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Salt and Light - a 'New View' Perspective

Jesus, in his role as prophet, spoke to those who were following him:
"You are like 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 the light of the world.
A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.
Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."
[Matthew 5:13-16, NIV]

Well-known words, but what are the implications for how we live and believe? The implications are very rich, especially when one takes a 'new view'. Frequently, Western Christian interpretation of this has focused on the salt and perhaps had a limited view of what light implies, often limited by individualism and the sacred-secular divide. The 'new view' interprets Jesus' words as an expression of the role his followers have of representing God, and this brings out a new dimension of implications (three-dimensional, not two).

The implications are for ordinary life, academic life and professional life.


Rebecca Manley-Pippert once wrote a book Out of the Salt-Shaker, which she argued that Christians should get out of their cliques and into society and community. Salt is little use in a salt-shaker. It has its benefits only when within and around food.

Jesus was not very explicit about the implications of being salt. He and his listeners shared a common background knowledge about the benefits of salt. Two thousand years ago in Palestine, salt would have had two major benefits. Each of these has implications for Jesus' followers today.

An individualistic interpretation would focus on being 'nice' quiet people, with integrity, who pay their taxes without grumbling. The 'new view' interpretation adopts this, but widens it to our responsibility to the natural world and to all humanity. Hence the examples above.


The traditional individualistic view, especially when influenced by the sacred-secular divide, sees light merely as demonstrating a pious life, and is thus little different from salt. But Jesus was more explicit about the benefits of light, making two points that are lost in the traditional view:


What should be the result of being salt and light? What is its main purpose? The final part would seem to suggest that the main purpose is to get people to praise Father God. When they see what we do people will praise the Father. Indeed, this is one purpose, but probably not the only one. There are other purposes, which when fulfilled will automatically result in God being praised.

The Greek for "In the same way", houtos, has the implication of being in parallel with, or alongside, what has just been said. It does not mean 'therefore'. Father God being praised is not seen as a 'Therefore', but as an additional result. Likewise, the Greek word for "good deeds" does not refer to individual, isolated acts, but rather to an ongoing sequence of 'works' or 'workings'. The Greek word is the same one used for 'workman'.

As a result of God's people providing affirmative critique of the status quo, beckoning people to come somewhere else, and of opening up reality to people, people will be praising the Father God.


These things can apply to ordinary life, academic life and professional life, as suggested in the following table.

Ordinary life Academic life Professional life
Salt as preservative Advising others not to do evil. "Blessed is he who swears to his own hurt and does not change." Keeping attention on integrity in research and teaching. Integrity in doing business. Keeping promises.
Salt as tasty Helping people to appreciate the interesting and joyful things about life. Taking people out of themselves. Affirming colleagues in their research and teaching, that they are doing something worthwhile. e.g. Supporting innovation, but not for innovation's sake.
Lignt on hill Gently getting people to question the assumptions they live by. Suggesting new paradigms for research and teaching, ones based on a Biblical way of thinking. See Christian Academic Network's 'Shaping Your Disciplines for Christ'. Questioning the direction, vision or mission of the organisation,
Questioning the assumptions made about ways of doing business.
Light on stand in house Helping people appreciate wider aspects of their lives. 'Christian ways of thinking'. John Stott's 'double listening' (to Bible, to culture). Rather than acquiesce or antagonise, Affirm, Critique, Enrich the world's thought. Recognise the diverse meaningfulness of everything. Drawing attention to new aspects that have been overlooked, especially about responsibilities of the professional which they had not considered.

This page is offered to God as on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us. Comments, queries welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2013, but you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

Written on the Amiga with Protext. Number of visitors to these pages: Counter.

Created: 3 February 2013. Last updated: