Frequently Asked Questions About Christianity, Answered Honestly!
What is the Significance
of Salt in Scripture?
-by Tony Warren
What does salt symbolize in scripture? Most theologians say it represents sin, but it actually goes a lot deeper than that. Salt in scripture carries a two-fold signification. The positive attribute of the compound salt, is that it is used as a seasoning or flavoring to make things taste better. And the negative attribute of salt is that it is used in making something barren or without worth. These are characteristics that both symbolize the Blessings, and the Judgments of God. In fact, it is the very judgment of God that makes a person good and righteous in His sight. Ie., the judgment for our sins were laid upon Christ, and through His being judged in our stead, we were made righteous. This is the same principle as fire both being illustrated in scripture as a blessing (as in the baptism by Fire, or being refined by fire), and also used as God's judgments (as in the lake of fire). When we come to understand just how we were made righteous, we understand that the Christian's righteousness, and also his judgment, are intimately related. So it is not curious that God, almost from the beginning, used the signification of salt as a figure of the Covenant Promise that He has with His chosen people.
Salt cannot be lacking from the sacrifice because it signifies the virtue of the sacrifice, which pointed to Christ judged for our sins. So when asking what is the symbolism of salt, it is clear that the salt was the seasoning that makes the meat savory, or gives it its good taste. Thus it symbolizes that which makes it good.
- "As for the oblation of the firstfruits, ye shall offer them unto the LORD: but they shall not be burnt on the altar for a sweet savour.
- And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the Covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt."
- "Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? or is there any taste in the white of an egg?"
In other words, salt is the compound that makes the meat tasty. The sacrifice of course is equated to Christ, and it was the salt that made the meat being burnt good. So God is paralleling the salt, which makes the
sacrifice good, to the judgment of Christ, which makes us good. That is why God decreed that the sacrifice was to be seasoned with salt, and forbid any sacrifice to be lacking this. This is also why it is called, "The salt of the Covenant. -Leviticus 2:13" Because it signifies the savor or goodness of the sacrifice, which is the righteousness of Christ. Salt is at the heart of the Covenant both in judgment, and in the virtue of Christ worthy of His task. A sacrifice without salt (without virtue to withstand judgment) would not suffice, signifying Christ had to be the Lamb that was without sin. Slain that through His judgment, we could also be made virtuous.
2nd Corinthians 5:21
The symbolism of salt is of the virtuous offering, Christ judged for mankind, that they might be made righteous through His sacrifice. The sacrifice seasoned with salt, that through His work we might be made virtuous.
- "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
When this woman touched Christ, His virtue (righteousness) healed her physically, just as it does every sinner spiritually who is touched by Christ. It is the virtue in Him, which is the savor of the sacrifice. And this is signified by the salt of the sacrifice. That when Christ was sacrificed and judged of God for our sins, His virtue made us whole. We were spiritually healed by Christ's virtue, just as this woman was Physically healed by it. Therefore are we also the salt (righteousness) of the earth, in Him. It is because of Christ's virtue in us, that God calls us both the Light of the world, and the Salt of the earth. The two symbols of Christ's
- "For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole.
- And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague.
- And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes?"
Jesus is giving us a contrasting view of the man of God with Christ in him, and the man who has fallen away from God, and has no virtue. Note that if the salt have no savor (no virtue), it is good for nothing. For it is the
savor, which is the goodness of the salt! The savor there signifies the good or righteousness of the man of God in Christ. In this verse we are warned, not so much of our duty to salt the world, but to see that our salt is genuine, having flavor that seasons. In other words, we are to make our calling and election sure, or our salt will be found to be worthless. The previous verses (Matthew 5:11-12) set the context of Christians being reviled, persecuted, and having all manner of evil spoken against them, and it is in this context that in verses
13 and 14 we are warned not to lose our saltiness. The context of this passage is very important, as it insists we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. But if the light be hid or the salt no flavor, what good is it? It is worthless. For in Christ only can we be the salt with flavor or virtue to go righteously forth with the gospel for the world. In Christ only can we be the light of the world to go forth in righteousness, the gospel shinning, that many will not walk in darkness. Covenant-breakers who cease doing God's work are like salt that has lost its savor. Apostasy, or the departing from the faith, is the inevitable result. This salt (without virtue of Christ) is unfit for use of God, and good for nothing but to be trampled upon by men. Rather than salt of savor, it has become the salt of Judgment. Salt loosing its flavor is salt that has lost all its goodness. This analogy is the same one as Jesus uses of a light that has been put under a bushel or bed. In other words, it's made useless! No Christian should hesitate to salt the earth, or to let his light shine for fear of not being popular, or being reviled, or being shunned or hated or persecuted by man. God says blessed are those
who for the sake of Christ endure these things. These two symbols of light and salt, are synonymous representations.
