PRINCIPLES AND METHODS
AN ILLUSTRATION OF A STUDY OF THE WORD "SALT" IN COLOSSIANS 4:6
"Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, ..." Colossians 4:6
It is commonly thought that the Bible uses the word "salt" to emphasize preserving, purifying or flavoring. Interpreters will usually say "seasoned with salt" means that our speech should include things which bless our hearers, words that are flavorful, dynamic, and that say good things about the person to whom we are talking. If we use our common experience to decide what "salt" means as used in the Bible, that would be a fair conclusion. But that conclusion is not the result of good Bible study. We must ask, "What does the Bible tell us about the word salt?"
First we must find all the places where the word "salt" is used in the Old Testament. We shall use a Strong's Concordance together with a Wigram Englishman's Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance and a Wigram Englishman's Greek Concordance. Instead of these three books, we could use just a Young's Analytical Concordance. Each tool has its advantages and disadvantages. A Young's is organized differently than a Strong's, combining information found in the other three books into one book. A Young's also has some useful information that is not found in the other concordances, such as the original meaning of proper names and a word's parts of speech. However, a Young's is more difficult to use, and it would be better to introduce the process of gathering data with the Strong's and Englishman's concordances.
A Strong's Concordance lists all the English words found in the King James Bible in alphabetical order. Each English entry is followed by a list of verses where that English word is found in the Bible, together with a small portion of that verse. In addition to that, to the right of the quotation is a number that identifies the original Hebrew or Greek word, from which the English word was translated. It is that number we use to locate the original word in the Englishmen's Concordance. The Englishman's lists every occurrence of the particular Hebrew or Greek word in the Bible with the same Strong's number.
Sometimes the Strong's Concordance will list two or more different numbers for the same English word. That highlights a serious problem. It is our task to compare the use of word in one verse with the same word in another verse. However, it may be that the two verses contain a common English word, yet the same word may not really be in both verses. That is, the same English word may be found in both verses, but each English word may be a translation of an entirely different word in the original language. The Englishman avoids that problem because it only lists words under the same Strong's number. It collects verses that are associated with the same Hebrew or Greek word.
We actually only need the two Englishman's concordances. The Strong's is handy because it helps us easily locate words in the Englishman's if we do not a have good knowledge of Hebrew or Greek. However, we could eventually find the right original word in the Englishman's by using the English language index in the back of that book. It just takes more time without the Strong's help.
Now, turning to our problem of understanding the word "salt," we first look up the word "salt" in the Strong's main list of English words; and with the Concordance we happen to be using, we find the word "salt" on page 873. Almost always the word "salt" is a translation of the Hebrew word whose number is 4417 (which turns out to be the Hebrew word "melach"). Some other words are listed, but only once or twice. Their numbers are 4416, 4420 and 5898. Though used much less often, we nevertheless must not neglect them.
Now we turn to the Englishman's Hebrew concordance and find the list under 4417, on page 707 in mine. There we discover 4417, "melach," is used 28 times and is always translated as "salt" in the King James Bible, although sometimes in a compound word as "saltpits."
The number in the upper right hand corner of the list in the Englishman's is often a reference to a word from which the main word in derived or to which it is related. In our case, the number 4414 adds to the collection of Old Testament verses where "salt" is found. Also, as we glance over the page we see that 4415, as well as 4416 and 4420 (that we already anticipated) provide more verses, although in these cases we notice that the words are translated by very different English words, such as "into barrenness' (Psalm 107:34). We are now in a position to gather and consider all the Old Testament data related to the word "salt."
Next we should examine every verse we find and try to collect them into different lists that are contain similar uses of the word "salt." Because of space and time, we won't show that work here. We will continue on to the observations about the various groups of verses. We shall leave it up to you to verify our lists and conclusions, if you are so inclined or are curious.
As we said, the many scriptures can be divided into different lists or categories. One is the obvious reference to the curse and judgment of God. This set would include Genesis 19:26, Deuteronomy 29:23, Judges 9:45, Ezekiel 47:11, and especially Zephaniah 2:9.
Another set of verses includes the reference to the salt sea. While salt sea can be viewed as a neutral term, in the Bible we are reminded by this reference of the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. And so this second set also is, to a certain extent, associated with the curse and judgment of God.
