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God’s Word for You

Mark 9:49-50 every sacrifice will be salted with salt

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, April 11, 2020

49 For everyone will be salted with fire, and every sacrifice will be salted with salt.

To be sure, this a hard saying to understand, and I believe it is made even harder by those who omit the second half of verse 49. The two halves the verse end with the same word in Greek, halisthesetai (ἁλισθήσεται), “be salted,” so it is easy to see why a copyist’s eye would move from one part of the verse to the next. Since the omission was made in the more popular English Bibles from the very first publication of the NIV (1973), many Christians under the age of sixty may not even be aware of the longer reading. For more about the status of the text and a defense of my translation, see “About the Text” before my signature below.

The progression of thought is this: After declaring that Christians must be willing to make sacrifices in their lives (hand, foot, eye, Mark 9:43-48), he warned that those unwilling to do so would suffer the pain of hell, there the fire is unquenchable. Now he adds an explanation. The “For” (Greek γὰρ) at the beginning of verse 49 shows that this is such an explanation. Those who enter the fire will be “salted” with fire, which is to say, they will be preserved so that the agonizing fire will not annihilate them; they will be permitted to endure the fire continuously in hell and suffer the pains of the fire forever without being totally consumed. This is a fearsome and brutal promise, and it must be faced by everyone who rejects Christ and the grace of God. Secondly, those who do trust in Christ and repent of their sins will be salted as the sacrifices of God, those that are made acceptable to God. Here Jesus quotes Leviticus 2:13, which says, “Season every grain offering with salt. Do not let the salt of the covenant of your God be lacking from your grain offering. Salt all of your offerings.” As Wenzel explains: “The salt of the covenant of God is an everlasting covenant. Everyone therefore is subject to a salting process. He is either salted with the unquenchable fire of hell, of salted by and in the sacrifice he makes” (The Wenzel Commentary p. 384). Those who are salted by God for preservation in heaven are made into acceptable gifts to be received by him at the hand of Christ, who will “‘bring all your brothers, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD—on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,’ says the Lord. ‘They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels’” (Isaiah 66:20, see also Malachi 1:11). We will be offered and will offer ourselves “as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).

This interpretation also shows why both halves of the verse should be retained.

50 Salt is good. But if the salt loses its flavor, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Stories abound of salt that has lost its saltiness in various parts of the world. It is useless after that, a non-element, not fit for any good purpose at all. If a Christian loses the preserving quality of God’s grace, what use will he be to God? He might be converted once again, but until then he will be counted as an unbeliever, a man who has fallen from faith. So watch your saltiness; guard your faith and your doctrine closely (1 Timothy 4:16).

This episode began with the disciples arguing about which of them was the greatest. Jesus warned them to worry about their place with him (have salt in yourselves) rather than their status among one another. “Be at peace with one another” is another way of saying, “Love one another” (John 13:34). This was the “new command” Jesus gave at the Last Supper, and was repeated by the apostles later many times (1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 4:11; 2 John 5).

When we are brought together, love teaches us to overlook one another’s faults, for we all have many faults; we all have a thousand quirks we would like our friends and loved ones to overlook and to dismiss out of affection. Those things that can’t be overlooked should be forgiven, for we need to understand that each of us is made by God in a different way. One man might talk without stopping, and another man might need plenty of quiet time to form his thoughts, but the two can still be friends.

When we are kept apart, love teaches us to long for one another, to yearn for one another’s company. We appreciate each other so much more when we cannot see our friends! Be glad that the Lord God has salted you with faith and fellowship in him, to preserve you for everlasting life. In the meantime, show your love for your Savior by loving his people.


Of the six ancient regions of textual families, all six have witnesses to including 49b: Old Latin k (North Africa), Vulgate, the Gothic and St. Ambrose (Gaul / Italy), the Byzantine and lectionaries (Asia Minor and Syria), the Syriac (Syria), Codex Theta (Palestine), Codex A, Codex C, the Coptic and Ethiopic (Egypt). Only four regions have witnesses that do not include it: Codex W (in Mark, this is from North Africa), Armenian (Syria), Georgian (Palestine) and Codices Aleph and B, with some Coptic manuscripts and St. Didymus (Egypt). Another witness, Codex D (Italy) appears to have combined the two halves of the verse into one.

Of our better commentaries on Mark, Ylvisaker retains verse 49b but without comment. Lenski leaves its inclusion “to the critics” but seems to think it does not belong. Pastor Wicke’s People’s Bible follows Lenski’s interpretation. Franzmann does not comment on it. Only Wenzel includes it with positive comments, and his interpretation matches the one presented above. In Professor Metzger’s analysis, it is thought that a scribe wrote Leviticus 2:13 in the margin and that this was inserted into the text later on (2nd Ed., p. 87). This would be more likely if the insertion matched the Greek text of Leviticus 2 more closely than it does, rather than parallel so precisely what Jesus says in verse 49a. I have translated the verse with the clause intact and I have interpreted and applied the verse to reflect this. I believe that there is better textual evidence for its inclusion, and I also believe that at the very least it should be footnoted, although most translations (NIV, NASB, EHV) do not. I believe that my interpretation does not contradict Scripture or Christian doctrine, and so I offer it here for the edification of God’s people.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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