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Salt and forgiveness - the current state of my argument

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  • Gentile, David
    Hello all, I think I m going to set up a new web-page soon, with this material on it, assuming it becomes less protean. But here is the argument in current
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 14, 2006
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      Hello all,



      I think I'm going to set up a new web-page soon, with this material on
      it, assuming it becomes less protean. But here is the argument in
      current form. Thanks in advance for any feedback.



      1) I think that metaphorical "salt" in the New Testament refers to "that
      which makes one acceptable to God", "love and forgiveness for others",
      and "the salt of the new covenant".

      2) Mark seems to declare the old covenant void. This is obscured by
      later gospels.

      3) I think that Mark has a plan of salvation - "Have faith in God, and
      forgive others to be forgiven". This is somewhat obscured by late
      changes to Mark and by later gospels.



      Our earliest surviving gospel Mark says

      Mark 9:42-46 (New Jerusalem and NIV and Greek) - "[But anyone who is the
      downfall of one of these little ones that have faith], it would be
      better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied
      around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is
      better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into
      [Gehenna], where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to
      sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to
      have two feet and be thrown into [Gehenna]. And if your eye causes you
      to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God
      with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into [Gehenna], where
      "'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"



      First of all, some scholars have suggested that we should probably not
      understand this to advocate the literal removal of body parts. Rather,
      it is a metaphor for "cutting off" from the body of the church, those
      that would cause loss of faith. For example Paul says (Romans 12:4-5) -
      "Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do
      not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one
      body, and each member belongs to all the others."



      We can also note that Mark quotes or nearly quotes the last few lines of
      Isaiah when he refers to Gehenna. The word Gehenna comes from the Hebrew
      name for a valley near Jerusalem. Human sacrifices by fire had been made
      there in the past. Also, bodies of criminals were left there to rot
      above ground, rather than being buried as was the Jewish custom. In
      Isaiah the worm and the fire refer to indignity and to the ultimate
      destruction of the body, not torment after death.



      But given that there are about 400 years between the end of the Hebrew
      canon, and the beginning of the New Testament period, during which time
      the area became Greek-speaking, and Greek philosophy became well known,
      and given that some Jewish writings from the period, the
      deuterocanonical texts, reflect a belief in a place of seemingly
      temporary torment after death, it is quite possible that Mark meant
      something like a purgatory here, even though Isaiah did not.



      We can see, for example, that many first century Christians did hear it
      that way, because of the way the tradition evolved in the gospel of
      Matthew. Also Mark 9:49 says "Everyone there will be salted with fire".
      The connection between this salt saying and the previous text regarding
      Gehenna would seem to be sacrifices. Gehenna was a place where human
      sacrifices by fire were made in the past. Then in Leviticus, and in the
      general knowledge of the region, salt is something of purity that is
      added to sacrifices to purify them, to make them acceptable to God.
      Leviticus 2:11 (New Jerusalem) "None of the cereal offerings which you
      offer to Yahweh must be prepared with leaven for you must never include
      leaven or honey in food burnt for Yahweh. You may offer them to Yahweh
      as an offering of first-fruits, but they will not make a pleasing smell
      if they are burned on the altar. You will put salt in every cereal
      offering that you offer, and you will not fail to put the salt of the
      covenant of your God on your cereal offering"



      So when Mark follows his discussion of Gehenna, a place of sacrifices,
      with "Everyone there will be salted with fire" this strongly suggests
      sacrificial salt and purification by fire, and at least a temporary
      after-life torment. Another clue that Mark believed in something like a
      purgatory might be Mark 12:40. Mark gives us a bad example and a good
      example. First he talks about the scribes that devour the property of
      widows, and then about the charity of a poor widow. Of the scribes he
      says, "The more severe will be the sentence they receive." Again this
      could suggest something like a purgatory.



