You are the Salt of the Earth – Matthew 5:15

“Salt, city, and light can be used for almost anything, and the history of interpretation shows that this indeed is what has happened” (Luz, Matthew 1-7, 205).

The second section of the Sermon makes two remarkable statements about the followers of Jesus. They are the “salt of the Earth” and the “light of the world.” Both metaphors have become common in western culture, although the meaning of “salt of the earth” has changed. For example, the common dictionary definition is “a simple, good person” just as Jesus’s followers were simple fishermen. But this completely misses the point of what Jesus intended in Matthew 5:13.

Salt Grains Scoop

So what does Jesus mean by these two metaphors? As is common in the teaching of Jesus, he is looking back to the Hebrew Bible and interpreting as a prophet by applying texts and metaphors to himself and his followers.

Since salt is a preserving agent in the ancient world, the followers of Jesus will in some real way act as agents of preservation. Salt has several different uses, from purification (Exod 30:35) to adding flavor to foods (Luke 14:34, “lost its taste”). Scot McKnight suggests the exact nuance of “salt” is less important than the loss of saltiness (McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, 57; Davies and Allison list eleven possibilities, Matthew 1-7, 472-3). Whatever the use of salt Jesus as in mind, salt is worthless if it is not salty! The verb μωραίνω sometimes has the nuance of “foolish” here the aorist passive refers to something which has become tasteless, or possibly “become insipid.”

Can salt actually lose its saltiness? It seems unlikely for the chemistry of salt to change into something else simply through disuse, so scholars often refer to Dead Sea salt, which is only about one-third salt. The other minerals can lose their taste when they dry out. It is possible the reference is mixing salt and other things, so that the salt is no longer effective.

Or, is “salt losing its saltiness” a metaphor for an impossible thing, like hiding a city on the hill? If it is impossible for a city on a hill to be hidden, perhaps the point is that in the unlikely event salt goes bad, it gets tossed out. This may be an eschatological allusion, tramping under foot may be part of judgment.

“The salt is thrown out, according to the everything-in-the-street law, which was the principle of garbage disposal in the ancient Orient. Understand that the disciple will be excluded from Jesus’ following … will be trodden underfoot; an image of the scorn—even on the part of humans—that is the lot of disciples who have fallen away from their fervor” (M. J. Lagrange, cited by TLNT 2:536).

This metaphor implies the follower of Jesus can become less effective, so that they are “worthless.” Looking ahead to the end of the Sermon, Jesus says many will come to him on the Day of Judgment expecting to enter into the Kingdom of God, claiming to have prophesied and cast out demons in his name, but he will say to them “I never knew you” (Matt 7:21-23). Not everyone who appears to be a follower of Christ is actually a follower, just as not everyone in a church today has a real relationship with Jesus.

This saying is spoken directly to Jesus’s followers, the ones who are sitting at his feet and listening to his teaching. They are the ones who are told they are a preserving agent designed to keep their culture from decaying into foolishness. It is perhaps not insignificant the word Jesus uses is also used by Paul in Romans 1:22, those who claimed to me wise had become fools when they worshiped idols. The follower of Jesus potentially can decay from a wise person (with their house built on the rock) into the foolish person (with their house built on the sand), as Jesus will conclude the sermon in Matthew 7:24-26.

This is not particularly comforting. Jesus says it is possible for his followers to become “worthless” and no longer of any value. On the one hand, this may be part of a common theme throughout Matthew that there are some followers of Jesus who are not “true followers” and will be separated out for judgment at some point (Judas, for example). But on the other hand, this is a warning to all the followers of Jesus to maintain their effectiveness as disciples of Jesus.

In what ways might the church (or an individual Christian) “lose their saltiness”? Is it possible some parts of the western, Christian church has already become ineffective for the Gospel and has become worthless? What are some ways the Church heed this warning?

27 thoughts on “You are the Salt of the Earth – Matthew 5:15

  1. Another possible interpretation (and most likely in my thinking) is that Jesus is using “salt” within the context of God’s “covenant” to save Man from the Fall.
    Leviticus 2:13, Numbers 18:19 and 2 Chronicles 13:5; All these scriptures use “salt” in the context of a permanent “covenant”. The use of salt in the Ancient Near East (ANE) as a means of formalizing a permanent agreement (covenant) between two parties is well known and documented.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sharing salt is found in covenant meals, so that is possible. As the Luz quote says, anything is possible!

