Matthew 5: 13 – 16

Two points about yet another very short section.

The first is that I’m unsure why verses 11 and 12 are placed with the previous section ‘The Beatitudes’. The change from third person to second person in those two verses would seem to place them with 13 to 16 where Jesus is talking to the disciples. Here’s the end of ‘The Beatitudes’ and the beginning of ‘Salt and Light’:

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Salt and Light

13 “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.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

I’m no expert but this is what I’m saying I think it should look like:

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Salt and Light

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

13 “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.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

The other point is that the use of the salt metaphor is an indication that this was written wholly by a person, and not by someone with the guidance of a divine being. Salt was an important resource in Biblical times, so it’s not surprising that it’s used as a metaphor to communicate the desired attributes the disciples should display. But these days salt does not evoke those attributes; it’s just a commonly found table spice. The metaphor has lost it’s currency with the modern reader, so much so that it reads strange to be told to ‘be salty’.

A divine being would have known that a mere 2,000 years later this particular metaphor would seem out of place to the reader, and so would have used a much more timeless one, or instead would have made these verses free of such poetry and kept them as clear and easy to read instructions. That salt is the best image that the writer has come up with is not unexpected though when the he (or she?) is a person who is stuck in their age and cannot foresee how that world will be made obsolete with the passage of time.

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