- "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.
- Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid."
Note that Christ illustrates that our good works are the light of the world the salt of the earth. It is the good of Christ in us (Philippians 2:13, Hebrews 13:21), not our own good. It is the virtue of Christ, which is the salt of the Covenant that the book of Leviticus addressed. The Promise or Covenant of Christ was confirmed, or given strength (Hebrews 9:17) by the judgment of the sacrifice Lamb.
- "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.
- Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
- Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
- Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
1st Peter 2:24
It is by His bearing our sins, and His being judged of God for them, that we are healed. And that judgment and healing is by the signification of salt. This sign is also manifested in such illustrations as seen in 2nd Kings.
- "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed."
2nd Kings 2:21
- "And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the LORD, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land."
There we see the signification of salt used for the healing of the waters, that there not be death or barren (unfruitful) land. These are the marvelous spiritual figures that God places in His Holy Word to show how though naturally salt would make the land barren, in God's hands salt heals the land that it not be barren. The figure of salt is inseparably tied to both the healing of the nations and the judgment of the nations. For truly, because of God's perfect justice, you can't have one without the other. Without judgment, there would be no forgiveness of healing.
We've seen the healing side of salt, but the judgment symbolism of salt is also clearly illustrated in scripture, which is why some think it represents sin. For example, in such chapters as Joel, demonstrated in the wastes of the east sea.
- "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."
Being in a land barren and desolate, and having your face toward the east sea is a signification of having nothing worthwhile. The east sea (sea of the plain), is more commonly known as the Salt sea, or today appropriately called the Dead Sea! The salt sea is 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 there. It is at the lowest point on earth (1292 feet below sea level), and thus not then surprising that God would use it as a signification of Judgment. Truly a dead sea, it is a place with a salt content so high, it can only be described as desolate. For this people to be in a land barren and desolate and have their face toward this dead sea, is a figure of the worst possible scenario, and the lowest position one can be in. Under God's judgment where there is nothing around you but desolation. And one's "face" toward the salt sea, signifies looking toward this judgment.
It is interesting that some theologians read chapters like Ezekiel 47 and believe that this prophesies of a time when the salt sea will "literally" be made clean again and team with life. It is easy to understand why they would think that, given the verses that say the waters shall be healed. However, upon careful examination, Ezekiel is not talking about the sea literally being healed with H²0, but about Christ, the living waters, as He goes forth to heal the sea. The sea is a symbol of the unsaved world. This is where Christ is making fishers of men, that catch diverse kinds of fish therein. The same living waters that Zechariah chapter 14 speaks about as going forth from Jerusalem [b]to heal the sea.[/b] Living waters are not a worldly or earthly
river, it is the virtue that flows from Christ that saves.
This living water is indeed as a river, but it is not to water literal lands or to make literal plains spring forth with life. This water brigs forth the righteousness of salvation, which if one has, he will spring up as a tree planted by the rivers of life (Psalms 1:1-3). The Waters whereby we bring forth fruit and prosper. The waters whereby we shall never thirst for water again. Water can be seen as a healing, as in the rivers of life, or judgment, as in the sea. We are back to both the healing by salt (2nd Kings 2:21), and the judgment by salt (Joel 2:20) intimately related. As even right in the controversial chapter of Ezekiel 37, where we read of the healing waters for the salt sea, we see right along with it, the judgment side of salt. God signifies that by the miry places and marishes (marshes) given to the salt and not healed.
- "But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."
- "But the miry places thereof and the marishes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to SALT."
To not be healed, but given to salt assures that the land will remain worthless or desolate where nothing can grow there. Salt is the signification that it is made barren. If you've ever seen pictures of the salt sea, with its saline and chemical structures jutting from the waters, you can better understand the portrait of barrenness. It is a figure of how those coming under God's judgment are left destitute. Salt on the land means the land is polluted so that nothing good will grow there.
One of the first examples we find in scripture of salt symbolizing judgment is when Lot's wife "Looked Back" to Sodom. She very obviously had not taken her eyes, and by implication mind, off of its wickedness whereby she placed them on the Lord. As a result, God made her a great example there for all of us. Her eyes offended her, and she didn't, spiritually speaking, pluck them out. And that implies a heart problem as her thoughts were on Sodom, and not on her deliverance from it by God. And she was judged there, as God turned her into a Pillar of salt.
