Hard Sayings of Jesus by FF Bruce


Mark 9:50—“Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltness, how will you season it?”

  • One can use salt to season meat or bread, but if the salt that one might use for this purpose loses its, saltness, what can be used to season it?
  • But how can salt lose its saltness?  If it is truly salt, of course, it must remain salt and retain its saltness.
  • But probably in the ordinary experience of Galilean life, salt was rarely found in pure state; in practice it was mixed with other substances, various forms of earth.
  • So long as the proportion of salt in the mixture was sufficiently high, the mixture would serve the purpose of true salt.
  • But if, exposure to damp or some other reason, all the salt in the mixture was leached out, what was left was good for nothing.
  • Jesus may have used a word that meant “manure”: “it is no good for the land, not even as manure.”
  • Disciples who lose their savor are in fact making fools of themselves.
  • Matthew says, “It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men”; that is to say, people throw useless stuff out into the street.
  • Matthew’s version of Jesus’ saying begins with the words—“You are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13)—addressed to His disciples.  This implies that the disciples have a particular function to perform on earth, and that, if they fail to perform it, they might as well not exist, for all the good they will do.
  • They may have intended to have a preserving and purifying effect on their fellows, or to add zest to the life of the community, or to be a force for peace. 
  • The idea of a Christian lacking excitement or zest ought to be a contradiction.
  • Salt is a preservative, as the enemy of decay, and as giving taste to food.
  • What is good in society, His followers keep wholesome.
  • What is corrupt, they oppose.  They penetrate society for good and act as a kind of moral antiseptic.  And they give tang to life like salt to a dish of good.
  • Based on the Sermon on the Mt, disciples of Christ must be seen by others as living examples which others are encouraged to follow.
  • Mark also speaks of salt—“For everyone shall be salted with fire”—Mark 9:49.  The fires which burned continuously in the Gehenna or municipal refuse-tip south of Jerusalem reduced the risk of disease which might have arisen from the decomposing organic matter; fire had a purifying effect, as salt also had.
  • The point of Jesus words may be that the fire of persecution will have a purifying or refining effect in the disciples’ live (1 Peter 1:6-7). 


Matthew 5:17-20—“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

  • Here is surely an uncompromising affirmation of the eternal validity of the law of Moses.  Not the smallest part of it is to be abolished.
  • The ‘jot’ is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet; the ‘iota’ is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet.
  • The ‘tittle’ or ‘dot’ was a very small mark attached to a letter, perhaps to distinguish it from another which resembled, as in our alphabet “G” is distinguished from “C”, or “Q” from “O”.
  • The law, books from Genesis to Deuteronomy, was Scripture par excellent for the Jews, and they examined it with minute thoroughness.  They discovered, for example, that there are 613 commandments in this part of the Scripture (248 positive and 365 negative), and this opened up wonderful possibilities for those of a legalistic mindset.

6 initial guidelines for understanding the relationship of the Christian to the OT Law.

1)      The OT Law is a covenant—A covenant is a binding contract between two parties, both of whom have obligations specified in the covenant.

a)      In the OT times, many covenants were given generously by an all-powerful suzerain (overlord) to a weaker, dependent vassal (servant).  They guaranteed the vassal benefits and protection.  But, in turn, the vassal was obligation to be loyal solely to the suzerain, with the warning that any disloyalty would bring punishments as specified in the covenant.  How was the vassal to show loyalty?  By keeping the stipulations (rules of behavior) specified in the covenant.

b)      God constructed the OT law on the analogy of these ancient covenants thereby constituted a binding contract between Yahweh, the Lord, and His vassal, Israel.  In return for protection, Israel was expected to keep the more than 600 stipulations (commandments) contained in the covenantal law as we find it in Exodus 20-Deut. 33.

c)      The covenant format had six parts to it. 

  1. preamble—identified the parties to the agreement–I am the Lord you God
  2. prologue—gave a brief history of how the parties b/c connected to one another—“I brought you out of the land of Egypt . . .”
  3. stipulations—the individual laws themselves.  600 plus.
  4. witnesses—those who enforce the covenant—The Lord Himself, or sometimes “heaven and earth,”
  5. sanctions—the blessings and curses that function as incentives for keeping the covenant—Lev. 26 and Deut. 28-33.
  6. document clause—the provision for regular review of the covenant so that it will not be forgotten—Deut. 17:18-19; 31:9-13.

2)      The OT is not our testament—Testament is another word for covenant.  The OT represents an old covenant, which is one we are no longer obligated to keep.

