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Mark 9:49-50

Context
9:49 Everyone will be salted with fire. 1  9:50 Salt 2  is good, but if it loses its saltiness, 3  how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

1 tc The earliest mss ([א] B L [W] Δ 0274 Ë1,13 28* 565 700 pc sys sa) have the reading adopted by the translation. Codex Bezae (D) and several Itala read “Every sacrifice will be salted with salt.” The majority of other mss (A C Θ Ψ [2427] Ï lat syp,h) have both readings, “Everyone will be salted with fire, and every sacrifice will be salted with salt.” An early scribe may have written the LXX text of Lev 2:13 (“Every sacrifice offering of yours shall be salted with salt”) in the margin of his ms. At a later stage, copyists would either replace the text with this marginal note or add the note to the text. The longer reading thus seems to be the result of the conflation of the Alexandrian reading “salted with fire” and the Western reading “salted with salt.” The reading adopted by the text enjoys the best support and explains the other readings in the ms tradition.

sn The statement everyone will be salted with fire is difficult to interpret. It may be a reference to (1) unbelievers who enter hell as punishment for rejection of Jesus, indicating that just as salt preserves so they will be preserved in their punishment in hell forever; (2) Christians who experience suffering in this world because of their attachment to Christ; (3) any person who experiences suffering in a way appropriate to their relationship to Jesus. For believers this means the suffering of purification, and for unbelievers it means hell, i.e., eternal torment.

2 sn Salt was used as seasoning or fertilizer (BDAG 41 s.v. ἅλας a), or as a preservative. If salt ceased to be useful, it was thrown away. With this illustration Jesus warned about a disciple who ceased to follow him.

3 sn The difficulty of this saying is understanding how salt could lose its saltiness since its chemical properties cannot change. It is thus often assumed that Jesus was referring to chemically impure salt, perhaps a natural salt which, when exposed to the elements, had all the genuine salt leached out, leaving only the sediment or impurities behind. Others have suggested the background of the saying is the use of salt blocks by Arab bakers to line the floor of their ovens: Under the intense heat these blocks would eventually crystallize and undergo a change in chemical composition, finally being thrown out as unserviceable. A saying in the Talmud (b. Bekhorot 8b) attributed to R. Joshua ben Chananja (ca. a.d. 90), when asked the question “When salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again?” is said to have replied, “By salting it with the afterbirth of a mule.” He was then asked, “Then does the mule (being sterile) bear young?” to which he replied: “Can salt lose its flavor?” The point appears to be both are impossible. The saying, while admittedly late, suggests that culturally the loss of flavor by salt was regarded as an impossibility. Genuine salt can never lose its flavor. In this case the saying by Jesus here may be similar to Matt 19:24, where it is likewise impossible for the camel to go through the eye of a sewing needle.



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