      Paul's letters also contain the language of salt and sacrifices. Paul
      says in Romans 12 (New Jerusalem). "I urge you, then, brothers,
      remembering the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living
      sacrifice, dedicated and acceptable to God" And Paul also has Colossians
      4:6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt,
      so that you may know how to answer everyone. And finally in Ephesians
      4:32-5:2 "Be generous to one another, sympathetic, forgiving others as
      readily as God forgave you in Christ. As God's dear children, then, take
      him as your pattern, and follow Christ by loving as he loved you, giving
      himself up for us as an offering and a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God."



      Paul says that we should make ourselves into sacrifices acceptable to
      God (Romans), and that we should make ourselves into sweet-smelling
      sacrifices (Ephesians). This clearly echoes the language of Leviticus 2.
      To be acceptable to God sacrifices must have salt, and by analogy we as
      metaphorical sacrifices must have metaphorical salt within us to make us
      acceptable to God. So for Colossians 4:6 "Let your conversation be
      always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to
      answer everyone." Paul is saying that our speech should be seasoned with
      that which makes one acceptable to God.



      The "salt" sayings in Mark end with "Have salt in yourselves, and be at
      peace with each other." We've already established that Mark is talking
      about the salt in sacrifices here. So what does Mark mean by "have salt
      in yourselves"? Clearly this should be read the same way as in Paul,
      "Have what makes one acceptable to God, in yourselves".



      We can also look at Mark 8 where Jesus warns of the yeast of the
      Pharisees. (Mark 8:14-15) "Be careful," Jesus warned them. "Watch out
      for the yeast of the Pharisees" Clearly Mark is using the language of
      sacrifices from Leviticus as a metaphor for what is inside people. We
      can compare this to Mark 7:15 Rather, it is what comes out of a man that
      makes him 'unclean.' In Leviticus leaven makes a sacrifice unacceptable
      to God, and salt makes a sacrifice acceptable. In Mark metaphorical
      leaven makes a person a metaphorical sacrifice unacceptable to God, and
      metaphorical salt makes a person a metaphorical sacrifice acceptable to
      God.



      So what is this metaphorical salt that makes one acceptable to God? From
      Ephesians 4:32-5:2 "Be generous to one another, sympathetic, forgiving
      others as readily as God forgave you in Christ. As God's dear children,
      then, take him as your pattern, and follow Christ by loving as he loved
      you, giving himself up for us as an offering and a sweet-smelling
      sacrifice to God." I think we could say that, salt, what makes one a
      sweet-smelling sacrifice, is "Love and forgiveness of others".



      We can support this reading of Paul, that what makes one a sacrifice
      acceptable to God is "love and forgiveness" by looking at Romans 12 (New
      Jerusalem). "I urge you, then, brothers, remembering the mercies
      (forgiveness) of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
      dedicated and acceptable to God" Paul continues with a lot of things
      that one should be or do, but among them are "love without pretence",
      "bless your persecutors", "never pay back evil with evil", and "never
      try to get revenge".



      Mark also seems to say that forgiving others is needed to make one
      acceptable to God. (Mark 11: 25 NIV) "And when you stand praying, if you
      hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven
      may forgive you your sins." Also Mark tells us that God's most important
      commands are to love. Mark 12:28-31 "Of all the commandments, which is
      the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this:
      'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your
      God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind
      and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as
      yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." So it seems
      perfectly consistent with Mark to read "what makes one acceptable to
      God" as "love and forgiveness for others" just as in Paul.



      More support might come from Matthew 5 where the salt sayings are soon
      followed by an extensive section on forgiveness, including things like:
      "Turn the other cheek", "Love your enemy", "Set no bounds on your love,
      just as your heavenly Father sets no bounds on his" and the Lord's
      prayer, "forgive as we have forgiven".



      Now we need to look at the second of Mark's salt sayings, "Salt is good,
      but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again" It moves
      to different contexts in Matthew and Luke. Matthew has (5:13f) "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 by men. You are the light of the world...



