You’ve Got Questions: What Does Jesus Mean by “You Are the Salt of the Earth” in Matt. 5:13?

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), after concluding the section known as the Beatitudes (5:2-12), He says this: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matt. 5:13).

First, to discover what Jesus is saying, it’s important to see that He doesn’t literally mean that the disciples are salt. That would be utter insanity to say that the disciples’ physical form is composed of entirely salt. Because of the context of this passage, we know that Jesus compares the disciples to salt. Jesus compares them (and us) to this earthly element. Still, we might think that this is a strange comparison. To find out what Jesus means here, it’s helpful to define how salt would have been used in Jesus’ day. There were many uses for salt in His time (nearly all of them still in use today). It was used as a preservative to prevent corruption, fertilizer, it was used to add flavor, and it was used to symbolize wisdom (Lev. 2:13; Ezek. 43:24). There were many other uses, as an element in sacrifices, a purifier, a condiment, a preservative—and it was associated with several symbols: it was a sign of purity, of necessity, of loyalty, of peace, of good speech, and even wisdom. It’s not likely that Jesus is limiting His comparison of the disciples any one of those uses for salt. Because of the wide range of uses, it’s really impossible to single out any one, and attempt to do justice to the passage.

But essentially, when it comes to the uses of salt—it affects what it comes in contact with right? It affects meats by preserving them, it affects food by adding flavor, it affects ice by melting it, and so on. That’s what Jesus was saying here. He is talking about making an impact on the world—affecting the world around you. We know this is true from what Jesus says we are the salt of. We, as His disciples are the salt “of the earth.” Jesus wants us to act like salt here, and make an impact. The way we will make a true impact is by being effective for the glory of God (see v. 13b and v. 16). Jesus wants us to make an impact on everybody (for God’s glory) just as salt affects everything that it comes into contact with.¹


1. To learn/read more, see Kingdom People Making a Difference where this entire passage is explained.

 

 

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