      However, not every metaphor has to have the same point. For example, leaven is usually a symbol for sin, yet in Matthew 13:33 the Kingdom of Heaven is like a bit of leaven worked into flour, leaven is a positive image for the hideousness of the Kingdom.

      Like

  2. I believe that we as Christians are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” We are to be examples to those who do not see the light or know Jesus. Loosing our saltiness is possible. McKnight says, “Jesus’ concern in the salt metaphor is the potential of diminishing one’s impact, and so he crafts the metaphor of salt as one expressing negative possibilities” (Mcknight, pg. 57). So it could be possible for Christians to maybe start falling behind and become less salty. When that happens they begin to not share Christ to those around. Becoming worthless is something we do not want to become, so we should not loose our saltiness. Jesus calls us the salt of the earth, we should be living for Him and live for what we are called to do.

    Like

    • I completely agree with you here. We as Christians should always strive to make an impact for Christ, but often times we can become lukewarm in our faith. This is something that I believe Jesus is warning us against. The example that McKnight used on the salt metaphor about “diminishing one’s impact” can be so true to those who become lukewarm in their faith or are doing too much and get burned out. It is often times healthy for Christians to take a sabbatical and focus on Jesus. Ministry can often be draining. If you are so focused on pouring into others but forget to be filled up by the Word of God then you will lose your effectiveness. This is why I believe that is it so beneficial to attend a weekend seminar or take a vacation to recharge. What are ways that you believe Christians can keep their “saltiness” and remain effective in their ministries?

      Like

    • Maddie I really like the points you make about what it means to lose our saltiness. We are called to be the salt of the earth by living for Him and doing what He calls us to do. However, it is possible for us to lose sight of this and to lose our saltiness. I believe that this can happen as we begin to lose focus of why we are doing things. When our focus becomes on ourselves rather than on God. When we being to become our own idol. When our focus shifts from the father to ourselves, we will see that we no longer choose to live for Him and do what He is calling us to. We will choose to do what we want because we want to please ourselves. This is the opposite of how God is calling us to live. Our society is constantly pushing us to make ourselves our priority. An example of this is the constant push of a materialistic life that places our wants of the newest and best over what God calls us to spend our money on, like helping others. As we allow ourselves to please ourselves, we lose our saltiness that God is calling us to obtain and maintain. In order to maintain the saltiness that we have, we must stop and consistently observe where our priorities are and if God is truly the center of our lives. We must make sure that we are following His calling in our lives and not our own. If we see that we are following our own wants, we must repent from that and change to be loving God more than ourselves so that we can follow Him and bring glory to Him through being the salt of the earth.

      Like

  3. It’s not a question of if the church will lose its saltiness, but when the church will lose its saltiness. Paul warns us that the people in the church will lose their saltiness. In 2 Timothy 3 he writes, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” These Christians don’t sound too salty to me.
    For starters, I am sure there are thousands of individuals who identify themselves as Christians, but do not live as “salt and light.” Which sends a confusing message or wrong idea to those who do not know Jesus – what is the correct way to live? I also believe that there are individuals who claim themselves to be religious/righteous, but are missing the point. Kingdom people do not go unnoticed because they are living as salt and light. I think about Daniel and how vastly different he was compared to the people around him. In Daniel 6:3 we read that he was “distinguished” by his “exceptional qualities.” And yet we still find him being faithful and humble before the Lord in prayer (Daniel 6:10). He had powerful influence and he was even preferred by Darius who wanted nothing to do with God. McKnight says, “to think carefully both about how we influence as well as the possibility of diminishing our influence” (57). We know that our world is dark and decaying, which should cause us to jump into action to proclaim the hope Jesus offers us. How we live our lives shows what we believe about the reality of the kingdom of heaven. As churches/followers of Jesus lose their saltiness, we lose the chance to be used as God’s vessels. We miss precious moments of sharing with others the reality of hell versus heaven – the day that is coming.