A third set of verses contains references to the Old Testament sacrifices. One important one is Leviticus 2:13. Leviticus 2:13 insists that all offerings must include salt. Numbers 18:19 and Ezekiel 43:24 also show this. These sacrifices are a figure of the Lord Jesus Christ and they represent His sacrifice upon the cross for us as He endured the wrath of God. This was Judgment Day for Jesus, as He paid for the sins of all those who would believe on Him. This can be supported by such scriptures as Galatians 3:13, Hebrews 10:4-14, and I Peter 2:24. Therefore there is good agreement between this set of verses and the first set, namely, that "salt" is associated with the curse and judgment of God.
One conclusion we can draw from these verses is that "salt" is a word that is associated, not with blessing as is commonly taught, but with God's curse and judgment.
Now let's look at the New Testament. When we look up "salt" in the Strong's concordance we see that the English word "salt" comes from Greek words identified by the numbers 217, 251 and 252. They turn out to be expressed in Greek as "halas," "halulos," and "halizemai." At this point it is important to note which Greek word is the counterpart to the word "salt" in Colossians 4:6. It is the word "halas," or number 217. That is the Greek word that is important to us because it is the one which is translated "salt" in the verse we are studying. But in this case all the Greek words translated as "salt" are similar and can be admitted as evidence. If there was a clear difference between different Greek words that are translated as "salt" in the King James English Bible, then only the word that occurred in our verse would be important for analysis.
Looking at the list of Greek words in the Englishman's Greek Concordance, on page 27 of the one we are using, we see that "halas" is translated only as "salt," and that it occurs 8 times in the Bible. On page 32, we see "hals"(number 251) occurs one time in the Bible, as does "halukos" (number 252). The Strong's also refers to the English words "salted" and "saltness." One is "halizo" (number 233) and occurs 3 times, always as "shall be salted." The other is "analos" (number 358) meaning "lost ... saltness." Number 358 has the two numbers 1 and 251 in the upper right corner to tell us that 385 is built of 1 attached to our old familiar 251 ("salt"). Number 1, or "a," is the same as our English "un" or "non," meaning a negative of the main root word. That is, number 358 is actually "no" + "salt," or "lost saltness," as the translator put it. The important thing is to trace the particular Greek word throughout the Bible that is found in Colossians 4:6, together with any similar or related Greek words.
As with the Old Testament occurrences of "salt," we won't make a complete list of the New Testament occurrences of the word "salt." We shall go right to our observation and evaluation of the data, or verses. Most of the occurrences or "salt" are pretty neutral as far as explaining the quality of salt. In other words, Matthew 5:13 states, "Ye are the salt of the earth." We cannot say exactly what that means by itself, even though the "Ye" refers to Christians. The word "salt" is found 12 times in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. It occurs 6 times in Mark alone. Outside of that it occurs only in Colossians 4:6 and James 3:12.
Mark 9:49, 50 would be a good place to seek for an insight. And we find a clue in Mark 9:49: "Every sacrifice shall be salted with salt." This is a quote from one of the Old Testament references. The reference is found in Leviticus 2:13 and emphasizes the fact that salt must accompany every sacrifice. These sacrifices were figures that anticipated the reality of God's wrath upon the Lord Jesus Christ. This concept of judgment agrees with another phrase in Mark, "Salted with fire" (Mark 9:49), since fire also is associated with God's wrath (Hebrews 12:29).
It just so happens that we have an illustration here of a direct tie of a New Testament passage to our Old Testament references through the common verse of Leviticus 2:13. These links between Old and New Testament passages are very important and often make a big difference in understanding a passage. The value of these connections is based upon the relationship between the Old and New Testament, which is sometimes expressed in this way: The New Testament is contained in the Old Testament and the Old Testament is explained in the New Testament.
However, Mark 9:50 states that "salt is good." So, how can "salt" be associated with the wrath of God? Luke 14:34 and Matthew 5:13 are parallels to the verse in Mark. They all refer to the same thing but state it a little differently in each case. Mark and Luke both open with "salt is good" and continue with a reference to salt losing its savor. Matthew, however, opens with "ye are the salt of the earth" and then continues in a way similar to the other 2 verses. By comparing these verses we can tentatively conclude that the good that is in "salt" is related to the fact that it is in a Christian. This conclusion is reinforced by a statement found in Mark 9:50, "have salt in yourselves." It is because the Christian does something with "salt" that makes it good. Whatever "salt" means, it is referring to something important, because if it does not have its salty character it is counted as worthless.
