things."[5]
  • There are no references to salt in the following books:

Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum and Habakkuk

  • Zephaniah 2:9
  • There are no references to salt in the following books:

Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi


In the Old Testament, Mosaic law called for salt to be added to all burnt animal sacrifices (Lev. 2:13). The Book of Ezra (550 BC to 450 BC) associated accepting salt from a person with being in that person's service. In Ezra 4:14, the servants of Artaxerxes I of Persia explain their loyalty to the King. When translated, it is either stated literally as "because we have eaten the salt of the palace" or more figuratively as "because we have maintenance from the king."[6]

New Testament References

  • Gospel of Matthew 5:13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
  • Gospel of Mark 9:49 For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.
  • Gospel of Mark 9:50 Salt [is] good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.
  • Gospel of Luke 14:34 Salt [is] good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned?
  • Colossians 4:6 Let your speech [be] alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.
  • James 3:11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet [water] and bitter?
  • James 3:12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so [can] no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

In the New Testament, Matthew 5:13 Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth." He added that if the salt loses its flavor, it is good for nothing but to be trampled. Jesus said this in order to show his disciples how valuable they were and this saying is commonly used today to describe someone who is of particular value to society. In addition, the preservative quality of salt is in view here to show how the disciples were called to preserve the society and the world around them from moral decay. On another occasion according to the Gospels, Jesus commanded his followers to "have salt within them"[7]


Characteristics of Salt

Knowledge of the characteristics of salt is one way to assist in the allegorical interpretations of the Scripture passages.

  • Salt is a needed mineral: Salt is an essential element in the diet of not only humans but of animals and even of many plants. It is one of the most effective and most widely used of all food preservatives and has even been used to preserve Egyptian mummies. It's industrial, medical and other uses are almost without number.
  • Salt is a taste enhancer:
  • Salt is used as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge in many cultures: In many cultures, it is traditional etiquette to offer bread and salt to visitors.
  • Salt was used as a currency in many cultures: Ezra 4:14: Salt has served as currency at various times and places in history and has been the cause of warfare between places. There are records outside of the Scriptures that place an importance on salt in commerce during the Medieval ages and earlier still in Nepal and the Sahara salt was used in trade. These records provide a glimpse into how salt would have been used even earlier still. During the 15th-century, in Russia, the monks from the Solovetsky Monastery would make salt that became the base for the monastery's economic power. The salt that they produced was black and was created by using ground grain and seaweed that when dried on stoves would turn black.
  • Salt was used in sacrifices: Leviticus 2:13


Interpretations by Church fathers

What do the Church fathers have to say about the "salt" term in Scripture? List of articles discussing this:

Notes

  1. Salt is the every day term for the chemical compound Sodium Chloride (NaCl); it occurs naturally in many parts of the world and is particularly prevalent in the area of the Dead Sea. Halite is the mineral form of sodium chloride.
  2. An interesting quality of salt is that when it is used it looses itself. Example, (1) when used in cooking the salt cannot be seen; it makes its contribution and is "gone". (2) In various chemical processes, salt "dissipates" after it has fulfilled its purpose.
  3. See the OW article on: Hermeneutics to understand how to approach reading and understanding Scripture from an Orthodox perspective.
  4. Text without diacritical marks
  5. The east sea, or the Sea of the Plain, is more commonly known as the Dead Sea! This sea is infact a large inland lake whose waters are extremely saline. In fact, it is five times more salty than the oceans, and marine life cannot live in it's waters. It is at the lowest point on earth and can be described as desolate.
  6. Source: Wikipedia: History of salt
  7. Source: Wikipedia: History of salt

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