    Like

  4. I do believe that it is possible to lose their saltiness. This would be similar to people losing their focus on their relationship with God and the calling that he has set out for them. These would be the people who are still part of the church but are not actively seeking God and converting others. Losing saltiness could almost be compared to Christians who are becoming lukewarm. As seen in Revelation 3:15-16, God cannot stand lukewarm Christians as he spits them from his mouth. God calls for Christians to be active in being the salt of the earth. Those who lose their saltiness are in great danger of punishment from the Lord. If this is not a wake up call for the church, I do not know what is.

    Like

    • I completely agree with you when it comes to believing that its possible for us to lose our saltiness. We all fall short of the glory of God daily and with that being said our saltiness will never match his, but as his servants we still need to aim at being “the light of the world” God does call for Christian’s to be active and not just saying they are Christians but by taking up his cross daily in the sense of making it known you are a follower of God by your actions. The less effective you are the more worthless you become.

      Like

    • I agree with the example you gave comparing loosing the saltiness to people losing their focus with God. I find myself being a lukewarm christian at times and know of many others who also do. When God speaks on losing its saltiness it means having the salt isn’t enough if we are not going to use it for its soul purpose. Christians must actually spread the word of God and not just portray an image that they are trying too. Get your salt saltier.

      Like

  5. Being “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” can be broken into less complex meaning. The whole concept that those phrases are trying to get across are the fact that your goal in life should be a good person and show that you are a follower of Christ. But when you look at in more complex meanings, salt is a preserving agent in the ancient world. So we are to act as agents of preservation. Through that it claims that salt comes in different forms and can be used in different ways. Salt is worthless if it has not saltiness. So as Christians us proclaiming the word of God is useless if we do not believe it ourselves or live by what we are preaching. You cannot just sprinkle the seed and not be hopeful that it will not grow. We are to sprinkle the seeds and have faith and trust in God that he will bring forth a more rich and promising thing out of nothing. Scot Mcknight suggests the exact nuance of “salt” is less important than the loss of saltiness.
    Now, can salt lose its saltiness? What does is it mean? When salt becomes bad or useless people throw it away. Compare that to humans, when we interact with someone who does not reach our expectations or is “bad”, then we leave them in the dust and throw them out to defend for themselves. As our time comes to an end, we will come face to face with Jesus Christ claiming all the good things we have done and how we proclaimed His name high and mighty but many of us will be turned away and be told “Turn away, I never knew you”. As Christians you should fear hearing those words and fear being turned away. Your fear of God should be greater than the fear of this world. God can harm both the soul and the body, whereas the world can only harm the body. People are like salt, we are rich and full of life at first but then we start to become worthless and dull, with no outlook at life. Just like salt, it is good at first but then becomes bad.

    Like

  6. Often times it can be tricky to interpret metaphors used in the Bible. We do not want to interpret them the wrong way and there is often a lot of debate over the way to interpret it. One thing to really be intentional about when interpreting the Bible is to not let your own life act as a bias towards what you interpret the Scripture as. That is why it is often very helpful to look into the context and read commentaries such as McKnight’s Sermon on the Mount. After reading McKnight’s perspective and the different perspectives that you gave in your blog, I believe that “salt losing its saltiness” is a warning; as it refers to being “thrown out” once that happens. McKnight gives examples of other references of being “thrown out” in the Gospel of Matthew and each one is said with a very negative connotation to it.

    As for Christians today, I believe this is a warning to lukewarm Christians. We are called to make a difference in the world, and often times we can slip into a lukewarm state of life. When we are lukewarm Christians, we are no longer being the hands and feet of Jesus, and we lose the “saltiness” that we once had. We become ineffective for what God is trying to do in this world. This is why we must always strive to make a difference in the world, and if burnout is coming, take a break to rekindle your fire for Jesus.

