“Everyone Will Be Salted with Fire” (Mark 9:49) -- By: Weston W. Fields

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 06:2 (Fall 1985)
Article: “Everyone Will Be Salted with Fire” (Mark 9:49)
Author: Weston W. Fields

“Everyone Will Be Salted with Fire”
(Mark 9:49)

Weston W. Fields

The meaning of Mark 9:49 (everyone will be salted with fire) has long perplexed interpreters. Although this saying is in a literary context speaking of judgment, many have seen in it a reference to purification. However, since Hebrew was probably the lingual background to the Gospel of Mark, the saying may be easily understood aseveryone [who is sent to hell] will be completely destroyed (destroyed by fire).

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Among the difficult sayings of Jesus, Mark 9:49 is one of the most enigmatic. What could Jesus have meant when he said, “Everyone will be salted with fire”? Stated in a context of judgment in the fire of Geh-Hinnom (the valley of Hinnom outside the southwest walls of Jerusalem), this strange mixture of salt and fire has perplexed Greek scholars for a very long time.

Suggested Interpretations

Bratcher and Nida have counted at least 15 different explanations for the verse,1 and Gould calls it “one of the most difficult to interpret in the New Testament.”2 He connects the saying not with the fire of judgment in the preceding context, but with the idea of purification as in the fire of a sacrifice. This is because both fire and salt were used by the Jews in their Temple sacrifices. According to the Mishnah, salt was put into the carcass of the sacrificial animal in order to soak out the blood. After the blood was soaked out, the carcass was fit for

consumption or sacrifice: “The priest…dried it by rubbing salt on it [the carcass of the sacrificial animal] and cast it on the fire.”3

The interpretation that the salt and fire have something to do with purification or with dedication is in general the same one taken by Montefiore, Rawlinson, A. B. Bruce, Alford, Calvin, Meyer, Lange, Lane, Fudge, and F. F. Bruce.4 It is evident as well in TEVs translation, “Everyone will be purified by fire as a sacrifice is purified by salt.”

Such connection of the verse with sacrifice also appears in its textual variants. Evidently the incomprehensibility of the verse led some scribe to make a marginal note (which later found its way into the text proper) or to make an outright change in the text. Whichever it was, this change involved lifting part of a phrase out of ...

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