¨      We have to assume that none of the OT stipulations or laws are binding upon Christians unless they are renewed in the New Covenant or New Testament.

¨      That is, unless an OT law is somehow restated or reinforced in the New Testament, it is no longer directly binding on God’s people (Romans 6:14-15).

¨      God expects of His people—Christians—somewhat different evidences of obedience and loyalty from those which He expected from the Old Testament Israelites.

¨      The loyalty itself is still expected.  It is how one shows that loyalty that has been changed in certain ways.

3)      Some stipulations of the Old Covenant have clearly not been renewed in the New Covenant.

¨      It is possible to group together a majority of the Pentateuch laws into two major categories, neither of which apply any longer to Christians.

a)      The Israelite civil laws—those laws that specify penalties for various crimes (major and minor) for which one might be arrested and tried in Israel.  Such laws apply only to citizens of ancient Israel and no one living today is a citizen of ancient Israel.

b)     The Israelite ritual laws—constitute the largest single book of the Old Testament laws, and are found throughout Leviticus as well as in many parts of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  These laws told the people how to carry on the practice of worship, detailing everything from the design of the implements of worship, to the priests responsibilities, to what sorts of animals should be sacrificed and how.  The killing of animals was central to the OT way of worshiping God.  Without the shedding of blood, no forgiveness of sins was possible (Heb. 9:22).  When Jesus once-for-all sacrifice was accomplished, however, this Old Covenant approach immediately was outdated.  Jesus fulfilled the whole Old Testament law and gave a new law, the law of love.

4)      Part of the Old Covenant is renewed in the New Covenant

¨      Which part do we refer to?  The answer is some aspects of the Old Testament ethical law are actually restated in the New Testament as applicable to Christians.

¨      Such laws derive their continued applicability from the fact that they serve to support two basic laws of the New Covenant, on which depend all the Law and the prophets (Matt. 22:40): “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind” (Deut. 6:5) and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).

¨      Jesus thus excerpts some Old Testament laws, giving them new applicability (read Matt. 5:21-48), and thus redefining them to include more than their original scope.

¨      Thus we say that aspects rather than simply the laws themselves are renewed form the Old Covenant to the New, since it is only the aspects of those laws that fall directly under the command to love God and neighbor that constitute a continuing obligation for Christians.

5)      All of the Old Testament law is still the Word of God for us even though it is not still the command of God to us.

¨      The Bible contains all sorts of commands that God wants us to know about, which are not directed toward us personally.

¨      An example is Matthew 11:4, where Jesus commands, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see.”  The original audience of that command was the disciples of John the Baptist.  We read about the command; it is not a command to us.  Likewise, the original audience of the Old Testament law is ancient Israel.  We read about that law; it is not a law to us.

6)      Only that which is explicitly renewed from the OT law can be considered part of the NT “law of Christ.”

¨      Included in such a category would be the 10 Commandments, since they are cited in various ways in the NT as still binding upon Christians (Matt 5:21-37; John 7:23), and the two great commandments from Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18.

¨      No other specific OT laws can be proved to be strictly binding on Christians, valuable as it is for Christians to know all of the laws.

  • The Law functioned in the history of salvation to “bring us to Christ,” as Paul says (Gal. 3:24), by showing how high God’s standards of righteousness are and how impossible it is for anyone to meet those standards apart from divine aid.
  • God saved Israel.  He alone provided their means of rescue from slavery in Egypt, conquest of the land of Canaan, and prosperity as inhabitants of that promised land.  The Law did none of that.  The Law simply represented the terms of the agreement of loyalty that Israel had with God.
  • The Law presents, rather, examples or samples of what it means to be loyal to God


  • Do see the OT Law as God’s fully inspired word for you.  Do not see the OT law as God’s direct command to you.
  • Do see the OT law as the basis for the Old Covenant, therefore for Israel’s history.  Do not see the OT law as binding on Christians in the New Covenant, except where specifically renewed.
  • Do see God’s justice, love, and high standards revealed in the OT law.  Do not forget to see that God’s mercy is made equal to the severity of the standards.
  • Do not see the OT law as complete.  It is not technically comprehensive.  Do see the OT law as a paradigm—providing examples for the full range of expected behavior.
  • Do not expect the OT law to be cited frequently by the prophets or the NT.  Do remember that the essence of the Law (10 Commandments and the two chief laws) is repeated in the prophets and renewed in the NT.
  • Do see the OT law as a generous gift to Israel, bringing much blessing when obeyed.  Do not see the OT law as a grouping of arbitrary, annoying regulations limiting people’s freedom.