      We can make sense of salt in Matthew's context in light of what we have
      determined about salt in Mark and Paul. When Matthew says "You are the
      salt of the earth" we can read, "You make the earth acceptable to God".
      Then we can read that if salt (You followers, that make the earth
      acceptable to God) losses its acceptability to God, how can it be made
      acceptable again? It is good for nothing! Matthew says if the very stuff
      that makes something acceptable to God, losses its acceptability to God,
      how can it be made acceptable again? If the followers loose their salt
      they will good for nothing.

      Now what does this saying mean in Mark?

      Mark 9:47-50 It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one
      eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into [Gehenna], where "'their
      worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' Everyone will be
      salted with fire. "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can
      you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with
      each other."


      It has been suggested that the 2nd salt saying was not originally in
      Mark, that maybe it was a margin note that got mixed in with the rest of
      the salt sayings. However, I think we can take a clue here from the
      "salt covenant" idea in Leviticus. Let's say that in the past, what had
      made one acceptable to God was the old covenant of salt. Then in Mark 9
      we have -

      Q: If salt, (what makes one acceptable to God), (the old covenant of
      salt) loses its
      saltiness, (its acceptability to God), how can things be made salty
      (acceptable) again?
      A: Have the salt of the new covenant in you. What made Christ a
      sweet-smelling
      sacrifice (love and forgiveness) should also be it you.

      If that is correct, then Mark is saying the old covenant is void and
      replaced.
      Now look again at Matthew. Matthew re-contextualizes Mark's salt saying,
      and
      immediately follows with "not a dot, not a stroke" shall disappear from
      the law.
      Coincidence? I don't think so. Matthew didn't like Mark's rejection of
      the old covenant! Matthew clearly thought the old covenant still
      applied. That is not so clear in Mark. Mark is critical of traditions,
      and seems to say the old covenant can be reduced to a few of the 10
      commandments, love God, and love your neighbor.

      We can also look again at the "yeast of the Pharisees". Mark 8:17f -
      Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: "Why are you talking about
      having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts
      hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?
      And don't you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five
      thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?" "Twelve," they
      replied. "And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how
      many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?" They answered, "Seven." He
      said to them, "Do you still not understand?" Here we have 12 for the 12
      tribes of Israel, and 7 for the 7 days of creation. Mark seems to be
      telling us that the Pharisees have lost their "acceptability to God".
      The old covenant is over; the new one is in force.

      Matthew has Mark's discussion of the yeast of the Pharisees, but removes
      Mark's references to 12 and 7. Again, Matthew does not want to declare
      the old covenant void.

      Now we can take a new look at Mark 11. Clearly the text underwent some
      evolution here. In Mark, the entry into Jerusalem and the cleansing of
      the temple happen on two different days. In Matthew these things happen
      on the same day. Also the withered fig tree in Mark separates the temple
      cleansing and the discussion of the authority of Jesus. But these
      incidents are directly connected in John. Finally, in Mark 2:1-12 when
      Jesus forgives sins, his authority is immediately questioned by the
      Pharisees. So, it seems quite possible that the fig tree is a late
      addition to Mark. Also the "uprooted and planted in the sea" saying is
      in a different context in Luke 17:6. So, here we could speculate that
      this saying comes from "Q" and was not a part of original Mark.



      If we try to read Mark 11 but subtract Matthew's text as being suspect,
      we can then see a text that reads something like this - Mark 11:10 -
      Hosanna (please save) in the highest heavens! He entered Jerusalem and
      went into the Temple and began driving out the men selling and buying
      there; he upset the tables of the money changers and the seats of the
      dove sellers. Nor would he allow anyone to carry anything through the
      Temple. And he taught them and said "Does not scripture say: My house
      will be called a house of prayer for all people? But you have turned it
      into a bandits' den...[...]...Have faith in God and when you stand in
      prayer forgive whatever you have against anybody, so that your Father in
      heaven may forgive your failings too"....and they said to him "What
      authority have you...".



