Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Salted With Fire?

Ever wonder what types of confusion can be created because the Bible was written in one language (actually, several), written down in others, and translated and now read into many more?

Here's an interesting example (the following is from Aramaic Thoughts with Benjamin Shaw and the web address is below):

The Gospel of Mark has a curious saying of Jesus that is not found in the other gospels. In 9:38-50, John tells Jesus of his attempt to silence an exorcist who was using Jesus' name. John's rationale was that this man was not traveling with them. John's comment provoked a short address from Jesus about discipleship. It ends with the statement, "[49] For everyone will be salted with fire. [50] Salt is good, but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

This statement has usually provoked extended discussion from the commentators. There are two elements to the discussion. The first has to do with the relation of verse 50 to verse 49. Some have been of the opinion that the two verses have been conjoined in a "sayings of Jesus" list on the basis of the "catchword" principle. That is, in this view, Mark has adapted this material from a collection of Jesus' sayings. Originally, these sayings (verse 49 and verse 50 are, in this view, considered two separate sayings) were probably not related, but because both contain the word "salt," they were connected on that basis by the collector of the sayings.

While that view is certainly clear enough, it fails to recognize first that Jesus' words as Mark records them follow a logical progression. Jesus begins where John's comment started: with divisions among disciples and calls for judgment. He then moves on to real causes for judgment and the reality of judgment before moving back to the issue of peace among disciples. On a second level, it fails to recognize that the sort of wordplay reflected in this passage is characteristic of Semitic literature, and does show merely a mechanical conjoining of two sayings sharing the same vocabulary.

The second element in the discussion has to with the meaning of verse 49: for everyone will be salted with fire. The combination of salt and fire seems odd, to say the least. William Lane (Mark, New International Commentary, p.349) argues that there is a move from the fire of judgment (vss. 43-47) to the fire of persecution. This is based on the connection of salt with the Old Testament sacrifices (Leviticus 2:13). He comments, "The salt-sacrifice metaphor is appropriate to a situation of suffering and trial … The disciples must be seasoned with salt, like the sacrifice." There is one other interesting possibility. The Hebrew/Aramaic word for salt is malach. It has a homonym which means "to be dispersed, dissipated, torn into fragments" (see Isaiah 51:6, "the sky will vanish [malach] like smoke). It is possible that Jesus was playing on these homonyms in his statement, thus tying the themes of judgment, sacrifice, and discipleship together. This play on words then cannot be retained when placing the saying into Greek. Interestingly, the Greek verb "to salt" (halizo) has a homonym that means "to gather, assemble." Hence, even in the Greek text, there could be a play on words, subtly indicating that all will be gathered for judgment.

Finally, here is some bibliography with regard to camels and needles' eyes for those interested in further study. The best place to start is with Craig S. Keener's commentary on Mark, published by Eerdmans in 1999, pp. 477-78. A second source is Darrell L. Bock's commentary on Luke, published in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series in 1996, vol. 2, pp. 1485-86. Both of these will lead the interested reader into other resources on the issue.

Grace & peace

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