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The scientist who was wrong on salt

A scientist once claimed that Jesus was wrong in his Sermon on the Mount because salt cannot lose its saltiness. But the scientist was wrong for a very fundamental reason. Let's look at it.

Bible critics often claim that the Holy Scriptures say something they do not. Any of us can be guilty of inserting our culture into the Bible. For instance, when Jesus said "if the salt has lost its flavor..." (Matthew 5:13-20), it is wrong to mistake that salt as sodium chloride. That's our language. What Jesus meant by salt was not sodium chloride, but a substance that usually came from the Dead Sea that contained some of what we call salt but also contained white gypsum. That "salt" could lose its saltiness, because the gypsum content became too high as the other leached out. Our "salt" does not normally lose its saltiness. Salt has a different meaning today. We cannot retrofit today’s meaning as some have done trying to claim that Jesus didn't know what he was talking about.

Jesus' description of salt losing its saltiness does not happen, in our definition of the word, without a chemical reaction of some kind. Our science of chemistry defines a salt as a compound that results when an acid reacts with a base. The most common salt is table salt or sodium chloride. Another common salt is a road salt, calcium chloride. However, what Jesus meant by salt cannot be defined by modern language. It was probably a mixture of calcium sulfate and our table salt. Calcium sulfate is gypsum and used to make plaster of Paris. This mixture could lose the salt component and thus its saltiness.

This highlights a couple of very important principles. 1. If we are expert in one discipline, let's be humble enough to admit that we are not expert in another. 2. In any field of study let us get our definitions right. A definition in one field of knowledge, or time in history or culture does not automatically transfer to a different field of knowledge or time in history or culture. Careful research rather than jumping to hasty conclusions helps us understand many areas of study and even the Bible so much better.