Mark 9.43-50 – Textual Variants, Hell and Salt

This was brought up last week, and I thought we might explore it a bit more. One of the passages used to secure a doctrine of eternal torment is Mark 9.43-50, which is not repeated in any of the other Gospels. That’s doesn’t diminish the importance of the post, but it does require a bit more study since we don’t have a point of comparison.

We are met with two textual variants. One is a rhetorical device and doesn’t add to nor deflect from the meaning of the passage. By replicating the warning, ‘where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched,’ three times, it is a device used in speaking. The textual variant that concerns us today is found in verse 49, and while it might not add to subtract from doctrine on the surface, I do believe that adds a certain flair.

New King James VersionNew Living TranslationNew American Standard Version
43 “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched–

44 “where`Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.’

45 “And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched–

46 “where`Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.’

47 “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, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire–

48 “where`Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.’

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

50 “Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”

43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands.

44

45 If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet.

46

47 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,

48 ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.’

49 “For everyone will be tested with fire.

50 Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.”

43 “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire,

44 where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.

45 “If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell,

46 where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.

47 “If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell,

48 where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire.

50 “Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

I want to address the latter two verses, which have given theologians, textual critics, and scholars pause for centuries. This language is connected, I sincerely believe, with the proceeding passage, but becomes increasingly more literal. First, let us handle the variant. First, there are several variants to verse 49.

  • ‘for everyone will be salted with fire’
  • ‘for every sacrifice will be salted with fire’
  • ‘for everyone will be salted with fire and every sacrifice will be salted with salt’

The first one listed is the one used in modern textual critical apparatuses. The second one is a foot note in the NET, not having any real support, while the third one is found in the KJV/NKJV and is footnoted in the other versions. The first and the third do have textual support, and very early textual support; however, in a second century document, the Diatessaron, we find the third variant featured:

one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.

The Diatessaron was written around the time of Justin Martyr by one of his students, Tatian. It is a gospel harmony, and it was very popular. As a matter of fact, it was used in the Syriac churches until the 5th century when the four Gospels were finally forced to be used. The Diatessaron is simply Tatian’s effort of creating from all four gospels one document. It is an early witness to the Gospel manuscripts, and I believe could be useful to us here. Because of that, I will tentatively go with the variant found in the N/KJV and footnoted in the other versions because of Tatian’s Diatessaron.

Now, to the interpretation.

What is Christ saying in the preceding verses? Is it not that everyone should better purge themselves of sin here than to be cast into the fires of hell?

First, ‘fire’ is seen as a refining agent, which prefects people.

“But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. (Mal 3:2 NLT)

But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. (1Co 3:13-15 NLT)

These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold– though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1Pe 1:7 NLT)

The sinners in Jerusalem shake with fear. Terror seizes the godless. “Who can live with this devouring fire?” they cry. “Who can survive this all-consuming fire?” (Isa 33:14 NLT)

Further, there is the fire of the Holy Spirit:

Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire. I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am– so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Mat 3:10-11 NLT)

On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. bSuddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. (Act 2:1-3 NLT)

Of course, the ‘p’entecostal in me might quip that either you are set on fire here or you are set on fire over there, but I try not to let that part of me escape too terribly often.

The variant is a direct quote from Leviticus 2.13:

Season all your grain offerings with salt to remind you of God’s eternal covenant. Never forget to add salt to your grain offerings. “If you present a grain offering to the LORD from the first portion of your harvest, bring fresh grain that is coarsely ground and roasted on a fire. (Lev 2:13-14 NLT)

‘Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt, so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt. ‘Also if you bring a grain offering of early ripened things to the LORD, you shall bring fresh heads of grain roasted in the fire, grits of new growth, for the grain offering of your early ripened things. (Lev 2:13-14 NAS)

By Ezekiel’s time, salt was rubbed on the child at birth for a blessing:

On the day you were born, no one cared about you. Your umbilical cord was not cut, and you were never washed, rubbed with salt, and wrapped in cloth. (Eze 16:4 NLT)

The Covenant of Salt is one which is seen as perpetual:

“All the offerings of the holy gifts, which the sons of Israel offer to the LORD, I have given to you and your sons and your daughters with you, as a perpetual allotment. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the LORD to you and your descendants with you.” (Num 18:19 NASB)

Salt is important to the biblical narrative. It is used to purge and to keep what it was attached to and it was used to destroy as well.

With that said, this is my interpretation of verse 49-50 (variant in italics)

Everyone will be purged. Purge yourself now, and be kept.

Purging is good, but if you stop purging yourself, then there is no hope. Keep purging yourselves and have peace with one another.

Or

Everyone will be tried and purged. Either you are purged in the fire or in the sacrifice of this life. If you lose your salt, you will not get it back, so keep purging yourself. Or else.

What say ye?

Just a note to those who are interested, you can find a great commentary on textual criticism and translation here.

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6 Replies to “Mark 9.43-50 – Textual Variants, Hell and Salt”

  1. Everyone will be purged. Purge yourself now, and be kept.

    Purging is good, but if you stop purging yourself, then there is no hope. Keep purging yourselves and have peace with one another.

    Just don’t let anyone with an eating disorder read your interpretation.

    But on a more serious note, the N/KJV reading is also the one that makes more sense to me. It’s better supported, and the argument for conflation seems a tad far-fetched to me.

    1. I would agree about the conflation. I missed something in my post which I will state now. Since Christ had no problem quoting from the OT, it does make sense that in a passage about purging, this passage is brought in.

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