    Like

  7. You are the salt of the Earth.

    This is a verse that most Christians know in our hearts today, however when does our “salt” start to wear off within the Church? In this article, it is written “since salt is a preserving agent in the ancient world…” I believe that once we are saved and become Christians this “salt” will therefore become a preserving act upon our lives. So can this mean that once we accept Jesus into our hearts can we eventually lose our saltiness? In my own understanding once we have received Christ, we have been preserved. Just like salt, when put into a boiling pot , or any kind of water it starts to dissolve. And then by the end of the process it seems to be mixed within the substance that it was poured into. It is kind of like our lives as Christians. We get thrown into something (trials, tribulations etc.) and then get mixed around and at times we lose our “saltiness” however, it is still there. When you eat whatever food you had mixed within that boiling water you can still taste the salt. McKnight writes (pg. 57) “Thus, salt, if not treated properly or put to good use, will become insipid-‘lose its saltiness’- and become good for nothing, or what John Stott calls ‘road dust’” If the church isn’t using its abilities, its recourses and only becomes a “hangout time” for the cool kids, it then can, and will lose some of its saltiness.

    Like

  8. Looking at McKnight’s approach to this passage, He comes to the consensus that the text, when paired up with a few others, is pointing towards the particular role that the Church and believers have. He comes to the conclusion that as God reigns as King in Heaven, our role on earth is to become priests and kings on His behalf to mediate the tasks here on earth in accordance with what our roles will be in God’s eternal Kingdom (McKnight 56). When Jesus tells his disciples that they are the salt of the earth, I think we need to take into account what exactly salt is used for. I completely agree that there is a connection in God saying this to the Israelites as they were the ones whom He chose to preserve Jesus’ teachings after He left earth. As Jesus has not yet returned, we are now in that same position where we need to preserve His truth and share it. My overall thought is, although salt cannot chemically lose it’s “saltiness”, we are in control of how much we use the salt, and what purposes we use it for. At every dinner table in America, there is always a salt shaker on the table. It is up to each person eating at that table to apply their own salt to their meal. In this same way, although we all are called to point the world to Christ and to preserve God’s Word, not everyone is going to apply and put forth the same amount of effort in this task. I think there is always going to be more room for the church to grow in its saltiness, but one big aspect that McKnight also touches on is making sure we are not making closed communities that shut people out. The church is unfortunately known for being one of the most judgmental places today. If we want to fulfill God’s mandate to be the salt and light of the world to glorify Him, we need to learn to reach out in love and remember that it is God’s job to judge.

    Like

  9. Salt of the world, what does that mean to Christians and how can we approach this claim. Salt was used in the days before ice box and freezer, to preserve food. Salt is also used to bring out the flavor in foods that we eat. Salt is something GCU kitchen lack the knowledge of, but back to the topic. Therefore salt has many purposes which is very grand, but it was mention if salt can lose it saltiness? Looking at this, I automatically thought “No”, but then I remember as a kid. Whenever I went to the corner party store to buy snacks for myself. Normally I’ll go for chips and a fruit juice, and within consuming these snacks I could taste the flavors very well. Then I’ll have those days where I’ll buy a hostess cake and a fruit juice. Within the process of eating my snacks, if I started with the one, my taste buds would be activate and over powered by the extreme taste of sugar, then whenever I reach for my second option, I couldn’t ever taste the flavor of the sweetness, why is that? When you mentioned “This metaphor implies the follower of Jesus can become less effective, so that they are “worthless.” Looking ahead to the end of the Sermon,” (Long, 2018) Followers of Christ can easily put themselves in a situation or a lifestyle that may seem like it needs flavoring but indeed if we are aware of our flavor will have an impact on the very area we found ourselves in then we can be lost in our own misjudgment and not inherit the kingdom of God.

    Like

  10. Salt what is its purpose? When Jesus used the metaphor you are the salt of the world did he meant that literally? or did he mean figuratively? Either of those are possible. I did some quick research about the way salt was used in biblical times. Salts main purpose was for preserving food and seasoning. Salt was also used in burnt offerings to God. Salt was also used a symbol for a sacred covenant. So is it possible that Jesus used the metaphor salt of the earth and mean that we are ourselves an offering, like what is mentioned in Romans 12:1. “offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12:1).