She became a biblical "sign" of God's judgment upon those who look back to their old house, after God brings them out of that world of darkness. And the sign or signification that God left for us to see, was of a Pillar of Salt. In other words, she became a symbol of worthlessness, destitution and barrenness. It is meant as an example to all of us who would look back to our former dwellings. It is also interesting that most theologians believe from scripture that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were located in the area of the Salt Sea.
- "But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt."
By Lot's wife becoming a pillar or station of salt, she is a standing sign or example for all that, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. -Luke 9:62" This judgment of Lot's wife was again illustrated by salt. Consider also God's word in Deuteronomy:
- "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:"
Here again we see salt used to signify that the land was desolate or in ruin, and was worthless so that it could not bear any grass. Salt was symbolic of that. Moreover, in times when there was war, the enemies' lands were sometimes "sown with salt" in order to make it barren that no one could cultivate it. As in the example God gives us of Abimelech destroying a city, and then sowing its fields with salt that nothing would grow there.
So we can clearly understand how salt is symbolic of the judgment aspect of God, because it illustrates a negative attribute to signify that something is destroyed, made worthless or barren. And of how salt is symbolic of the redemptive aspect of God, because it illustrates a positive attribute to signify that something is made good. And we can see both portraits of salt, negative and positive, in Mark chapter 9:
- "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."
Salted with fire clearly signifies the judgment of God, and so the sacrifice salted with salt signifies the the judgment of Christ (our sacrifice) whereby we were judged in His body, and obtain righteousness through Him. Another parallel passage speaks likewise of both aspects of salt, but in a slightly different way:
- "And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:
- Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
- For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.
- 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."
Again note, "forsaketh not all he has." Remember Lot's wife who looked back, not forsaking all she had, or not plucking out her eye that offended. And the signification here of salt being sown in the land, to make it desolate is again made clear. Salt with no saltness is being pictured as worthless salt, not fit to salt the
land or even for the dunghill. Salt which is without efficacy is worthless salt. Which is the picture that the Lord is painting here. If professing Christians have lost our savor (Christlike virtue or seasoning), then we
become worthless and are accounted good for nothing. We have apostatized or fallen away from God, departing from the faith, and will come under His judgment. It is a continuing theme of God's word that we make our calling and election sure. As the body of Christ, we are the salt of the earth, the vessels which He uses to evangelize the world. And a tree is known by its fruits.
- So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
- Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned?
- It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
God calls us various things in the scriptures to illustrate particular aspects of His relationship to us. Names such as Sheep, Branches, Children, Prophets, Stones, Temple, Light, etc., etc. When Jesus ascribes to us the title "salt," He is illustrating that we have the responsibility to be the savor of God, the good influence in the world by virtue of Christ. It is a warning to us to faithfully preach the truth of the gospel by salt, the seasoning within us.
How is our speech seasoned with salt? By it being virtuous (in Grace), and that can only be by the Spirit of Christ, through the faithful witness of the word. Then and only then is it speech that is righteous, that cannot transgress, because it is the testimony of Christ.
- "Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man."
Speech seasoned with salt is what is spoken in righteousness wherein it cannot be condemned, not hypocrisy. It's speech wherein there is virtue, rather than vanity. It's a sure word of prophecy where unto we do well to take heed, as unto a light that shines in a dark place. It's the word spoken in Love, a word where no man can gainsay nor resist, because it's not our word, it's our witness. A word that is patient, long-suffering, in humility and of servitude. We are a virtuous body, only because of Christ.
- "Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you."
- "A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones."
The truly virtuous woman is the bride of Christ. Then, and only then can she be the effective salt of the earth, and the true light of the world.
So as we ponder "what does salt symbolize in the Bible," we can see by comparing scripture with scripture that it represents God's judgment. A judgment that condemns the unrighteous, but that also makes the elect righteous through Christ being our substitute in it. In light of all these things, we should honestly look at ourselves and humbly ask if we are as a light to the world, and if we are as the salt of the earth. For therein are we called to be. Not to neglect this great commission of the righteousness of evangelism, but to embrace it, recognizing the work Christ has done and is doing in us. Let us therefore go forth with renewed vigor in this endeavor, that we be good vessels of the virtue of Christ for the world. That we be the genuine salt, which will never lose its savor. And the genuine light, which can never be overcome by darkness.
And may the Lord, who is Gracious above all, strengthen our resolve to be all that He desires for us, in understanding how we, in Christ Jesus, are the savor of salt in the earth.
Copyright ©2001 Tony Warren
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