      Mark has said "Trust God. He answers prayers for forgiveness, but asks
      that we forgive others." What if we take this as Mark's plan for
      salvation? We can then read Mark 9 as a unified whole. Mark 9:42-50
      says,"[But anyone who is the downfall of one of these little ones that
      have faith], it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a
      large millstone tied around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin,
      cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two
      hands to go into [Gehenna], where the fire never goes out. And if your
      foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life
      crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into [Gehenna]. And if your
      eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the
      kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into
      [Gehenna], where "'their worm does not die, and the fire is not
      quenched.' "It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one
      eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into [Gehenna], where "'their
      worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' Everyone will be
      salted with fire. "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can
      you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with
      each other."



      We can now read this as - If a member of the church would cause you to
      lose faith, cut them off from the church, because they will cause you to
      be sent to the purgatory of Gehenna. Everyone there is purified and made
      acceptable to God by fire. But if the old covenant of salt has lost its
      acceptability to God, how can people be made acceptable to God? Have the
      salt of the new covenant, love and forgiveness, in you, and be at peace
      with each other.



      We can also find other indications of a "forgiveness for forgiveness"
      theme in Mark which have been partially obscured. We can look at the
      parable of the measure Mark 4:24-25 (New Jerusalem). He also said to
      them "Take notice of what you are hearing. The standard you use will be
      used for you - and you will receive more besides; anyone who has, will
      be given more; anyone who has not, will be deprived even of what he
      has." The first part of that is clearly "judge not or you will be judged
      even more harshly", which is how the tradition evolves in Matthew 7. But
      what about giving to those that have, and taking away from those that do
      not? Again, I think this is "forgiveness". Those that have forgiveness
      (for others) will be given forgiveness (by God), those that don't have
      forgiveness for others will have their forgiveness by God taken away
      from them.



      Luke 6:36-38 makes this connection between the parable of the measure
      and forgiveness. "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not
      condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be
      forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed
      down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.
      For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." However, Luke
      has omitted any reference to "anyone who has not will be deprived even
      of what he has". He places this part of the measure parable it in a
      completely different context in Luke 19:26. "Forgiveness for
      forgiveness" has been obscured by Luke. If we try to read Luke and Mark
      together, we can see Luke's first two sentences are stated in the
      negative, and the third one, forgive and you will be forgiven, is stated
      in the positive, so if Luke did continue with, "anyone who has, will be
      given more; anyone who has not, will be deprived even of what he has.",
      it would be fairly clear that we were talking about "forgiveness".



      There is yet another place where the forgiveness message in Mark may be
      partially obscured by Matthew. Mark 9:37 says that one should welcome
      little children, and in doing so one welcomes God. The parallel in Luke
      9:48 agrees with Mark. But Matthew's version (18:1-5) interprets this to
      say that one should become child-like. Mark 10:13-16 also talks about
      little children. This has a parallel in Luke 18:15-17 and in Matthew
      19:13-15. But Matthew omits Mark's line, "In truth I tell you, anyone
      who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never
      enter it." It's easy to assume that, just as in Matthew, this line in
      Mark means that we should become child-like. But Mark has never said
      anything like that, and Matthew's omission should cause us to take a
      closer look.



      What if we take our clue from Mark 9:37 instead of from Matthew and read
      this line, "In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom
      of God [as they would welcome] a little child will never enter it"? Now
      if we say that we need to welcome little children with love and
      forgiveness, we can then say that we should welcome the kingdom of God
      with forgiveness. And we then have "To enter the kingdom of God, you
      must welcome it with love and forgiveness of others".



      So again the main ideas here are

      1) I think that metaphorical "salt" in the New Testament refers to "that
      which makes one acceptable to God", "love and forgiveness for others",
      and "the salt of the new covenant".

      2) Mark seems to declare the old covenant void. This is obscured by
      later gospels.

      3) I think that Mark has a plan of salvation - "Have faith in God, and
      forgive others to be forgiven". This is somewhat obscured by late
      changes to Mark and by later gospels.





      Dave Gentile

      Riverside IL

      Statistician

      B.S. / M.S. Physics

      M.S. Finance







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