    Like

  11. There are a lot of ways to “lose the saltiness” that makes us followers of Christ. What personally comes to mind is when I think about all the those who have just started kinda doing their own thing. They used to go to church and they know it, but have chosen to do nothing with this information and chase after other things. I could be wrong but to me that has always been what Jesus means when he says “worthless”. These people are no longer the salt of the earth and his light to the world. They are now just lost sheep, pursuing after things that they are not meant to. Likewise, I think the churches that just become dormant have lost their saltiness. I have been to churches that just feel dormant. Like they are just showing up to sing a few songs, listen, and then go home an microwave lunch. It just feels empty and they are not honoring God, they are just keeping a tradition going. Which is pretty much what Jesus used to get on the religious Leaders of his time about. And here we are today doing the exact same thing, in His name no less.

    Like

  12. We are definitely the light of the world. So many people now days are living in darkness because they are lost without Christ and a way we can testify to them is being children of God and reflecting His testimony. Being the light of the world we have to live like Christ and truly share His testimony with people who haven’t heard about Christ because by our actions they will know we are different and will wonder because we have something attractive that they want. The Bible mentions this and its true and very important for being a Christian because living a life like Christ is our main goal. Because Christ is not here physically anymore we are the only way people can see Christ because He is living in us and should reflect how we live day to day. the differences in us should be enough to lead someone out of the darkness because the darkness can’t hide from the light (1 John 1:7). McKnight stresses this idea because as Christians and believers in Christ our duty on this earth is to bring the lost to an awareness of Jesus Christ and to do that we must be focused on living like Christ did, and to be the light of the world like Jesus was and still is the light of the world so that people here can see a glimpse of Christ.

    Like

  13. We are called to be different and flavorful, and to give something to the world that is uncommon – a different taste, or a spice if you would. Jesus talks about how we aught to be the salt of the world and to give it flavor because often it is very bland. In today’s day there are many things that don’t stand out and this is why being the salt of the earth is so important because us as Christians, we are able to add spice and variety to the world through our faith in Jesus Christ. McKnight discuses the values of this in that we have to be the ones to stand out in order to draw people out of their current state. In the same way, Jesus desires for us to give something to others that is uncommon, something irresistible that will change their life forever, ie. God and the salvation that He offers.

    Like

  14. As someone who has struggled with finding my worth in this world, it is very troubling to know that it is possible for some of us to become worthless. The sayings “salt of the earth” and light of the world”, they are such simple sayings and ones so commonly used we often do not think of what it is actually talking about. The Church is not impervious to this and some have already failed. Churches can “lose their saltiness” by focusing on the growth of the church and not the community and people near or in it. Certainly, churches that are no longer working in people’s lives outside of Sunday service have already started a path to being less effective. Matthew 28:19-20, talks of making disciples out of all nations. For churches to ignore people out of their community would be directly against this. Not striving to make disciples out of all is perhaps the most common way the Western church is losing its saltiness.

    Like

  15. It is possible for a believer to become ineffective. If someone chooses to walk in doubt their relationship with God with weaken. When this happens the love that would naturally flow out of them no longer does. This can be seen in attitude, morals and emotions. the world tends to throw things at us that seem like an easy way out. When this happens Christians can become conformed to this world and lose sight of who God is and his place in each of our lives as the center and focus.

    Like

  16. We are the Salt and Light of the word.
    Mcknight, write about how Jesus implies that his disciples “will be the salt and light because they are the followers” (Mcknight 56). I would say that this statement is true. He has showed his disciples how to spread God’s love and grace. How great God actually is. Yet we take these words so lightly. We are the salt and light of the world. Instead of shining your light, and being salty. We are hiding out light not being salty. I forget that instead of being transformed we are conforming to the patterns of the world and that is what seems to be the main reason to why we as Christian are not standing out, like Jesus did. We have been given a book of instruction to understand how we should live and walk, yet we do not take it into account. How do we fulfil our purpose, if discipleship means missions. We can become ineffective so easily yet it takes us forever to be effective.

    Like

  17. You are the salt of the earth us being the salt of the earth the world with being followers of Christ he guiding us and whether we all have bad patches in life and might not know what to do during those very rough and hard times we might not be able to find a way with this big struggle we may be going through but being a believer in Christ I know he will guide me in the right direction . The problem with that is people go through struggles all the time but what if they are not believers of Christ they do not really know what to do that has to be frightening not knowing if you are headed in the right direction that is something scary they have to think about not being a believer in Christ.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.