Incidentally, it is important to be sure we are thinking accurately about the Bible's use of the terms "salt" and "saltiness." They are such common words in our everyday experience that we might be overly influenced by what we think they obviously must mean. Although God chooses words that are very familiar, a little reflection on the way He uses the words "salt" and "saltiness" reveals that He has something quite different in mind than the physical substance we use every day to flavor our food. He states, "when salt has lost its savor..." But in the physical world salt cannot lose its savor. It is either salty or it is not salt. It might be disguised by other substances, but if it is salt it still has the same chemical composition and "savor" or flavor. We are looking then for a spiritual concept in which the spiritual counterpart to salt appears to be one thing but in reality it is not. In other words, there is no physical counterpart to salt losing its savor. We either have salt or we do not. Losing our savor must mean losing our salt. God uses words from the physical world but uses them in a way that forces us to seek a spiritual understanding, and there is a spiritual analogy, as we shall see.
Colossians 4:6 now can help us. According to that verse, it is our speech that must be salted. And salt is associated with the spiritual danger of the wrath and judgment of God. Now we are ready for our conclusion.
First of all, our conclusion fits the immediate context of our verse. Colossians 4:3-6 is talking about witnessing. Paul expresses his desire for an open door to speak the Gospel. He prays that he might have the wisdom to talk to unbelievers and that he might know how to answer every man.
What was the content of Paul's witness? His own assessment is found in Acts 20:27. He insisted on declaring the whole counsel of God. Paul was careful to include in his speech not only the grace of God but also the necessary prerequisite to salvation, which is the realization that we are under the wrath of God, for which grace is the solution. Furthermore, notice the effort Paul makes in Romans 1-3 to emphasize the salt of the judgment of God in his own witness.
The warnings that we saw in the three Gospels, that state salt must not lose its saltiness can be viewed as a warning to be sure when we witness we do not neglect the truth that judgment is coming. To that, the larger context of the whole Bible agrees, not only in the remarks we constantly find in the Bible (II Thessalonians 1:7-9), but also as an explicit command. The Bible states we are not to neglect talking about the wrath of God in our own witness (Ezekiel 3:17, 18).
It is good to recall the fact that salt cannot really lose its saltiness, that it only seems to be salt and in reality is not salt at all if it does not have its "savor" or flavor. The spiritual analogy here is that a witness who does not bring the whole counsel of God is not bringing a true witness and in God's eyes the witness is worthless and to be cast out.
In addition, the fact that the Bible states, "salt is good" is a reflection of the fact that unless we tell people the truth about their sin and the consequent wrath upon it, we won't really be helping them. People must face the truth before it's too late. And a witness that is faithful to the whole Bible is a witness that can really be used of God to save people. Our salty witness is good in the highest degree when it arrests people in their headlong race toward Hell and turns them so that they flee to God for mercy. It is a "good for nothing" to bring a gospel of peace when there is none (Ezekiel 13:10 & 11). It is a "good thing" to warn people while they can still be saved (Jonah 3:4, 5, 10).
Another test of our conclusion is in the form of a challenge. Does John 3:17 say that a word of condemnation is not proper in our speech? Actually, that verse does not say that Jesus did not condemn the world, but rather that He was not sent for the purpose of condemning it. He came as the only Savior the world would ever know. The next few verses (18 & 19) tell us that men are condemned already on the basis of their own wickedness. It may be that men add to their wickedness by their unbelief. But men are condemned first because they are sinners. Jesus did not need to do that when He came. Nevertheless we know very well from Matthew 22 & 23 that Jesus had very condemning words to say to those who were enemies of the Gospel. His speech was also salted with Hell and wrath. Therefore our conclusion still stands.
We can go back to the verse in Acts 20:27 to see how we should act in light of our conclusion. We have a responsibility, like Paul, to tell the whole truth as the Bible presents it. It is up to God to let the message do its work. After all, according to Hebrews 4:12, the Bible is a two-edged sword which we must expect to cut both ways. When we bring the news of wrath, as well as grace, some will be saved and some will turn away (II Corinthians 2:14, 15).
We can also apply this conclusion to our attitude. We must trust God at His Word, that He will accomplish His purposes through it (Isaiah 55:8, 11). Also, we know that according to I Corinthians 2:14 the Gospel is not particularly popular. So, we do not focus upon results. We may be concerned about how many people are saved when we witness because we care for their souls, but we must always desire to be faithful stewards of God's Word (I Corinthians 4:2). It is our job to make sure our speech is both "always with grace" and "seasoned with salt."
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