What Does Matthew 5:13 Mean by 'Salt of the Earth'?
- Clarence L. Haynes Jr. Contributing Writer
- 2021 16 Mar
Salt is useful for many purposes. To a person who likes to cook like me, the right amount of salt can make the difference between a meal tasting perfect and one tasting really bland. You can also oversalt which unfortunately makes a meal taste just as bad. In talking to his disciples on the Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes this interesting statement to them. He literally calls them salt.
"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." – Matthew 5:13
It is important to understand what Matthew 5:13 means by the salt of the earth.
What Does 'You Are the Salt of the Earth' Mean in the Bible?
I want to take the uses of salt from the ancient world and apply them to some real truths for today. I am simply going to replace salt with the word you.
You are seasoning – If there is one thing that salt does that we mentioned earlier it's that it enhances the flavor of other seasonings. This should also be true of you. You should enhance and enrich the lives of people that you come in contact with. Ask yourself this question, how do people feel after they talk to me? Better yet, how have you enriched their lives when they leave your presence? Now I understand this doesn’t happen all the time, but it should happen more than not. Paul said this in Colossians,
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” – Colossians 4:6
What Paul was really saying is watch the words that come out of your mouth. Make sure they are good and enriching seasoned well with the grace and love of God.
You are a preserver – Since one of the uses of salt is to preserve that is what you and I are called to do. We need to preserve integrity. We need to preserve the standards that God has set and established in the earth. We should be preserving values and morals that people can see. Now rest assured everyone will not like this salt as a preserver because sometimes it highlights their lack of morals or standards. Nevertheless, this is what Jesus has called us to do and be.
You are a disinfectant – It is interesting that one of the uses of salt was as a disinfectant. Salt became an agent of healing. This is interesting because salt on a wound has always been betrayed as a bad and painful thing. However, salt correctly placed can be a wonderful thing. We should be agents of healing. We should be the type of people that seek to close wounds and prevent them from spreading. There are people who have been hurt, that have made mistakes, that have done things they regret. If we allow them to stay in those places, they can allow the bacteria of their past to begin to eat away at them, keeping them trapped and robbing them of their future. We should be the type of people that can stop those types of things from spreading.
You are a ceremonial offering – Salt in this case was added to the offering making the offering presentable to God. How does this apply to you? Let me ask you, what are you presenting to God? The Bible reminds us in Romans 12,
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” – Romans 12:1
While it's true we don’t offer bulls and lambs anymore we do offer ourselves. You are the sacrifice that is sprinkled on the altar. In addition, salt represents part of the covenant and the promise. In my research, I came across a fact about salt. It never actually goes away. Even if it is dissolved in water when the water evaporates the salt ion can reform crystals again. This speaks to the everlasting nature of God’s covenants with you and I. When you present yourself as an offering, and God makes a promise, like the salt it becomes an everlasting promise.
You are valuable – While you are not a unit of exchange the quality of salt that you represent is the high value of it. You are extremely valuable in God’s eyes. Your value to him is not determined because of what you have or what you do. Your value is because you are his most prized possession. In God’s eyes, you are the greatest resource that he has placed on the earth. You are the only part of creation formed by his hand. You are the only part of creation that he breathed the breath of life into. You are the only part of creation that he sent his Son to die for. All of this is because God sees you as valuable. You matter. Your life matters and God sees the value in you. That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 5:13 you are the salt of the earth.
Ancient Uses of Salt
To understand what Matthew 5:13 means by you are the salt of the earth you need to understand the ancient uses of salt. Here are five of them.
1. Seasoning – We just mentioned it above, but this was also true during ancient times. Salt is considered by many to be a flavor enhancer. When you add salt to the dish it enhances the taste of all the other flavors. In other words, it brings them to life.
2. Preservation – In ancient times refrigeration was not an option. There was no refrigerator salesman riding around Israel. In order to preserve meat salt was used to keep it from spoiling. This method of preserving meat lasted into the1800’s. What the salt did was prevent microorganisms from growing or forming in the meat. The use of salt meant that there was no need for a refrigerator, which is good because they didn’t have any.
3. Disinfectant – During biblical times salt was used to treat wounds and disinfect them. The simple thinking was that the presence of salt would kill bacteria by drying the bacteria out. In essence, salt became an agent of healing.
4. Ceremonial Offerings – In the Bible, there are a few references where salt is added to the offering as it was presented to God.
"You are to offer them before the Lord, and the priests are to sprinkle salt on them and sacrifice them as a burnt offering to the Lord." – Ezekiel 43:24
"Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings." – Leviticus 2:13
5. Unit of Exchange – It may be hard to imagine but salt had great value back in biblical times. Because of the high value of salt, especially as a preservative in meats, Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt. The money they were paid was called their “salarium” from which we get the word salary.
As you can see salt was a prized commodity back then and understanding that can help us understand what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:13 that you are the salt of the earth.
What Is the Bible Lesson of 'You Are the Salt of the Earth'
The truth is the value of salt is not when it is in the shaker. Salt can’t season, preserve, disinfect, be used as an offering, or display its real value until it comes out of the shaker. That is the only time salt really does what it is supposed to do. Another way of thinking about it is that salt is designed to be spread not to be stuck together. Our prayer should be that God would use us like salt shaking and spreading us where it is necessary. Outside of that if the salt stays in the shaker then there can be no impact and it can make no difference. My prayer is that we would all be salt today going about and impacting the places that Jesus has called us to. After all, that is what salt does.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/MarionC.Haßold, www.marionhassold.com
Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, teacher, author, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He has spent more than 30 years serving the body of Christ in various capacities and is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose. If you have ever struggled to try to find God’s will, this book will help you discover the different ways God leads you into his perfect will. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.